places to visit in Agra
Most people understandably prefer not to stay very long in Agra, as it is a rather unattractive city with many touts.
The magical charm of the Taj Mahal draws tourists to Agra like moths in a beautiful flame. And despite the hype, it’s just as good as you’ve heard. But the Taj is not a standalone attraction. The legacy of the Mughal Empire has left a magnificent fort and a liberal sprinkling of fascinating tombs and mausoleums; and there is also fun in the chowks (markets). The downside comes in the form of hordes of rickshaws, roulette wheels, unofficial guides and souvenir sellers, the persistence of which can sometimes infuriate.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the strongest and most important Mughal forts in India. After arriving in Agra in 1558, Emperor Akbar extensively rebuilt the fort using red sandstone. The process lasted eight years and was completed in 1573. The fort maintained its stature until Shah Jahan moved the Mughal capital from Agra to Delhi in 1638. It lost much of its grandeur after his death in 1666 and was repeatedly invaded and captured during the 18th century. Finally, it fell into the hands of the British in 1803.
Jehangir’s Palace: This huge red sandstone palace within the Agra Fort, a combination of Indian and Central Asian architectural styles, was likely built by the Mughal ruler Akbar for his son Jehangir.
Although many of the buildings inside the fort have been destroyed, some mosques, public and private halls, fairytale palaces, towers and courtyards still remain. Another attraction is the sound of the evening and the light show which recreates the history of the fort. If budget is an issue, it is advisable to skip the less impressive Red Fort in Delhi in favor of visiting Agra Fort because entrance fees are expensive (550 rupees for foreigners and 40 rupees for Indians).
Other tombs in Agra
Agra has two important tombs, with impressive Islamic-style architecture, which existed before the Taj Mahal but which has since been obscured by it. One of these contains the body of Emperor Akbar, considered the most influential Mughal emperor. It was completed in 1614 and is located in Sikandra, on the north-western outskirts of Agra, on the road to Mathura. (Tickets cost 210 rupees for foreigners and 20 rupees for Indians). His wife’s body is housed in another tomb nearby, with a similar entrance fee.
Itmad-ud-daulah’s tomb was the first to be made of white marble (instead of the red sandstone typical of Mughal architecture) and is often referred to as the “Baby Taj”. It is located in the middle of a small garden along the Yamuna River and contains the body of Mirza Ghiyas Beg who served under Akbar. His daughter married Akbar’s son, Jehangir, and was later made prime minister. (Tickets cost 210 rupees for foreigners and 20 rupees for Indians).
This park, originally built by Emperor Babur as the latest in a series of 11 parks on the east bank of the Yamuna (long before the Taj was conceived), fell into disrepair to become little more than a huge mound of sand. To protect the Taj from the erosive effects of sand blown across the river, the park was rebuilt and is now one of the best places to view the great mausoleum.
The gardens of the Taj line up perfectly with those here, and the view of the Taj from the fountain directly in front of the entrance gate is special.
Shah Jahan was imprisoned inside this octagonal white marble tower and palace for eight years, until his death in 1666 – from the windows he was able to look at the Taj Mahal, his wife’s grave. When he died, his body was transported by boat from here to the Taj Mahal.
This exceptional sandstone and marble tomb commemorates the greatest Mughal emperor. The huge courtyard is entered through a splendid door. It has three-story minarets at each corner and is constructed of strikingly red sandstone inlaid with geometric patterns in white marble.
The mausoleum is located in Sikandra, 10 km northwest of the Agra Fort. Take a bus (₹ 25, 45 minutes) to Mathura from the Bijli Ghar bus stop; they pass the mausoleum. Or take a taxi (approximately ₹ 800 round trip).
Bahazars of the Old Town
To experience the heart of Agra, head to the charming and congested old town behind the 17th-century Jama Masjid mosque. There, you will encounter a tangle of narrow alleys that are home to an astonishing variety of goods including spices, clothes, saris, jewelry, shoes, crafts, and snack stalls. This area, known as Kinari Bazaar, can be quite overwhelming if you don’t know your way around.
So, taking a guided walking tour is a good idea. Options include this offer from Agra Magic and this offer from Wandertrails. Additionally, Agra Beat and Agra Walks conduct tours in the Old Town.
Taj Nature Walk
Get away from the crowds and enjoy the Taj Mahal surrounded by nature. About 500 meters from the East Gate, on Fatehabad Road, you will find a reserve forest that offers a unique opportunity to admire the monument in different shades and settings. You can wander its paths to various observation points, watchtowers and rest areas. The reserve is open every day from sunrise to sunset. The registration fee is 100 rupees for foreigners and 20 rupees for Indians.
On the way to Fatehpur Sikri, join the Korai Village Rural Tourism Initiative. Korai is a tribal village, whose inhabitants were the keepers of dancing bears. They have struggled to earn an income and survive since the bears were taken away, as they have not received any compensation. You will be able to learn about and experience daily village life and even meet the village wizard, Mohammad. The cost to enter the village is $ 10 per person.
Fatehpur Sikri is located about an hour west of Agra and is a popular group trip, although tourists and beggars have become a major threat in recent years. This now deserted city was founded by Emperor Akbar in 1571, when he decided to move his capital there, and is one of the most important historical destinations in India. Unfortunately, the capital was short-lived and moved to Agra after only 15 years.