Northern India – Agra and the Taj Mahal

Getting off the train in Agra the scene was much more what I was expecting of India, a chaotic jumble of sounds, smells and activity. Our driver from Four Wheel Drive India picked us up in a spiffy white Toyota Innova and whisked us off through the haze and lively streets of Agra.

A mix of poverty, crumbly buildings, small dilapidated shops, dirty children, broken down trucks, bicyclists pulling large loads of everything from cardboard to sacks of potatoes, cows, goats, dogs, monkeys and  women dressed in beautiful flowing fabrics adding a touch of color to an otherwise dismal but fascinating setting.

The Jaypee Palace, a large resort complex, is full on “bubble land” protected from the hubbub that comes with “normal” life in India. Some may find this a blessing. I feel isolated from one of the main reasons I travel, to experience the local culture, whatever that may be. The hotel and grounds are huge, rooms are large and comfortable, and service is adequate and friendly. However you might as well be staying at a Marriott in Orlando. As the hotel is a couple of kilometers from the center of town, don’t expect to be able to walk easily to town for dinner or to see the Taj.

Sight-seeing in Agra

Akbar’s Mausoleum

About 10k outside of town, this Mughal tomb complex looks much like other mausoleums built in the early to mid-1600s including the Taj Mahal. If you are short on time, this is the one to skip.

Baby Taj

Itimad-ud-Daulah, nicked named the Baby Taj, set along the Yamuna river has a more striking setting than that of Akbar’s Mausoleum. Built in the early 1600s of white marble it is similar in style to the Taj, but offers a more tranquil ambiance, allowing a more detailed study of the pietra dura, stone inlay work, without the masses that visit the Ta

Red Fort

A Mughal fort first started by Emperor Akbar in 1565, it was turned into a palace in the mid 17th century. With many of the complex’s structures still intact you don’t need much imagination to envision the grandeur that this fort once had. Although only a small percentage of the buildings are open to the public there is still much to appreciate, including sandstone carvings and marble inlay.

The Taj Mahal at Sunset

The recommended viewpoint is across the river on the north side of the Taj at either Mehtab Bagh Park or for free at the end of the road that runs just in front of the park. At certain times of the year the soft glow of the setting sun on the Taj may be magical, but on hazy day, don’t bother. The waning sun disappears into the haze before it ever reaches the horizon.

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

6:30AM is a highly recommended time to visit the Taj that every tour guide and guide books follows creating long lines crowding at the entrance when the monument opens. It took an hour to reach the entrance and go through security, which, by the way, is very tight. Bags of all kinds are strongly discouraged, but you can bring in a small bag, or camera bag. Again, like the sunset viewing, the morning glow doesn’t occur if the sky is hazy. Sleep in and wait for the crowds to subside. By 8:30AM when we were leaving the park, there wasn’t a soul in line and the light was perfect for photography.

The Taj is a truly beautiful structure that everyone who visits the region should see. With so many visitors crowding the small and dark inner sanctum it’s hard to appreciate the delicate detail of the pietra dura, marble inlay. But do try to find a quiet spot to examine the flower petals closely. Not simply one block of color for the entire flower but rather each petal is divided into 3 to 4 inlay segments that fit tightly together as if they were painted.

October 20, 2012

For links to all the posts in this series see the Northern India page.

7 thoughts

  1. There are times when I look back on the photos and wish I was back there, enjoying the sights, sounds, the food, the people and the spectacular architecture and scenery and even the chaos. Thanks for sharing Debbie!!

  2. Hello!! I am following your blog as I will visit India in May… good luck on your trip and I will keep an eye on your adventures! I was wondering how much does it cost to get a driver to show you around? How did you travel between cities??? taxi?? or bus/train?? I am planning to do the golden triangle, but I have only found some “luxury” that seem to be very expensive… thanks!!!

    1. Hi felipestb, Thanks for following my blog. In general transportation between cities is not as expensive as say the US or Europe, but “expensive” is relative to your budget. As our time was limited we took faster modes of transportation rather than the cheapest option. There is always that trade off. As such, we traveled by train from Dehli to Agra, personal driver from Agra to Jaipur, and by plane for Jaipur to Varanasi and from Varanasi to Kahtmandu. The train was quite inexpensive and the driver moderately priced while flight were comprable to US prices. I’m sorry I don’t remember exact prices. I do have links to the companies we used in Dehli and Agra listed in the posts for those destinations and I’m sure they could give you an estimate if you sent them an inquiry. All the best to you in your travels and if you have other questions, don’t hestitate to ask.

  3. Hey Falipestb. Our prices for FourWheel Drive ranged from $45/day up to about $70/day depending on how many hours a day but more importantly distances and what style vehicle we used also made a huge difference. That price did include everything,.. taxes, driver’s lodging, fees, parking, etc. But as Debbie stated, we were limited in time so we chose faster modes of transportion. When we were in Jaipur, we just hired tuk tuk drivers off the street to get from point a to point b or for the day. That was very cheap.. we hired one for the day at 400 INR = approx $8 and probably could have gotten cheaper even. Trains are very cheap to take around India. My husband and I took 4 trains total including the one we took with Debbie from Delhi to Agra. We didn’t take any buses however.

    Definately put in some requests, the prices are really quite good imo.

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