Agra is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. It is renowned for being home to one the Seven Wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. It is as loved by Indians as it is by foreigners who throng here in large numbers to admire its beauty. Along with Delhi and Jaipur, Agra forms the Golden Triangle of tourism in India. Situated in Uttar Pradesh, Agra is synonymous with the Taj Mahal however there’s lot more to the city than this world-famous monument. Right from the epic Mahabharata to the Mughal Dynasty, Agra has been monumental and has played a significant role in shaping India’s history. The city was first mentioned in Mahabharata as Agrevana which means the border of the forest. It was later established by Sikandar Lodi of the Lodi Dynasty in the sixteenth century who built many structures including forts, step wells, mosques, etc in Agra. He moved his capital from Delhi to Agra and after his death, his son ruled the city for nine years. Later, Sher Shah Suri ruled Agra and from 1556 to 1658 it was the capital of the Mughal Empire. ALSO SEE There’s more to Agra than the Taj Mahal
Under the Mughal reign Agra was called Akbarabad and was ruled by greats like Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, etc. Their love for architecture, gardens and art and culture added a new dimension to Agra’s personality. From Persian gardens on the banks of the Yamuna to monuments and mausoleums, Agra’s golden age started during their rule. It was after the decline of the Mughal Empire and during the reign of the Marathas that Akbarabad became Agra. By 1803, it came under the British Raj that remained strong for most part until India gained independence in 1947.
What also shaped Agra’s culture were the different religions that were born and flourished here. From Din-i-Ilahi to the Radhaswami Faith, these beliefs had followers from Akbar’s time. Runukta of Hinduism and Shauripur of Jainism too have their links to Agra.
With so many prominent rulers having ruled the city, Agra is home to several important monuments including three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri. A trip to Agra is incomplete without paying a visit to these that will take you back to an era of its glorious past.
Agra is well-connected by road, rail and air with most parts of the country as it is a prime tourist destination. Interestingly, it is 210 km away from the state capital Lucknow and only 125 km away from Delhi. The city is on the banks of the River Yamuna and enjoys a healthy influx of tourists all year round.
Agra’s Kheria Airport is 12.5 km away from the heart of the city and you can avail of taxis once you land. There are four main railway heads in Agra: Agra Cantonment, Agra Fort, Idgah Agra Junction and Raja ki Mandi. Trains from most cities halt at one of these railway stations. India’s fastest train, the Gatimaan Express that runs between Delhi and Agra in flat 100 minutes is also an option for tourists. It also offers travel itineraries for one, two or more days. You can also drive down to Agra from different parts of the county. The Yamuna Expressway is one of the fastest routes to reach Agra from Delhi. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can even avail of private cabs that ply on this expressway. Buses also ply from cities like Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur and Gwalior to Agra. The main bus stops in the city are Taj Depot, Inter State Bus Terminal, Ford Depot and Idgah Bus Stand. The government has insured that reaching Agra is not a hassle as it generates a major chunk of tourism for the state.
ALSO SEE Honeymoon in Agra: Best places to stay and visit in the city of love
SIGHTSEEING ATTRACTIONS IN AGRA
Agra was the seat of the Mughal Empire and is peppered with some great architectural marvels of their times. While Taj Mahal garners the most amount of interest, when in Agra, it is important to pay a visit to some of the city’s other exemplary structures. Once you are done admiring the wonder that is Taj Mahal, move on to other important sites, some in its vicinity and some a little further away from it. From Akbar’s Tomb to Agra Fort and the walled city of Fatehpur Sikri, Agra is home to some important monuments that tell the story of India’s history. Take a day out to explore these gems that Agra has to offer.
The very first thing every tourist who comes to Agra wants to do is see the beauty that is Taj Mahal. No matter how many times you’ve been here, it will leave you mesmerized with its intricate carvings and architecture. The Taj Mahal is certainly the main attraction that draws millions of tourists to Agra every year and rightly so. Called the epitome of love, it was constructed by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal whose tomb rests right under the central dome of the monument. It took 22 years and over 20,000 workers to construct this marvel. Shah Jahan spent his last years imprisoned in the Agra Fort gazing at his creation and after his death, his tomb was placed inside the Taj Mahal next to his wife. The white marble monument is an architectural marvel with fine detailing, on the south bank of the Yamuna River. Verses from the Holy Quran are inscribed on it, gemstones adorn its walls and the intricate inlay work adds a touch of magnificence to the structure. Another brilliant fact that makes it a masterpiece is its symmetry, which is why it looks the same from all four sides.
Being one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the only one in India doesn’t stop from wrong stories floating around the Taj Mahal. Ones like the Taj Mahal was also to be built in black marble or that Shah Jahan dismembered the arms of the artisans who built the monument are pretty common but not really true. But one true and fascinating story is that Agra was not the first choice to build the Taj Mahal. Yes, the world famous monument was originally planned to be constructed in Madhya Pradesh in Burhanpur because Mumtaz Mahal passed away there. Shah Jahan had even marked out the site along the Tapti River where it was to be built but the plan was shelved when Burhanpur was unable to supply enough white marble that was required for its construction. And so, Agra got its iconic monument that we call the Taj Mahal.
Admire its striking beauty yourself when here. The Taj Mahal is open for visitors between 6 am to 6 pm but remains shut on Fridays. The entry fee for Indians is Rs 20 and for foreign nationals it is Rs 750. According to one legend, if you walk away from the Taj Mahal and look back, you are likely to come back for another visit. Would you?
ALSO SEE 8 magnificent photos of the Taj Mahal
Another architectural jewel in this city is the Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by Mughal Emperor Akbar with the help of 4,000 workers who worked for eight years to finish its construction in 1573. Agra Fort is made of red sandstone and was the seat of the Mughal Empire. Some of the major attractions in Agra Fort that will leave you mesmerized are structures like the Sheesh Mahal, Moti Mahal, Jehangir’s Palace and Khas Mahal. The fort has four large gate of which the Delhi Gate was used for the king’s formal entry. Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam were reserved for royal audience and the public respectively.
Agra Fort has been prominent during the Mughal reign. Even though Akbar built it, during the rule of Shah Jahan, he renovated it by adding marble work and converting the raw red sandstone structure to a palace. Years later, his son Aurangzeb imprisoned him in the same fort at Mussaman Burj. Do pay a visit to this part of the fort as it offers one of the best views of the Taj Mahal. Despite these changes, Agra Fort is an epitome of Mughal architecture at its best and shouldn’t be missed.
Agra Fort is open to tourists all days of the week from 7 am to 6 pm. For Indians, the entry fee is Rs 20 while for foreigners it is Rs 300. It is spread across 94 acres so you will need about two hours to explore the entire monument.
One of Emperor Akbar’s pet projects was building a walled city a little away from Agra. He called it Fatehpur Sikri and even ruled here for sometime before he was forced to move out due to shortage of water supply. Nevertheless, the surviving monuments tell a tale of his valour and great work. Fateh in Persian signifies victory. The city survived and three of its walled sides are still intact. Akbar paid keen interest in its architecture and layout and it took about 15 years to plan and build it completely. Once ready, it had palaces, harems, buildings, courts and a mosque. But one of the best architectural wonders of Fatehpur Sikri is the Buland Darwaza, a grand gateway to the walled city. Made of red sandstone, there are 52 steps that lead up to its 175 ft high archway that has two inscriptions. Akbar’s favorite minister Birbal too has a monument in Fatehpur Sikri called Birbal’s house. Since he was a Hindu, the architecture is different than the usual Mughal buildings.
One of the first buildings to be constructed in Fatehpur Sikri was the Jama Masjid, a mosque built according to Indian mosque architecture. It also houses the tomb of Salim Chishti, a great Sufi saint. Akbar, who was the founder of the faith Din-e-Ilahi also constructed Ibadat Khana in Fatehpur Sikri which was used for meetings. The Panch Mahal, a five-storey palatial structure was for the ladies and the Naubat Khana that had drummers announce the entry of the emperor were other unique structures in this city. Despite the lavish architecture and careful planning, Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned in 1585 after ruling it from 1571. This was because the lake that supplied water to the city dried up. Even so, it is worth marvelling the beauty of what a magnificent city this once was. Fatehpur Sikri is about 37 km away from Agra but can be completed on the same trip. Most of the city lies uninhabited and reminds one of its once glorious past. You can find a few budget hotels to stay at near the Fatehpur Sikri Railway Station. Don’t miss visiting this place as it is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Akbar the Great built some majestic monuments in his lifetime and one of them was his tomb itself. The task of commissioning your own tomb is part of Turkic custom that Mughals adhered to. He even selected the site where he wanted to be kept. His last resting place, Sikandra is where Akbar’s Tomb is. His son Jehangir completed the construction of his father’s tomb in 1613 and it was beautifully carved, made of red sandstone. Just 1 km away from Akbar’s Tomb is Mariam’s Tomb, who was Akbar’s wife and Jehangir’s mother. The monument is open for visitors on all days of the week from 6 am to 6 pm. The entry fee for Indians is Rs 15 and for foreigners it is Rs 110.
Translating to moonlight garden, Mehtab Bagh is the perfect spot for admiring the beauty of the Taj Mahal. Built by Babur, it is a square garden that was once resplendent with pools, fountains and trees. Today, it makes for a recreational tourist spot. A Mughal garden, it is perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal along the Yamuna River and was described by Shah Jahan as the ideal spot for viewing the Taj Mahal.
Due to frequent floods and extraction of building material by the villagers, the garden lay in ruins by the ‘90s. However, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) intervened and started work to restore the garden to its original state. They even made sure that the plants used in Mehtab Bagh were ones that were originally a part of Mughal gardens. These included guava, Ashoka, jamun, neem, hibiscus, etc. There were four sandstone towers too in the garden at its four corners, however, only one remains now. During the restoration, other structures were added to Mehtab Bagh that were not originally a part of it. Some of these include a statue of BR Ambedkar holding the constitution of India, a temple and nurseries. Visit Mehtab Bagh between 6 am to 7 pm, it is open on all days of the week. The entry fee for Indians is Rs 5 while for foreign nationals it is Rs 100.
One of the ancient Shiva temples in the country, Mankameshwar Mandir holds much religious importance as according to the legend, Shiva installed a lingam here on his own. The Mughal architecture isn’t the only thing that draws tourists to Agra, temples like these are also crowd-pullers. The temple is close to Agra Fort and near other tourist monuments like the Taj Mahal. As per the legend, Shiva wanted to go to Mathura after the birth of Krishna to get a glimpse of the little baby boy. During his descent from Mount Kailash, he rested and meditated at the sight of this temple and declared that if he is able to reach in time to see Krishna, he will install his swaroop here. And so, on his way back he kept his word and there was a lingam here covered in silver.
Today, Shiva devotees come from different parts of the county to pay a visit to this temple. People have to climb down a flight of stairs to reach Mankameshwar Mandir’s sanctum sanctorum. It is surrounded by other idols of Shiva’s family and there are more temples behind this temple’s complex dedicated to other gods like Saraswati, Krishna, Hanuman and more.
When here, you can light a deepak and make a wish as the temple gets its name from a wish-fulfilling temple that Shiva himself created. Also, try the paan outside which is usually triangular and covered in silver foil. Mankameshwar Mandir is open on all days from 7 am to 10 pm and entry to the temple is free for all.
Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah
Another display of Mughal architecture, the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah was commissioned by Nur Jahan, Jehangir’s wife, for her father Mirza Beg who was given the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah or pillar of the state. The mausoleum is often referred as the draft of Taj Mahal or Baby Taj as it has various elements that are identical to the Wonder of the World. It is also called a jewel box as it isn’t as grand as other Mughal structures yet there is no compromise on its intricacy.
The Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah is made of white marble from Rajasthan and has semi-precious stones encrusted in its walls that display different objects such as a vase, bouquet, fruits, etc. Its construction began in 1622 and was completed in 1628. A garden criss-crossed by walkways and water courses surround the monument. It is located on the right bank of the Yamuna River and is a close replica of the Taj Mahal including its interiors. Mirza Beg’s tomb rests next to his wife’s tomb which was inspired by the Taj Mahal. Many of Nur Jahan’s relatives’ tombs are also kept in this monument.
You can visit the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah any day of the week between 6 am to 6 pm. The entry fee for Indians is Rs 10 and for foreigners it is Rs 250. Even though this is the smallest of the Mughal monuments, it is a must-visit when in Agra for its intricate work.
Guru ka Tal
People of the Sikh community have another reason to visit Agra as it is home to Guru ka Tal. A reservoir from the Mughal era, Guru ka Tal became a religious place when a gurudwara was constructed here in 1970s. What makes it a holy pilgrimage destination is the fact that four out of the 10 Sikh gurus have visited this place in their lifetime. Being both a historical and religious site, it draws enough tourists as well as pilgrims.
Guru ka Tal is also known for its stone carvings and towers that increase its beauty manifold. Even though it is a Sikh religious place, owing to its Mughal past, its architecture of red sandstone reminds us of its historical past. The gurudwara is built in the memory of Guru Tegh Bahadur Ji, the ninth Sikh guru who was martyred here during his fight for the freedom to practise one’s faith.
The first of the eleven Mughal gardens to be built, Ram Bagh was Babur’s idea and was initially called Amar Bagh that translates to garden of relaxation. Built in 1528 on the banks of River Yamuna, it is about 5 km away from the Taj Mahal. The idea of the garden was inspired from a Persian garden that represents the Islamic idea of paradise. Therefore, Ram Bagh had lush greenery with a river flowing through it. It has two viewing pavilions that were built in such a way that the cool breeze from the Yamuna and the trees would keep them cool even during peak summer season. Mughal Emperor Babur spent a lot of time in this garden and even died here. Before moving his body to Kabul, it was kept here for some time. Not just him, Emperor Akbar and his son Jehangir also spent their time in Ram Bagh. The present restored garden displays Nur Jahan’s skills as a garden designer.
If you love to shop and want to take back home something that will remind you of your Agra trip, head to Kinari Bazaar. A crowded market filled with shops selling some of the best local arts and crafts, Kinari Bazaar is behind Jama Masjid. You will have to brace yourself to walk through narrow lanes that are bursting with people to shop here. From shoes, fabrics, spices, jewellery to even marble work, you will find everything in this market. You can even sample local snacks at one of the many street shops. Kinari Bazaar opens at 11 am and shuts down by 9 pm. It is open all days of the week except Tuesdays. Keep this for later once you are done with sightseeing in Agra.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN AGRA
Being a tourist spot, Agra offers accommodation for all types of budgets. It also has homestays and hostels if you do not want to shell out too much money. Budget accommodation can cost you anything from Rs 500 to Rs 1,000 and can be easily found around the Taj Mahal. However, accommodation at a low-end or budget hotel is not advisable as it could well be in one of the dirtier parts of the city.Mid-range hotels charge anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000, while tariff at luxury hotels can go Rs 3,000 upwards. The luxury hotels at Agra are among the best in the country and since Agra receives tourists all through the year it is advisable to book in advance.
Among luxury stays, the Oberoi Amarvilas (0562 2231515) is one of the best with breathtaking views of the Taj Mahal from your hotel room. ITC Mughal (0562 4021700) is another royal stay that is close to the Taj Mahal. Ramada Plaza Agra (0562 7123500) and Radisson Blu Hotel (0562 4055555) are mid-range options. Hotel The Taj Vilas Agra (0562 2334466) and Hotel Alleviate (0562 2458800) are decent budget accommodations.
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN AGRA
Foodies will have a gala time sampling Agra’s cuisine. The city is bestknown for its petha, pedhas, gajak and dalmoth. Thanks to its Mughal past, Agra is also one of the best destinations to sample Mughlai cuisine.
Peshawari at ITC Mughal (0562 4021700) serves one of the best north Indian and Mughlai food. It is on the lavish side and you can expect to shell out Rs 2500 for dinner for two here. The non-vegetarian fare here is lip-smacking. Pinch of Spice (0562 4045353) is a hole-in-the-wall place that serves amazing food. If you have a sweet tooth, drop by Panchi Petha Store (+91 7055500774) at Agra Cantt that is known for its wide range of pethas. From the regular ones to kesar, chocolate and paan flavoured pethas, this one is a must-try. Bhagat Halwai at Civil Lines (+91 9045123333) is another local shop you should visit for a taste of Indian chaat and some sweet treats. Don’t expect anything fancy from the ambience but the affordable and yummy food is what makes it popular among locals and tourists. Make sure you leave room for snacks like kachori and samosa in the evening that go well with tea and are a common delicacy in Agra.
EVENTS AND FESTIVALS IN AGRA
Agra is home to a number of festivals and events that take place throughout the year to give tourists a flavor of the city and something to remember than just its sightseeing attractions. Here are some of the top festivals celebrated in Agra every year.
Probably the biggest celebration of the monument, Taj Mahotsav usually takes place in February every year. It started in 1992 as a means of attracting more tourists and giving them something more. The event takes place on a grand scale and lasts for a week or more. From local artisans selling their crafts to ghazal performances, poetry sessions, plays and dance and music performances by celebrities, you can expect to have a fun-filled time at Taj Mahotsav. Every year, the schedule for the festival is available online days prior to the event and you can choose to go on the day your favorite artist is performing. The event charges a nominal fee for Indian nationals and many of the sessions are even free. The month of February was chosen as the weather is usually pleasant and the influx of foreign tourists is usually high during this time.
Taj Literature Festival
Keeping up with it legacy of culture and art, Taj Literature Festival celebrates the Agra and its greats by means of the written word. The event has seen some of the best in the industry come together to give the audience the best literary experience. In 2016, Taj Literature Festival took place in February. Verses of Agra’s legendary poets like Mirza Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir to the influence of Sufi saints on the city were part of the festival in its previous years.
One of the biggest annual events not just in Agra but the whole of north India, Ram Barat is an annual marriage procession for Ram that is part of the Ramlila. Every year a new location is chosen in Agra and given a facelift to make it look fitting for the royal procession. What started almost 125 years ago by a businessman named Lala Kokamal is still held every year by his family. The procession lasts for three days and people from all parts of the county visit Agra to witness this carnival. The area chosen is given more funding to decorate it for the special occasion. Skilled craftsmen create giant structures like the Janak Mahal and streets are lit up for the procession. The preparations begin well in advance to ensure that things go smoothly. There is non-stop music and film theatres run movies all night long to keep the people who have come from other cities entertained. These three days are absolute fun for those who love such festivities.
Just 12 km off Agra is a town called Kailash that houses the Kailash temple outside which the annual fair is organized in August or September. Kailash Fair is a fun-filled affair that attracts people of north India especially Shiva devotees. It is believed that Shiva himself paid a visit to Kailash in the form of a stone lingam. The fair is held every year to celebrate and pray to the lord and seek his blessings. Not just for religious people, Kailash Fair is one of the most colourful celebrations as the entire place is decorated and stalls are put up. Sweets, street food, arts, crafts, etc are available at these stalls and people throng in large numbers to be a part of it. They first pay a visit to the temple where they offer milk and flowers and then enjoy the revelry outside. Kailash Fair is perfect to witness one of the most colourful festivals of the country.
NEARBY PLACES FROM AGRA
After you are done with your Agra tour and you have a day or two in hand, you can visit nearby places close to the city. Uttar Pradesh is home to several other attractions that are not too far away from Agra. We recommend you that you take out time to visit these places too.
Located just 49 km away from Agra, Mathura is popular for being the birthplace of Krishna and for its celebration of Holi and Janmashtami. Not just this, a visit to Mathura is incomplete without sampling its sweets. The city is one of the seven in India that is believed to grant moksha.
When in Mathura visit places like the Garbha Griha at the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi Temple. It is believed to be a prison cell and the exact birthplace of Krishna. Vishram Ghat is another place of religious importance. According to mythology, this is where he rested after killing his maternal uncle Kansa. The Dwarkadhish Temple is not just a place of worship but is also known for its intricate architecture. Rangbhoomi is another place of interest as this is where the fight between Krishna and Kansa took place.
For devotees of Krishna, the next stop is Vrindavan that is 55 km away from Agra. If Mathura was the birthplace of Krishna, Vrindavan was where he grew up. The entire city is a pilgrimage and one of the oldest cities in the world.
When in Vrindavan, don’t miss a visit to the Banke Bihari Temple. It is one of the most popular one and the idols here are hidden from public view by a white curtain which is lifted every few minutes. It was built in 1864 and attracts a large number of devotees every year. The Jaigurudeo Temple is made of white marble resembling the Taj Mahal and has a strange custom of not accepting any donations from non-vegetarians. The ISKCON Group that has temples across India has one in Vrindavan too. Singing and dancing in praise of Krishna is quite common here.
Situated 54 km from Agra, Bharatpur is a haven for bird lovers as it houses the Bharatpur National Park and has over 300 species of birds including Siberian Cranes that migrate here in the winter. It was earlier a hunting ground for royals and the British but now offers a save environ for its flora and fauna. Ducks, hawks, flycatchers, larks, buntings, etc are a few of this park’s attractions. If you love history and architecture, Bharatpur has something in store for you too. It has regal forts and palaces such as the Deeg Palace which is a fortress built by Badan Singh. You will find beautiful gardens and fountains here.
For a taste of both Mughal and Rajput architecture, head to Bharatpur Palace that is known for its exquisite floor work. There is a museum in the palace that has artefacts dating back to the second century and shouldn’t be missed. After this, visit the Lohagarh Fort that translates to iron fort. The British tried destroying it multiple times but it could not be broken and thus became a symbol of strength and victory.
A little further away, about 119 km away from Agra lies Gwalior which makes for a good weekend getaway from the city. Known for its architecture of majestic palaces, forts and temples, Gwalior is perfect for a family trip with kids. Music too is big part of Gwalior’s culture and it has the country’s first ever museum of musical instruments.
One of the prime tourist attractions in Gwalior is the Gwalior Fort that offers majestic views of the valley. Perched on a hilltop, it makes for a majestic monument. The Scindia Museum is another attraction in the city and is in the Jai Vilas Palace. Visit the Kala Vithika museum for a taste of the culture and tradition of Madhya Pradesh.
219 km away from the historical city of Agra lies India’s capital Delhi. A buzzing city with so much to offer, there is never enough time to explore it. However, you can still manage to see parts of it depending on your interests. Foodie, shopaholics or history lovers, Delhi has something for all and more. While covering all of it may not be possible, take your pick and enjoy as much as you can.
Delhi is home to some of the most famous monuments in the country like the Red Fort, India Gate, Qutub Minar, etc. Not just these, monuments of religious importance also dot the city. Some of these are the Jama Masjid, Akshardham Temple and Lotus Temple.
For shoppers, there are several markets in Delhi that offer everything from designer boutiques to affordable fashion. Chandani Chowk is often thronged by brides-to-be while Sarojini Nagar is for people looking for a good bargain. Delhi Haat is famous for it collection of clothes and handicrafts from local artisans from the country. If you want to sample some of Delhi’s lip-smacking food, head to Paranthewali Galli in Chandni Chowk or Hauz Khas Village for pubs, restaurants and clubs. Connaught Place or CP is another place to head to for amazing food and branded shops. It is best to take the metro to avoid being stuck in traffic in Delhi.
Author: Kriti Saraswat-Satpathy
BEST TIME TO VISIT AGRA
The average minimum and maximum temperature of Agra is as given below. The best time to visit Agra is also specified.