Last Updated on December 18, 2023 by Christine Kaaloa
Forgive travel clichés! Agra offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and unexpected architectural gems beyond the masterpiece of the Taj Mahal. This Agra travel guide will help you navigate the city beyond the iconic landmark.
Table of Contents: Agra Travel Guide: The Taj Mahal’s Lovely Backside
The Taj Mahal is a must-see traveler’s dream
…Momentarily, forget that its beauty is silently stained by the blood of 20,000+ craftsmen, who labored for 22 years, only to get their hands chopped off and eyes gorged out, so as not to replicate it or witness anything grander!…The Taj is everything you imagine it to be in architectural poetry. Each angle is exactly as every photo or postcard has captured it. The clinching view is almost always this. The love story of Emperor Shah Jahan erecting this mausoleum to honor his deceased wife, Mumtaz Mahal is the ultimate romance.
Be prepared for crowds. Not to worry- it’s easy to lose yourself in its intricate details, graceful symmetry, and poignant love story.You can also xplore the gardens, minarets, and adjoining mosque for a deeper understanding of this UNESCO wonder.
Tickets range from ₹50 (Indians) to ₹1100 (foreigners). Early morning entry boasts limited tickets at higher prices, but consider online booking for a smoother experience. Operating Hours: Open from 6 AM to 6 PM (closed on Fridays). The sunrise hours offer captivating light and fewer crowds (purchase special sunrise tickets in advance!)
Taj Ganj: Beauty and the Beast- Unveiling the City’s Soul
Stepping outside the Taj, you’ll encounter a contrasting world – Taj Ganj. This bustling bazaar is a stark yet charming contrast to the Taj’s serene beauty. Most shops open around 10 AM and close by 8 PM.
At first glance, the area appears sketchy and disappointing, but explore the streets and you may find an unusual love here. Like a five o’clock shadow the ganj stands in defiant opposition to the Taj’s beauty, reminding visitors that the Taj Mahal was built by working class hands, blood and sweat and by a people, who lived a simple lifestyle outside of the Taj’s powerful affluence.
- Working Class: Local shops selling fresh produce, sweets, spices, jewelry, housewares, etc… Meanwhile, larger streets accommodate shops for family doctors, a pharmacy, barbers, tailors, etc… The area makes for an interesting and delightful stroll, as it’s filled with a warm character of the hard-working Indian masses.
- Exploring the Grit: TheTajganj is a bit of a wild child. Wander through narrow lanes where you’ll find shops with fresh produce, colorful spices, and local wares. Sample street food like the sugary sweet Jalebis, hand-made yogurt, pakoras and witness the daily neighborhood life unfolding before you.
- Hidden Gems: Seek out unique experiences like visiting the Soami Bagh – a serene Mughal garden hidden in the chaos, or witnessing the intricate embroidery at Zardozi Market, a very traditional craft specific to Agra where artists create detailed metallic designs from metallic threads..
- Surpringly, Taj Ganj residents have not set up blocks of souvenir shops (although there are strings of souvenir shops at the west gate). They don’t even push you to buy anything!Travelers can expect to find a no-fuss laid back village town, doing its own thing, refusing to change in the face of tourism. The ganj may not be idyllic or even very pretty . But is a very real beauty, that one shouldn’t overlook.
Agra Travel Guide Gems
Your Agra travel guide wouldn’t be complete without venturing beyond the Taj Mahal. Here are some must-sees:
- Agra Fort: A majestic Mughal fortress offering panoramic views of the Taj and revealing the opulence of Shah Jahan’s era. (Cost: ₹50 for Indians, ₹550 for foreigners. Open 6 AM to 6 PM)
- Tomb of Akbar: An architectural masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage site honoring Mughal emperor Akbar. (Cost: ₹50 for Indians, ₹550 for foreigners. Open 6 AM to 6 PM)
- Mehtab Bagh: Witness a breathtaking view of the Taj reflected in the Yamuna River from this serene Mughal garden. (Cost: ₹30 for Indians, ₹300 for foreigners. Open 6 AM to 6 PM)
Photo slideshow of Taj Ganj residents below. Please wait to load…
Tips for your day trip to Agra
If you’re in Delhi, take a guided day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal in person is a must-do for many travelers. It will take a bit of time to get there and back, so plan a day for it.
- Hire a guide: A local guide can provide insights into the history and architecture of the Taj Mahal, making your visit even more enriching.
- Comfortable shoes: You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so wear comfortable shoes.
- Food: Sample Agra’s Mughlai cuisine at one of the many restaurants near the Taj Mahal.
- Dress modestly, as the Taj Mahal is a Muslim religious site.
- Carry water and sunscreen, especially during the summer months.
Where to stay in Agra?
There’s a range of great budget hotels in Agra. The problem is always finding one of good quality and standard. Taj Ganj holds several guesthouses (and hotels) for the budget backpacker. Many lodges boast a close proximity to the Taj with views of the Taj (mostly from the rooftop) at cheap prices; however, the joints here can range from decent to gritty. The nicer guesthouses and hotels, reside further (10+ minutes) from the ganj and require a drive. Taxi entrance into the ganj is closed at some point due to security purposes and you’ll need to be dropped at the the road block and need to walk in. Aside from the ganj, there’s not much to do in Agra and many things are spaced apart, so you’re looking at the ganj as your main form of excitement.
I stayed in a string of guesthouses next to the western gate of the Taj and near the Protected Forest. Across my guesthouse was a row of souvenir shops selling anything from sandals to clothes. One night ranged around 700rp for a room with two twin beds and a bathroom ensuite. No AC, just fan. Tip: If you’re in Agra, get the room with the AC.
East of the Taj Mahal is Fatehabad Road, boasting modern family-friendly hotels (with pools) sit near parks, cafe chains, maybe even a Pizza Hut. Cantonment and Sadar Bazaar areas offer something for everyone. You’ll want to book a nearby hotel in advance— affordable, clean, respectable and preferably without the culture shock of broken toilets, stained walls, critters, etc…
Where to eat in Taj ganj
There’s few restaurants to dine at in Taj Ganj as well as, a few basic convenience or town houseware shops, where you buy toiletries and snacks. If you’re escaping the heat, there’s a nice air-conditioned chain coffee joint past the Taj west gate. More centrally located is Joney’s Place, a small shack of a restaurant that I had lassi at due to a Lonely Planet recommendation. Also, there’s a variety of hole-in-the-wall cafes soliciting tourists (and Asian tourists at that). They’re located on the main street Fatehabad Road and reading the menus will add a little chuckle to your day.
Two restaurants in Taj Ganj which serve “KOREIN” food.
Getting to Agra
Trains take 2-4 hours, while cars can take 3-5 hours depending on traffic. Book your Taj Mahal tickets online in advance, especially during peak season (October-March). Early mornings are the best time to visit is early morning for cooler temperatures and fewer crowds
You can book tickets at www.indianrail.gov.in or check my trip planning India tips for more options
The main station is the Delhi Railway Station, which is located in Paharganj and can feel like bit of a culture shock for the average tourist. Another station in Delhi, 20 minutes away is the H Nizamuddin Railway Station. Your arrival station in Agra is Agra Cantt (AGC). Duration: 3-5 hours. Take a taxi to Taj ganj. You will be dropped outside.
Taj Mahal Information
Official website: www.tajmahal.gov.in Admission: foreigners 750 ruppees. Hours: Sunrise-Sunset (closed on Fridays)
Government-run budget tours (Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri) Full & Half-day tours, departure from Agra Cannt Train station at 10:30A
About traveling to Agra & map: http://www.mapsofagra.com/