Sights & Landmarks in Agra
Agra's top two sights by far are the incomparable Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. When planning your sightseeing, take heed of the convoluted entry fee system: for Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Itmud-ad-Daulah, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri, you must pay a ₹500 levy to the Agra Development Authority in addition to the prices mentioned below. Once paid, the levy is valid for all sights, but only for one day. However, If you are not going to the Taj Mahal or happen to turn up on a Friday, then you do not have to pay the ₹500 levy but a smaller one if you are going to the other sites e.g. ₹50 for Red Fort.
Prices (June 2012) are: ₹750 for Taj Mahal (₹250 entrance + ₹500 levy) and ₹300 for Agra Fort (₹250 entrance + ₹50 levy). One gets ₹50 discount when presenting ticket for Taj Mahal at Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal entry fee also includes a 500 ml bottle of water and shoe covers. Make sure you pick them up when you buy your ticket.
Official guides are available for Agra for ₹1200 (approx USD20) for a half day (including Taj Mahal & Agra Fort). Ask at your agent for details. Any guide that charges less than that is probably an unlicensed tout. Most unlicensed touts have fake IDs and focus more on taking you shopping rather than on presenting accurate information.You can book a local Govt.Approved guide by logging www.tajtourguide.com or online search.
In April 2011 the Archaeological Survey of India introduced an official self-guided audio tour (₹105 in English & foreign languages or ₹63 in Hindi & Indian languages) which allows visitors to experience the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort at their own pace with authentic and factually accurate information. The official audio guide booth is near the monument ticket counters. Apps for self-guided tours are also available for iPhone and Android.
Please note that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday
The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife. Taj Mahal meansCrown Palace; one of the wife's names was Mumtaz Mahal, Ornament of the Palace. The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture and one of the great sites of the world's heritage.
The Taj Mahal has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones. It is a celebration of woman built in marble and that is the way to appreciate it.
Although it is one of the most photographed edifices in the world and instantly recognisable, actually seeing it is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, and extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.
There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy out of black marble on the opposite side of the river. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.
Because the Taj is white, your camera may underexpose your photos. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.
The Taj is open from 06:00 to 19:30 every dayexcept Friday. Entry costs ₹250 (plus levy of ₹500) for foreigners and ₹20 for Indians. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds, and plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is also utterly stunning under a full moon.
To buy tickets, you can go to the south gate, but this gate is 1 km far away of the entrance and the counter open at 08:00. At the west and east gate, the counter open at 06:00. Alongside the ticket counter, you can also purchase a self-guided audio tour (allows two to a device) for ₹100 in English and foreign languages and ₹60 for Indian languages.
The Taj is located pretty much in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds. There are three gates. The western gate is the main gate where most tourists enter. A large number of people turn up on weekends and public holidays and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are much less busy and should be tried on such days.
There are night viewing sessions on the nights of a full moon and the two days before and after (so five days in total). Exceptions are Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) and the month of Ramadan. Tickets must be purchased 24 hours in advance, starting at 10:00, but do not always sell out, so it can be worth looking into it when you arrive even if well after 10:00. Tickets only allow viewing from the red sandstone plaza at the south end of the complex, and only for a 1/2 hour window.
Make sure to wear mosquito repellent.
It is a good idea to bring a torch, because the interior of the Taj Mahal is quite dark even during the day and to fully appreciate the details of the gem inlays, you need a good light.
Taj Mahal can also be seen during night 2 days before and 2 days after the full moon. In all 5 days including full moon, the booking has to be made 24 hours in advance from the Archaeological Society of India office situated at 22, Mall Road, Agra. Ticket fare is ₹500 for Indian Nationals and ₹750 for Non Indians. The viewing hours for night viewing are 20:30 to 21:00 and 09:00 to 21:30. A visitor must arrive 30 min prior to viewing hours for security check at the Taj Mahal Ticketing counter at the East Gate. The night view is likely not worth spending the money as the visitors are kept far from the Taj Mahal (nearly 200 metres away) and there is insufficient light for viewing or photography.
Agra Fort is similar in layout to the Red Fort in Delhi, but considerably better preserved, as much of Delhi Fort was razed by the British after the Mutiny. As much a palace as a defensive structure, it is also constructed mainly from red sandstone, and much white marble in the palace section of the fort.
Emperor Akbar, king at 14, began consolidating his empire and, as an assertion of his power built the fort in Agra between 1565 and 1571, at the same time as Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. Emperor Shah Jahan added to the fort and ended up a prisoner in it. The fort has a beautiful view of his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal, on a clear day.
You can get to the fort by Rickshaw from Taj Mahal for around ₹25-30. Entry to the fort is ₹250 plus a levy of ₹50 if you have not already paid the ₹500 fee for Taj Mahal.
There are left luggage services at Agra Fort where you can stow your bags at no cost. A fine of ₹5,000 applies if you lose your luggage ticket.
There are also audio guides available at Agra Fort which you can rent for a cost of ₹100 in English and other foreign languages (German, French, Spanish, etc.) or ₹60 in Indian languages such as Hindi or Bengali.
- Mehtab Bagh (directly across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, the trip takes about 30 minutes from the centre of town by autorickshaw and will cost about ₹200). These botanical gardens give you an opportunity to view the Taj without the crowds of tourists. Alternatively, walk past the entrance and straight to the sandy banks of the river: the view of the Taj is every bit as lovely (perhaps more so, since the barbed wire fence surrounding the gardens will be behind you), although you may have to deal with aggressive touts. Don't forget to take a round trip by auto rickshaw. Entrance to the park is ₹100 for foreigners.
- Ram Bagh. The first Mughal gardens, built by the first Mughal Emperor Babar, 500 m North of the Chini Ka Rauza.
- Soami Bagh (10 km north of Agra). The white marble samadhi of the Radha Soami religion. Construction started in 1904 and is not expected to be completed until sometime in the next century. Visitors can see pietra dura inlaid marblework actually being worked on. Soami Bagh is 2 km north of Agra and can be reached by bus or cycle.
- Balkeshwar Temple (At Balkeshwar, at river side of Yamuna). A temple of Lord Shiva.
- Kailash Temple (at Sikandra, at the river Yamuna). A Lord Shiva Temple.
- Mahakal And Mahakali Temple (At Sikandra railway crossing on Sikandra Bodla road).
- Mankameshwar Temple (At Rawatpara, near Agra Fort railway station. Near the raja ki mandi; a simple cycle rikshaw can take you there for a fare of 20/-.). Listen to the aarti as some claim it purifies your soul. It is the most visited temple by locals, and during festive seasons its so crowded disrupting the traffic in the nearby areas.
- Prithvinath Temple (At Shahganj. On road to Jaipur.).
- Rajeshwar Temple (At Village Rajpur. On road to Shamshabd.).
- Rawli Maharaj Temple (At Collectrate crossing, beside the railway track). Very old temple.
- Shyam Ji Maharaj Temple (At Bijlighar).
- Chini Ka Roza (Chini Ka Rauza). A memorial dedicated to the Prime Minister of Shah Jahan, Allama Afzel Khal Mullah Shukrullah of Shiraz, notable for its dome of blue glazed tiles.
- Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb. Empress Nur Jehan built Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, sometimes called the Baby Taj, for her father, Ghias-ud-Din Beg, the Chief Minister of Emperor Jahangir. Small in comparison to many other Mughal-era tombs, it is sometimes described as a jewel box. Its garden layout and use of white marble, pietra dura, inlay designs and latticework presage many elements of the Taj Mahal.
- Gurudwara Guru ka Taal (at Delhi-Agra Highway, located between Transport Nagar and Sikandra).
- Jama Masjid. A large mosque attributed to Princess Jahanara Begum, built in 1648 during the reign of the father Shah Jahan. Notable for its unusual dome and absence of minarets.
- Mariam's Tomb (West from Akbar's Tomb on Agra-Delhi highway).Constructed by Jahangir in the memory of his mother Mariam Zammani. The grave is made of white marble. Though this building is in a ruined condition, yet it has in its vicinity, a Christian Mission School and a church. It is also said; Akbar himself made that it in the memory of his Christian wife.
- Sikandra (10 km north of Agra on the Agra Delhi highway). Open from sunrise to sunset. The tomb of Akbar lies here in the centre of the large garden. Akbar started its construction himself but it was completed by his son Jehangir, who significantly modified the original plans which accounts for the somewhat cluttered architectural lines of the tomb. Four red sandstone gates lead to the tomb complex: one is Muslim, one Hindu, one Christian, and one is Akbar's patent mixture.
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