Destination Guide: Agra, India

Destination Guide: Agra, IndiaAbout Agra

The Indian city of Agra is renowned as the home city of the Taj Mahal, the stunning monument that is one of the Seven Wonders of World. Agra, along with Jaipur and Delhi, makes up the Golden Triangle or India’s most popular tourist route.

Located at a distance of 125 miles (200km) southeast of Delhi, Agra can be easily accessed by road or train. However, most visitors are advised to spend at least two days in Agra, so that they can view the many avatars of the Taj Mahal, as it changes color according to the passage of the sun, from rose-pink at dawn to brilliant-white at noon and inky-blue at twilight.

The origins of Agra can be traced to 1475, when it was established as a large city by a Hindu King, Badal Singh. The city gained much prominence in 1504, when Sikander Lodhi, the last king of the Lodhi dynasty declared Agra as the capital of his kingdom. Agra soon fell into the hands of the Mughals when Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, defeated Sikander Lodhi in 1526 and established Agra as the capital of his empire.

Agra continued to enjoy this pre-eminent position as India’s premier city, for the next two centuries as successive Mughal emperors like Akbar and Shah Jahan built many impressive buildings here during their reigns, including the world’s greatest monument to love, the much celebrated and heavily tourist-trafficked Taj Mahal.

Best time to visit Agra

The city of Agra on the Ganges plain and thus experiences a continental climate, which is characterized by very hot sweltering summers and cool winters. Summer (April to September) temperatures in Agra can reach as high as 48°C (119°F). These soaring temperatures are often accompanied by hot, strong, dry winds, which are colloquially referred to as ‘loo’.

Daytime winter temperatures (November to February) in Agra tend to hover around the 14°C (57°F) mark, though nighttime temperatures often dip sharply, to fall below the freezing mark.

Another hallmark of Agra winters is the dense fog that envelopes the city during the early hours of the morning. This thick fog routinely delays and disrupts air travel and causes much havoc. Based on this rather peculiar weather pattern, it is believed that the best time to visit Agra is between October and March, when the temperatures in the city are quite pleasant and thus ideal for sightseeing.

Family-friendly attractions in Agra

The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly Agra’s most famous attraction however Agra is also home to a few other Mughal-era attractions which are definitely worth exploring on any visit to the city.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, which is often used as a symbol of India. Located on the banks of the River Yamuna, within a walled enclave, overlooking a reflecting pool and landscaped gardens, the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their fourteenth offspring in 1631.

However, this great tale of love has another twist to it, for when Shah Jahan’s son, the devoutly Muslim and austere Aurangzeb seized power and the throne of Agra in 1658, he imprisoned his father in the Agra fort. Shah Jahan then spent his last years gazing wistfully at the shrine that contained the remains of his beloved Mumtaz and when he passed away in 1666, he was laid to rest beside his wife in the very monument he had created to commemorate their great tale of love.

The Taj Mahal is the finest example of Mughal architecture that features an amalgamation of Indian, Persian and Turkish architectural styles. This white domed structure, which is built of white marble, showcases exquisite craftsmanship as it is adorned with stunning inlay work that features verses from the Koran and semi-precious stones. The construction of this stunning monument started in 1632 and was completed only in 1653 and involved the hard work and skill of thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The Taj Mahal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

Destination Guide: Agra, IndiaDestination Guide: Agra, IndiaDestination Guide: Agra, IndiaDestination Guide: Agra, IndiaThe Agra Fort

The Agra Fort, which is located close to the Taj Mahal, is an imposing red sandstone fortress, which encompasses several important palaces and mosques with its 2.5 km (1.5 mile) long walls.

Prominent points of interest located within this walled Mughal city include structures like the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, both of which were built by Shah Jahan, the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and Mina Masjid (Heavenly Mosque), the Diwani-i-Am and Diwani-i-khas (the public and private audience halls), the Rang Mahal (the palace where the wives and mistresses of the king resided) and the Sheesh Mahal (the private dressing rooms adorned with tiny mirrors arranged in a mosaic-like pattern). Also located within the fort is the Muhammam Burj, or the large Octagonal tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned and spent the last seven years of his life. The Agra Fort is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fatehpur Sikri

The abandoned and forlorn city of Fatehpur Sikri served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1570 to 1585. This magnificent wall city, which is built of red sandstone, was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Akbar. It is believed that Akbar commissioned this new city, in order to commemorate a Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chisti, who had predicted that the then childless Emperor would soon be blessed with a son. Soon after the emperor became a father, he was so impressed and overjoyed that he decided to build a new city at the very site where he had met the saint.

Akbar then decided to shift his capital to this new city of Fatehpur Sikri. However he had to abandon his plans and move back to Agra after fifteen years at the new site, as the new city suffered from severe water shortages. Fatehpur Sikri stands perfectly preserved and untouched since this time. An abandoned city, which features large central squares, pavilions, palaces, gardens, temples and mosques, like the Jama Masjid, the biggest mosque in India. Fatehpur Sikri is located at a distance of 40 km (25 miles) to the west of Agra and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Family-friendly Hotels in Agra

Visitors from all over the country and the world flock to see the famed Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. As a result, this gritty and rather industrial city is equipped with a wide array of hotels and guesthouses that cater to all travel budgets and accommodation preferences. Most of these lodging options in Agra are family-friendly and include the following properties:-

Budget

Grand Hotel Agra

The Grand Hotel Agra is located in the heart of the city near the airport and attractions like Agra Fort. This modest hotel property offers common facilities like a restaurant, a coffee shop/café, and bar/lounge. Other facilities provided include a children’s club and an amusement arcade. The hotel serves its guests a complimentary breakfast daily and offers wireless and wired high speed Internet access in its public areas (chargeable).

The hotel offers 70 air-conditioned, spacious rooms equipped with amenities like minibars, safes, flat screen TVs with premium satellite and free movie channels, coffee/ tea makers and premium bedding. High speed wireless Internet access is also available for an additional fee.

Mid-Range

Clarks Shiraz Agra

The Clarks Shiraz Agra is a relatively modern hotel, which is located in the heart of the city near the airport and the main train station. The hotel is also located close the Taj Mahal and many of its guest rooms offer gorgeous views of this famed monument. The hotel is equipped with 237 well-appointed and air-conditioned guest rooms which are outfitted with everyday essentials like tea/coffee makers and flat screen TVs equipped with premium and cable channels. Common facilities at the hotel include a fitness center, a spa that offers Ayurveda massages and an outdoor swimming pool. Additional services at the hotel include a concierge desk, currency exchange facilities, a doctor on call service and babysitting services (chargeable).

Luxury

The Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel

The luxurious Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel is located at a distance of a mere 600 meters from the Taj Mahal and affords stunning vistas of this world famous ‘ode to love’. The hotel is built in a style inspired by Mughal and Moorish architecture and it offers lavishly adorned guestrooms and suites, which are outfitted with a slew of amenities.

All guestrooms at the Oberoi Amarvilas are outfitted with modern-day essentials like in- room safes, flat screen TVs equipped with satellite and cable channels, wireless broadband Internet access and plush bedding. Not only are these rooms at the Oberoi Amarvilas luxuriously adorned, they are also equipped with round the clock butler service, a facility which is found at only the ‘best’ hotels in world. The hotel also offers various common facilities like a state of the art fitness center, a full service spa that offers Ayurveda and Thai massage treatments, two restaurants and an indoor heated swimming pool.

Destination Guide: Agra, India

Visas

Almost all nationalities require a visa to visit India. India only grants visa-exempt access to citizens of its neighboring countries, Nepal and Bhutan. Additionally, India offers a ‘Visa on Arrival’ facility for citizens of 11 countries. Currently citizens of Finland,

Japan, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Indonesia are eligible for a ‘visa on arrival’ in India. However, if your parents or grandparents were born or have lived in present-day Pakistan, you cannot avail of this option.

All other visitors have to acquire a tourist visa from the Indian consulate/embassy located in their home country before embarking on a visit to India. Indian visas are issued for various durations and ten year visas for India are usually available in the USA, while five year visas for India are often issued in countries like France, Germany, Norway, Spain, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Vietnam.

All visas for India are generally multi-entry and offer a six month entry into India at a time. However, holders of these Indian multiple-entry tourist visas are required to leave a gap of at least two months between visits. If you need to go back to India within this two month period, you have to obtain special permission from the Indian consulate/mission located in your home country.

The issue of a tourist visa for a visit to India is subject to various conditions and it is advisable to contact your nearest Indian consulate/embassy for more details.


Getting to and around Agra

Agra is equipped with a small airport called the Kheira Airport, which is located 6km (3.7 miles) from the city center. Air connections to this airport are rather sporadic and hence most visitors, who choose to visit Agra, use train services to access Agra or get to Agra by road from other urban centers like Delhi and Jaipur, which are located close by.

Agra is easily accessed by train from other major Indian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Jaipur. These long distance trains come into Agra’s main Railway stations like Agra Cantonment, Raja Ki Mandi and Idgah Railway Station. Transport within the city is provided by the city’s abundant fleet of taxis, rickshaws and auto-rickshaws.

No polluting vehicles are allowed in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal, so visitors who wish to view this eternal symbol of love, have to drive up to the Taj in an electric auto or in a horse drawn carriage called a Tanga, both modes of transport are available for hire in the city.

For more information:

Ministry of Tourism
124 Transport Bhawan,
Sansad Marg, New Delhi- 110001
Fax : +91-011 23710518
E-mail :contactus@incredibleindia.org

http://www.incredibleindia.org