Agra is a city in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state. It’s home to the iconic Taj Mahal, a mausoleum built for the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal (who died in childbirth in 1631). The imposing main building features a massive dome and intricately carved white marble inlaid with precious stones. This is set behind a reflecting pool inside a courtyard defined by 4 minarets.
Area: 87 km²
Population: 1.586 million (2011)
People from all around the world may not have heard of Agra, but everyone knows the beautiful ivory white-marble mausoleum, Taj Mahal, as the icon of love. This wonder of the world is the perfect example of the intricacy and brilliance of Persian and Mughal architecture. It was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Today, the Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it continues to hold the same magical appeal, attracting approximately eight million tourists a year. Viewing of the Taj Mahal is usually from sunrise to sunset, except Fridays. Night viewing of the Taj Mahal is only allowed on five nights of the month: the night of the full moon and two days before and after.
As you enter and start to cross courtyard after courtyard, you realize that Agra has one of the finest Mughal forts in India. This red sandstone and marble architecture exudes power and grandiosity. Agra fort was primarily begun by Emperor Akber in 1565 as a military structure and was later transformed into a palace by his grandson Emperor Shah Jahan. Some of the most iconic structures in Mughal history are still a part of this fort, such as Shish Mahal (Mirror Palace), Diwan-e-aam (Hall of general audience) and Diwan-e-khaas (Hall of private audiences). The Amar Singh gate, which was originally built to confuse attackers with its dogleg design, is now the sole point of entry to the fort.
Constructed just opposite the Taj Mahal, Mehtab bagh is a char-bagh (four garden) complex that is considered the ultimate viewing point of the magnificent marble mausoleum. The garden is open from sunrise to sunset and is considered a photographer’s haven because it is the point from where you can take some unique photographs of the Taj with a gorgeous backdrop.
Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah
This tomb is the first to be built in white marble instead of red sandstone, which officially marked the cessation of red sandstone from Mughal architecture. Itimad-ud-Daula is sometimes referred to as the “baby Taj” or a draft of the Taj Mahal, as it has been constructed with the same elaborate carvings and pietra dura (cut-out stone work) inlay techniques.
The tomb is surrounded by beautiful gardens that make it the perfect site to relax and experience the beauty of an old era that was rich in art, culture, and history.
To experience what most of Agra felt like many years ago, Kinari Bazar is the perfect place to visit. Located in the narrow streets behind Jama Masjid, where multitudes of colorful little shops spill over, women bargain and cars dodge one another. This is the place where some of the finest jewelry in Agra, as well as fabric, clothing, shoes, authentic snack stalls, and Agra’s famous marble-work can be found. It is also the go-to place for any tiny tidbits related to weddings, like beautifully crafted garlands, bridal veils, and groom turbans.
Located on the Agra-Fatehpur Sikri highway, Korai village is home to people belonging to the Kalandhar tribe. A day trip to experience the kind of life they live will not only show you what rural life in India is like but will also give an inside feel of their simple lifestyle—their huts, how they cook their food, and how they drink water using a hand pump. The people of this village now earn a livelihood through these day tours, as the money collected is used to purchase everyday items such as food, rations, and stationary for the kids. These items are then equally distributed among the families. Prior to this, the villagers kept bears and they would host several bear dances to entertain visitors and earn a source of income. However, they had lost this opportunity once the government acted upon animal rights.
Foreigners visiting the village has had a positive effect on the people of Korai village and they look forward to entertaining tourists and educating them about their lives. A tour can easily be booked by filling out a form on their website, and the visiting charge is only $10 per person, which is directed towards the village’s welfare.
Taj Nature Walk
Offering a different, more relaxing side to Agra, Taj Nature walk is located just 500 meters away from the eastern gate of Taj Mahal. This is a place where you can walk around and enjoy some quiet time, especially during the winters. It is also quite famous for offering a view of the Taj from various angles, especially four main points from where you can see the Taj Mahal in the background. As you stroll around the park, beautiful birds, such as peacocks and hoopoes, can also be seen.
A great initiative that was started by a group of individuals to conserve India’s wildlife, Wildlife SOS is a great place to visit to spend some time with the animals as well as educate yourself regarding the current situation regarding animal cruelty in India. Although Wildlife SOS initially started to rescue the “dancing bears” of India, it also runs active projects to provide shelter and help to leopards, elephants, reptiles, and other animals.
Wildlife SOS offers a personal two-hour guided experience that you must pre-book. This involves a guided tour of the facility, a documentary to explain the history of the dancing bears, and activities to interact with the bears, such as feeding them fruit or porridge. The center is open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset.