Sunday, January 1, 2012

Trip report - Agra

First of, I'd like to wish all our readers and followers a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedules and visiting out blog. It keeps us motivated!!
I'd also like to apologise for not getting the time to update the blog last month, but things were incredibly busy at work and it was difficult to get the time to do anything really.
This post isn't really watch related. It's more really a trip report, so I apologise for not sticking to the theme of the blog.
Last month I had a chance to visit Agra for the first time. Due to our busy schedule, my wife and I hadn't got a chance yet to visit her hometown of 'Shikohabad', which is about an hour's drive from Agra.
Things didn't really start of well for us. To begin with, our flights from Delhi to Agra were cancelled, since the cash strapped airline Kingfisher decided to cancel it's smaller routes. Moreover since that was the only airline that flew on that sector, it meant that we had the choice of either traveling by road or by rail. Since everyone advised us to choose rail over road, we went ahead and booked our train tickets. The journey was just fine. We had both the Kindle and an iPad 2 to while away our time with and I would seriously recommend both these devices for anyone who gets easily bored while traveling.
Shikohabad is a really small town with not a lot to do other than just sitting on the terrace and soaking up the sun.
Since I'm not the person to really do that I'd asked for a trip to Agra to be arranged since I'd never been there before and moreover I was looking forward to seeing the 'Taj Mahal'
Getting of the highway and into the main city of Agra is really bothersome. It's incredibly crowded and dusty and people are perpetually honking without anyone even bothering to respond to the sound. I'd really advise keeping the car windows up and using the air con, even if you're traveling in the winters.
My dad being a huge history buff, made up a list of monuments that we had to visit while we were there. Since most of you here are savvy enough to do the research, I'll spare you all the history lesson and just state the pros and cons for the following:
(**Do keep in mind that the costs that I'll be listing below are what you can expect to pay as a Indian tourist. Foreigners can be expected to pay as much as 5 times more, so I'd advise you to visit with a local, if you can**)

1) Tomb of 'Itimad-Ud-Daula' aka 'Baby Taj'
'Itmad-Ud-Daula' was the title given to emperor Jahangir's father in law, Mirza Ghiyaz Beg. The tomb was built for him by his daughter 'Nur Jahan'.

Entrance to Itmad-Ud-Daula

'Baby Taj' :)

View from the side

-Since it's not as popular as some of the other, bigger monuments, there's hardly any crowd there and it's quite peaceful.
-Cost of guide after bargaining Rs20!! (~$0.40)

2) Taj Mahal
Everyone's heard of the Taj. It was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, and took 20,000 workers, 22 years to construct it.
Cars are not allowed close to the Taj and you need to either walk or take an electric rickshaw or a camel carriage up to gate.
It truly is a spectacular sight and I'd recommend it to anyone who gets a chance to visit Agra.

Entrance gate

In the que after getting my ticket. Not crowded since we went on a weekday

The view is breathtaking! :)

A quick wrist shot with the Seiko Orange Monster.

Looking back at the entrance and the 53 fountains. A known fact, there are 16 gardens and 53 fountains to commemorate the date 1653, the year in which the Taj was completed.

During the war with Pakistan in 1971, these hooks were put up by the Indian Army to cover the entire monument with a black cloth so as to not become a target, in the even of an air raid.

A lost cause :p

If you insist on keeping your shoes on (as I am doing in the pic above), you can wear these disposable shoe covers, which can be had for just Rs10 ($0.20)

One of them any optical illusions that the Taj is famous for. The flat pillar when seen from a distance appears like...

The minarets are angled at 5 degrees away from the monument. This is so that in the event of an earthquake, they don't collapse on the monument and damage it.

From what I read online, the design was carved into the marble in order to confuse spiders from building webs.

-If you have a lady with you, you can ask her to get the tickets as the women's que is a lot shorter than the one for men (as told by our guide)
-If you can help it, visit on a weekday as the weekends tend to get crowded.
-It's open in the night for viewing for 5 days in a month, during the full moon. However you need to get the tickets a day in advance and they cost about Rs 750 ($15) for Indian Nationals and about Rs 1250 ($25) for tourists. In the day time the same tickets go for Rs 20 ($0.40) and Rs 750 ($15), respectively.
-While buying souvenirs, do BARGAIN HARD. I initially thought the rule of thumb was to ask offer half the asking price, but as it turns out, you can push for 1/3rd of the price!
-If you're an Indian National, but are dressed up too much or carrying a DLSR or look a little out of the ordinary, they're going to assume you're an NRI (Non-resident Indian), whose trying to get out paying the rates fixed for tourists. So be sure to carry some sort of I.D.
-Cost of guide after bargaining Rs100 ($2)

3) Red Fort aka Agra Fort
There are two Red Forts. One in New Delhi and the other one in Agra. It's located about a little over a couple of kilometers from the Taj. You can also view the Taj from many areas within the fort.

Amar Singh Gate

Entrance to Jahangir's Palace, on of the 16 buildings within the Fort.

Riverfront Terrace

Musamman Burj or Shah Jahan's cell, where he was imprisoned (actually, put under house arrest) by his son, for seven years till his death.

View of the Taj from the fort

-Do take a guide as there are a bunch of buildings with their own history.
-There is a sound and light show every evening, but I can't really tell you much about it as we decided to skip it.
-Cost of guide after bargaining Rs100 ($2)

4) Fatehpur Sikhri
This is about an hour's drive from Agra. As with the Taj, you need to take a rickshaw up to the entrance but, they let you take your cars up if you hire a guide as they are hand in glove with the parking authorities. It is a money making racket but we decided to just get done with it.
There's loads of history attached to this place, so be sure to listen carefully to your guide!

Good form of exercise, after having all the local food

Time check!

The 'Buland Darwaza', which is one of the highest gateways in the world.

One of the corridors at Fatehpur Sikri

Once you're done with the tour, the guide will encourage you to partake in the ceremony where you place a piece of cloth over the tomb of 'Salim Chishti', inside the mausoleum. You can also tie a piece thread on the windows and make a wish! The thread bit is fine, but be a bit wary about the cloth. The guy selling the cloth was quoting way too much for them which ranged for Rs2100 ($42) Rs3100($62) Rs5100($102). We opted for a 'handkerchief' which cost about Rs550 ($11), since there was no way we were in no mood to spend anything more than that.

Guy selling the 'chadar' or cloth. You can get the piece of thread from him too.

Tomb of Salim Chishti

A look inside

-If you can visit with a local, I'd totally advise it. It's easy to get ripped off here, right from the moment you reach the parking lot!
-A little before you reach the place, you might encounter a bunch of people trying to flag down your car, or asking you to stop. Just ignore them. They're just guides trying to deceive you. They'll tell you how the prices near the site are double of what they'll asking for. Just drive straight past them till you reach the parking lot.
-Cost of guide after bargaining Rs275 ($5.50), which includes a 2min rickshaw ride from the parking lot to the site.

If you're planning to stay in Agra, I'd recommend staying any of the hotels in the vicinity of the Taj. There are a bunch of five star hotels located close to the Taj East Gate, a few of which offer the view of the monument from the rooms. If you can get a good deal on the rooms, it'll be worth the money!

Again I apologise, for not sticking with the theme of the blog, but I hope you enjoyed reading it anyway and please do not hesitate to ask any questions about the trip :)


Anonymous said...

Great post, Crazyfingers! You've got a nice blog. My wife and I will be back in India in September for a few months. We like it a lot.

persco (from WUS)

crazyfingers said...

Hey Persco,
Its always nice to see another WUS member here on the blog and glad you liked it:)
If you happen to visit Mumbai during your trip, maybe we can grab a few beers. I'll buy :)

Sundeep said...

Hey CF.. Orange Monster in front of Buland Darwaja is fine but in Taj Wrist pic...great white would have been fitting. Anyways glad you enjoyed the tour.

Bio said...

Hey Sundeep, you know what? Î thought of the exact same thing when I was taking that photo! The truth is, I left my packing for the last minute and the only time I realised I forgot the great white was when I had already boarded :(
I'll be more careful next time :)

Delhi to Agra Taxi said...

Amazing info really appreciate you sharing

Bio said...

Thanks. Glad you liked it :)