This weekend I finally made the long overdue visit to Agra. Despite being in Delhi for the past three years, I hadn’t ended up visiting the Taj Mahal. Its one of those monuments which you know you must see once in your life, but if you live in India, you just feel that it will invariably happen. However, you still need to take out one weekend and plan for it, or else, it just won’t end up happening. Almost everyone in India will have seen the Taj Mahal at some point in their life, however the Taj attracts a large number of foreigners daily, and will continue to do so due to its beauty and splendor. There are a few things which no one really knows unless they visit Agra, and here is a list below to help prepare you for your visit:
10. Take the Gatiman express to Agra: The fastest way to reach Agra from Delhi (the main hub which tourists tend to take when traveling to Agra), is now by the Gatiman Express. It’ll take you less than 2 hours. You can drive down as well, or take one of the slower trains. However, if you’re planning a day visit, you may want to save on travel time, and take this fast train.
9. The Agra railway station is chaotic and crowded: When you get off at the Agra railway station, you’ll have a number of hawkers and cab-drivers pestering you. In case you’re trying to get a cab to your hotel, just find the government cab booking point and get a cab from there. Most other cab-drivers will try to dupe you into paying higher fares.
8. Ola works in Agra: In case you don’t have a personal car, you can use Ola for your trips within Agra. You’ll get much better rates compared to the local cab-operators. However, we did find it tough to get an Ola at the railway station. For all other trips, we were able to use Ola.
7. Be wary of visiting during monsoons: Though the monsoons are super pretty, be wary of the rains, as it can ruin your visit to the Taj Mahal. As it is, the area will always be super-crowded, and you will have to brave the crowds to enter and sight-see. In case it’s raining, it’ll be that much tougher to move around without getting dirty, and also hamper your ability to take pictures. However, crowds will be lesser during monsoons as well. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to visit during monsoons and not get caught in the rains.
6. There are separate tickets for Indians and foreigners: When you get to the ticketing gate at the Taj Mahal, you’ll see there are two separate lines. The tickets for Indians cost INR 40, whereas the tickets for foreigners cost INR 1000. The line for foreigners will obviously be much smaller, but unless you’ll really impatient, you might as well stick it out and buy the Indian tickets (if you’re Indian that is).
5. Remember to get the shoe covers: When you enter the Taj Mahal, you will be required to take off your shoes if you don’t have the shoe-covers. You can buy shoe-covers for INR 10/pair, right near the ticketing area. It’s better to buy them here, as you may or may not get them later.
Inside the Taj Mahal
4. Get a tourist guide if you want really good pictures: If you’re from India, you don’t really need a tourist guide. However, one of the advantages of taking a guide is getting really good pictures. The guides know all the good angles, and they also make the trip a lot more engaging. I took a guide, and ended up enjoying the tour more than I would normally. Ideally, the guides should charge INR 300. We took an English-speaking guide for INR 300, and he was extremely knowledgeable.
3. Buy from the shops near the ticketing area, not the shops right outside the Taj entrance: Right outside the entrance to the Taj Mahal, there are numerous shops. Never buy from these shops, as they will charge you much more compared to the shops near the ticketing area. Remember to ask where the shops are near the ticketing area, and you will see smaller shops where the exact same items are being sold. These are much cheaper and you can get good bargains here.
2. You will be heckled by hawkers and guides: Agra is notorious for its guides and hawkers. Wherever you are, you will be hassled by people wanting to sell you something. If you don’t want something, just don’t show any interest, and after a while, the hawkers will lose interest and move on.
1. You will not be prepared for the Taj’s beauty: You would have seen countless pictures of the Taj Mahal, and would have been warned about the crowds. However, the first time you see the Taj Mahal, you will still be awed by its beauty, and know that your visit is worth it. The intricate designs on the monument are all inlaid semi-precious stones, and nothing has been painted. The perfect symmetry also takes your breathe away. Remember, that this monument was constructed much before the digital age, and everything was drawn up by hand and done manually. The monument took roughly 20-22 years to complete. The monument reflects the sheer effort which was put in to create it.