Riding out to Agra was one of the top itineraries in my mind, ever since shifting to the Capital region. On a fateful weekend in July, this finally bore fruit.
Two riders. One Enfield. A beautiful, old highway. The monsoon winds. And the moment to tick off one of the Wonders of The World !!
We rode out early Saturday morning, taking the old highway which runs through Mathura. The new, Yamuna Expressway was faster. And we did not need that. Because its boring, as well. Beating the traffic at Faridabad, we casually made our way along the highway, with a couple of stops for chai. Having all the time, we decided to off-road. Our first attempt brought us to a secluded railway crossing. For the love of trains, I made the decision to stay back, and happily photographed a couple of them passing through. Our next attempt led us into the fields, and to a clearing that was home to a sack of hay, and a pair of really giant banyan trees. Quite a couple, they were ! Nischal was really dwarfed by them !!
After almost an hour, we returned to the tarmac, only to find the rains ! We decided to stop at Mathura and visit the temples. The complexes are actually quite beautiful, although quite modern. Be aware, that one needs to deposit mobile phones, shoes, socks, belts, and almost every other thing, before entering. Safe lockers are available.
The onward journey was quite slow, owing to the multiple spells of the rains. The roads of Agra (that we largely took), seemed to have all signboards pointing to one or the other of the Taj Mahal's gates !! Talk about influence on the city ! We checked into a really budget lodge, which was located within the bye-lanes of the city, very close to the South Gate of the Taj Mahal complex, and was mostly frequented by foreign backpackers on a shoestring budget.
The Taj Mahal was located a five-minute walk from our place, so an evening visit was on the cards. On the way in, I wondered whether it would really hold one in awe, having seen it countless times other than in person. Its quite a cliche now, right?
It is spell-binding to view it in person.
The camera simply got put away for those first moments, taking in all that the white wonder of marble had to offer. The mausoleum, in all its glory, was exquisite ! Most people were busy clicking selfies or posing with the Taj in the background. All we could do was stand and stare.
Post the first impressions, we took the slow walk towards the Taj Mahal. The well-kept gardens, the reflections of the Taj in the waters and the visual stories of the visitors was a good way to spend the hour. From the inside, the Taj Mahal was equall beautiful, though the splendour is in the views outside.
Post sunset, we returned to our lodge, and headed for the rooftop restaurant. Not a single Indian traveler around. Awesome.
With a beautiful sight of the city houses, with the Taj Mahal in the background, it was the end of a day well spent.
The next morning visit to the Taj Mahal was to explore a lesser explored part. Most people walk straight up to the Taj. The surrounding area to the sides is hardly stepped upon. This is a great way to actually look at the Wonder from different angles, and is especially rewarding to photographers and people seeking solitude.
Agra Fort is, in all honesty, perhaps an underestimated place. It is huge, beautifully maintained, and is a must see in Agra. One could actually visit Agra just for visiting it, but for the presence of the Taj. We spent about 3 hours exploring the paths and rooms of the Fort (which, in fact, has some of the most amazing landscaped views of the Taj Mahal). It was here that the Mughals seized handsome treasures, including the Koh-i-noor diamond. It was also here that Shah Jahan was restrained by his son, Aurangzeb, and spent the last days of his life gazing upon the Taj Mahal.
Nothing could beat the Taj Mahal as the glory crown of Agra. However, the city has much more to offer. Beautiful Mughal architecture strewn across the city, an imposing Fort, the byelanes, the awesome chai wallah near the West gate of the Taj, the famous petha (for the sweet tooth you carry). Hop in on a weekend, or take some more days and explore the city and the surroundings, it sure is to be a rocker !
How To reach: Agra is well connected from major cities by train, and by connecting flights. The highways from Delhi are fast (the Yamuna Expressway) or interesting (the old Mathura Highway) depending on your choice. Buses ply to the city regularly from cities in North India.
Stayed at: A nondescript budget lodge in the gullies near South Gate of Taj Mahal. Head there only if on a tight budget, or wanting to experience a different stay (with unseen views of the Taj)
Further explore: Fatehpur Sikri, not very far from Agra, is another UNESCO world heritage site, and was the capital of the Mughal dynasty for a short while. A visit for its famed Mughal architecture is warranted. Also, Mehtab Bagh, across the Yamuna from Taj Mahal, is worth a visit.
Food: Agra Ka petha, roadside chaats (choose and hog), the tea-vendor to the right of South gate of Taj Mahal (right when facing the gate). A plethora of western food outlets near the Taj Mahal South Gate are also a great way to fill up (and usually cheap).