Time for change of region! After I was in Goa, I headed up north. Northern India is where 90% of tourists start and probably stay if they have a short amount of time. India has what they call the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur). These three cities represent some of the most visited sites in India. I will have a more in depth post about how to do the Golden Triangle in 4 days, which is what I did.
I didn’t stay in Delhi too long, but moved along to Agra. I had been told my many people to not stay in Delhi too long. However, where I stayed was a really nice area of Delhi (Madpackers) and I had a great dinner at Rose’s Cafe. I know others had bad and good experiences there. Only you can have your own experiences so take my suggestions as you will.
Agra is a city about a 2 hour train ride from Delhi. It houses two of the most visited sites in all of India: the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. I didn’t see too much else, but there is not much else to see in Agra for tourists. I also didn’t really want to deal with the much more intense haggling I was experiencing in the north than compared to the south.
I visited the Agra Fort the afternoon I got into Agra and visited the Taj Mahal the next morning at sunrise. This is also when I acquired a traveling buddy, Matt from Australia, for a week. This was a nice change because you usually don’t have a traveling buddy between cities, but we were going the same way for a week.
Agra Fort was actually a huge surprise for me. For some reason I wasn’t expecting too much from this fort because I had heard Agra was a city most people didn’t stay in or moved along after the Taj, so I figured there wasn’t much else to see. But I was wrong.
The Agra Fort was built in the 16th century by the Mughal rulers of northern India. The walls stretch for 2.5 km along the Yamuna River and inside the walls, the fort holds the imperial city of the Mughal rulers.
Inside the walls are included: Jahangir Palace, Has Mahala, audience halls, and two mosques. I was most struck by the size of the fortress. When you walk through the gates and enter, the height and magnitude of the walls are awe-inspiring.
The Agra Fort is called the “Red Fort of Agra” due to the red sandstone that was used to make the fort. However, the sandstone was only used for the walls and some other military buildings. The palaces and other city buildings are constructed out of beautiful white marble. The fort also provides an amazing view of the the Taj Mahal down the river.
The Agra Fort costs 550 rupees for an adult tourist. As you will find in all of India, tourist charges for entry to monuments, museums, etc. will be about 10-15% more than Indians, but you can’t really beat paying only $8.50 for a monument.
Oh, the Taj! Trust me, it lives up to the hype. I know some people may not be interested in historical sites, but I was geeking out hard core. This mausoleum is so beautiful and well preserved that it can take your breath away.
I went at sunrise. Everyone said that is the time to go and when I was in Delhi I said, “Whatever, I just want to see it.” I was wrong. It is the best time because of the sunlight on the marble and the crowds. There will be a lot of people, but not as many as at nighttime or later in the morning. By the time we left at 9:15, there were tons of people milling around. If you get there early enough you can get pictures with minimum amount of people in them. Also, to get into the Taj, it is 1,000 rupees.
The Taj was built by emperor Shah Juhan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal when she died in child birth. The construction of the mausoleum began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. The mosque, guest house, and main gateway were later completed in 1653. Architects, artists, stone masons, etc. were commissioned from all over the empire and Central Asia and Iran.
The building is made out of white marble and is beautifully decorated with colored flowers and vines. They were originally going to construct it out of red sandstone, but the Shah changed his mind…smart choice. In today’s currency, it would have taken over $1 billion to make. Shah Juhan truly loved his wife to not only have a building constructed that took over 20 years to build but also bankrupt his empire. Love has no cost kids, that is the life lesson here.
I still had to pinch myself that I was seeing this. Like with other places in India, I couldn’t believe that I was actually there. You see all of these places in pictures or movies, but you never actually believe you will see them, until you do. I am sitting in Paris writing this, and it is still kinda surreal to me that I saw these amazing places. So what I recommend as someone who has been there and done it; take your pictures, and then take the time just to enjoy that you are there. That is what my friends and I did. After we saw everything, we just sat there next to the Taj talking. How many can say they watched the sun rise while they were sitting underneath the Taj Mahal.