Things to do in Agra – more than just the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal rises majestically over the rooftops of Agra

Agra is most famous for being the home of the world’s most beautiful building – The Taj Mahal. It’s a shame that many people visit Agra on a rushed day trip from the capital Delhi but the Taj is by no means the only attraction in Agra, did you know that Agra is the only city in the world that can boast three World Heritage Monuments!  This city is deserving of more that a quick day trip!

We managed to get through the gauntlet of touts and souvenir sellers in the narrow streets outside the Taj Mahal relatively hassle free and I did not find Agra to be as horribly filthy or smelly as people had warned us, but maybe we were just acclimatised to India by now!

Things to do in Agra

Taj Mahal

Obviously you will want to make a beeline to the spectacular Taj Mahal. This famous monument to love and perfect exercise in beautiful symmetry really does live up to the hype as the most beautiful building in the world. Built in 1630 it is actually a tomb that contains the body of Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and the Taj was built to express his undying love for her and took 22 years and 20 000 workers to complete.

The Taj is more expensive that most other monuments in India – XX rupees for foreigners and XX for Indians but it’s so worth it just don’t visit on Friday because it is closed and my top tip is to visit as early as possible to see the Taj at it’s best as it rises ethereally out from the misty early morning and to avoid the queues and crowds.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort, another world heritage monument, is an imposing red sandstone Mughal fort, one of the finest Mughal forts in India with an interesting history, first as a military fort constructed in 1565 by Emperor Akbar, later Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal)  transformed it into a palace before he  was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and ended up being imprisoned in Agra Fort where he could only gaze out over the river to see the Taj Mahal glistening under the sunshine in the distance.

Agra Fort is similar to the more famous Red Fort in Delhi, but I actually enjoyed visiting Agra Fort more as it had more nooks and crannies to explore from a mish mash of different eras and is definitely worth a visit and there is also an evening sound and light show that recreates the Fort’s history.

Fatehpur Sikri

Only about an hour away on the bus from Agra is the third world heritage site – the deserted red sand stone city of Fatehpur Sikri which once was the proud Mughal Empire capital of India in the 16th century and one of India’s top historical destinations.  It was abandoned after only 15 years because of the insufficient supply of drinking water there.

Watch a Kalakriti Show

The story of making of Taj Mahal is performed in a dance drama every evening at the Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center, not far from Taj Mahal. It’s a multi-lingual show with a huge replica of Taj Mahal lit up with multi color lights.

Take a hot air balloon over the Taj

There is also a hot air balloon you can take from here to get an amazing aerial bird’s eye view over Agra and the Taj but for only a 15 minute ride where your DSLR camera is not allowed and the hired photographer charges a lot it didn’t seem worth it to me.

Memtabh Bagh

Mehtab Bagh is a delightful Mughal garden complex also known as the “The Moonlight Garden situated across the Yamuna River directly opposite the Taj and gives a nice alternative, and more peaceful view, of the famous monument

Visit the Bazaars in the Old City

Experience the heart of India in the buzzing street life. Inside the old city lies a fascinating warren of narrow lanes and the area of Kinari Bazaar has all manners of shops and stalls and good for sale, a good place for shopping if you can haggle!

Visit a village

A community based tourism initiative called the Mughal Heritage Walk has been set up to improve villagers lives by making an income from tourism. In Kachhpura village you can visit a number of relatively unknown Mughal era monuments and see the village communities as well as a fabulous view of the Taj Mahal. You can also visit Korai Village, a tribal village on the way to Fatehpur Sikri, whose inhabitants were the keepers of dancing sloth bears.

Agra Bear Rescue Center

Visit the Agra Bear Rescue Center, where  hundreds of sloth bears have been rescued after being held captive and forced to dance. There is also a Bird Sanctuary and Elephant Conservation and Care Center near Agra.

 

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