A glittering diamond in the rough
10.04.2027 - 10.04.2028 42 °C
Like many before me, I came to Agra for one reason and one reason only - to see what is widely considered to be the most beautiful building in the world, the Taj Mahal.
I was not disappointed. It truly is an exquisite and breathtaking piece of architecture. Imposing yet delicate, its intricate carvings are meticulously carved into milky white marble, set against the picture perfect Indian blue sky. Perfect for budding photographers, although I'm not sure whether I took more photos of the Taj Mahal or had more photos taken of me!
What struck me most was the incredible contrast between this magnificent monument and the abject poverty and squalor within which it lies. Depending on which way you look at it, backpacking on a budget in India is both a curse and a blessing. Had I been staying at the Oberoi down the road, shuttled on my air conditioned bus to the Taj Mahal's very gates, I'm sure my impression of Agra would have been very different. However, I wasn't and we stayed right in the thick of it, and by the thick of it, I mean in the narrow streets lined by open sewers and brimming with rubbish, surrounded by beggers and touts - you've seen Slumdog Millionaire, I'm sure you get the picture. Whilst this wasn't new to me, it was magnified to a level I hadn't experienced until then, and made the Taj Mahal feel like a gleaming diamond in the rough.
Where we stayed:
Saniya Palace Hotel - 500 rs/night. Down a very smelly alleyway, this budget hotel isn't anything towrite home about but it has great views of the Taj Mahal from the roof top restaurant. Perfect for watching the sun go down over a cold beer.
Where to eat:
Agra is not the nicest of places to go wondering around in, especially after dark. The maze of streets where the budget accomodation is unamed and the touts are in frenetic competition to you take you round the block a few times. Having said that, the Taj Cafe isa stone's throw away frommost of the budget hotel and it's a real gem. Amazing value for money, this family run place offers delicious north Indian classics and a pretty special Thali.
When to see the Taj Mahal:
Early! Get up at the crack of dawn (5ish) to avoid the crowds and heat. Many tourists visit the Taj on a day trip from Delhi and get in around 9am. Sunset is also spectacular and moonlight tours can also be organised. Entrance fee 750 rs for non Indian tourists.
And so the story goes:
Created by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1631 as a shrine to second favourite wife who died giving birth to their 14th child, the Taj Mahal was completed in 1653. Soon after he was overthrown and imprisoned by his son and had to spend his final years gazing at his beloved monument from his cell in Agra fort!
What elso to do in Agra:
Visit the Agra fort and the Baby Taj.
Escape the heat and squalor by paying to use a swimming pool for the afternoon. Especially in summer it will make your trip much more bearable - We went to the hotel Amar - for 300rs, we got to hang out by the pool for the afternoon and even use the slide!
Even if your budget doesn't allow you to stay there, treat yourself to a gin and tonic at the Oberoi, often cited as the finest hotel in India. just try not to get too jealous of the guests sunning themselves by the magnificent pool.