Friday, 11 January 2013

Agra: Information & Tips

                                 For stories from my Agra trip, read story 1 and story 2

Travelled in: January 2011

Our trip - When & how:
We had been debating whether to go to Agra in winter, having been warned by numerous people of the infamous fog. Nonetheless, we decided to take a chance.  We flew into Delhi from Bangalore on 22nd Jan. We were lucky we didn’t face any fog related delays. After a quick lunch near the airport, we headed to Nizamuddin station to board our 4 pm train to Agra, the Mahakoshal Express. It was scheduled to be a super-fast train, reaching Agra by 7:20 pm, but, it was excruciatingly slow & reached Agra more than an hour later. At the Agra Cantonment station, we flagged an auto-rickshaw to take us to our home-stay. We stayed in Agra for 2-1/2 days. From Agra, we took the ‘Swarnajayanti Express’ to Delhi & then flew back to Bangalore.

Access to the Taj Mahal:
The East gate seemed to be the least crowded of all the 3 (we went via each of them, at different times). Polluting vehicles are not allowed beyond the ticketing office, which is almost a kilometer from the East Gate of the Taj. After buying tickets, you can walk till the East gate. For those who need them, there are cycle rickshaws or battery operated shuttles which ply back & forth, for a small fee. If you need to use the lockers, they’re available at the booking office itself. If you forget it & head to the East gate, you’ll need to come back. At the South & West gates, I noticed that the lockers were right by the gate. You can also hire guides at the gates. There’s an ATM near the East gate, in case you need one.
The South gate is accessed from Taj Ganj & is very crowded. The narrow street leading up to this gate is lined with small shops & restaurants. The West gate is accessed through the Shahjahan Gardens. Again, you can walk through the garden or hire a vehicle in the garden, to drop you at the gate.

There is a thorough check at the gates. Eatables are absolutely not allowed & so are a host of other items (refer to this website - Make sure that you carry water with you…once you get in through the gate, you can’t go back outside to buy it.

Tripods are not allowed at most sites in Agra (including Mehtab Bagh), so, it was quite useless lugging our heavy tripod around.

Food & Restaurants:
For snacks, we tried the famous Agra breakfast treat, of kachoris called ‘bedai’ (unsure how to spell it) with a spicy potato subzi, at GMB. We bought Petha (a sweet) & Dalmoth (a savoury snack) to carry back home. We bought these from ‘Panchi Petha’ which was recommended to us unanimously by locals. 

We ate most of our meals at the home-stay, which was great, comforting, home-cooked food. We tried a thali at one of the small eateries outside the South gate of the Taj. It was fresh, hot & great value for money. For a special night out, we were recommended the restaurant ‘Pinch of Spice’. The Indian food there was very good (we steered clear of the Chinese or Italian options on the menu). But, if you are looking for a great ambience, it’s nothing special…. It’s got regular indoor seating, piped music & a TV.

The descendants of the craftsmen who worked on the Taj Mahal live around Taj Ganj. A lot of them practise the craft of inlay work that is sold through various stores. We checked out quite a few stores but weren’t happy with the craftsmanship. As we didn’t have a very high budget, we didn’t go to the very expensive showrooms either. We finally got what we liked, at Subhash Emporium (which had been recommended by our guide book). They also have great inlay work pendants, which make for attractive souvenirs. We also wanted to buy a small model of the Taj Mahal & had been warned about soap-stone being passed off for marble. Again, we didn’t like any that we saw (the craftsmanship wasn’t great). The best were at Subhash, but, we didn’t buy one.

Our Guide:
Sunil Gupta was our guide in Agra. We wrote to him 3 weeks before our trip & he was prompt with e-mails. We went on a full day tour with him, covering Sikandra, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort & the Taj Mahal. He’s very friendly & we were very comfortable spending the day with him. He understood our requirements & travelling style and paced the day accordingly. He was very patient with us, answering our numerous questions & allowing us time for photography as well. Being history buffs, we were happy to be told historical facts in detail, sometimes peppered with lore too. My architectural queries too were satisfactorily answered. We had a really long day but didn’t even realise it, as it was so interesting! The previous evening, when we called him to ask for directions to Mehtab Bagh, he joined us for our trip there & took us to Itmad-ud-Daula as well. We had a great time & really appreciate his friendly gesture.

I would recommend Sunil to those looking for a professional, friendly & knowledgeable guide. He can be contacted at:

We stayed at a home-stay called Palmstay. We booked a room at the Palmstay based on few, but encouraging reviews on Tripadvisor. We didn’t have the budget for expensive hotels, at the same time, wanted a nice, clean & friendly place to stay. Palmstay fit the bill. It’s located very conveniently near TDI mall, so, it was never trouble getting autos to travel back & forth. It also has restaurants nearby. The best part was that we could walk to the East Gate of the Taj from here (maybe 1.5 to 2 kms till the gate). On one of our repeated visits to the Taj, the owner also drove us till the ticketing office. 

The rooms are spacious & clean. So are the bathrooms. It may not be fully equipped like hotel rooms, but has comfortable beds, a wardrobe, adequate power sockets & even a TV for those who want it. The bathroom has a few thoughtful additions like shampoo sachets for an emergency , a hand soap, toilet paper & a squeegee to dry the bathroom (there are no shower cubicles). We had a little trouble with some water leakage that was promptly fixed. The small communal seating area outside the rooms is convenient to have your meals in or to chat with others. There’s wi-fi available & you can borrow a laptop if you need it.

The owner, Varun, is very friendly & helpful. We met his family, all of whom put us at ease. He thoughtfully called us when we were on the late evening train to Agra, to ask if we’d like to eat in, sensing that we would be too tired to go out. And the food, cooked by his mother, is yummy! It’s good VFM too. The room tariff includes breakfast, which is hearty & great! If you plan to leave early in the morning for sightseeing, they’re very accommodating about giving you an early breakfast. Just let them know the previous night. All in all, a good place to stay at, if economy is your consideration.

No comments:

Post a Comment