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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

AGRA : The City of TAJMAHAL

Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi.
Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.
The city has little else to recommend it. Pollution, especially smog and litter, is rampant and travellers are pestered by swarms of touts and hawkers at every monument, mosque, temple or palace. That said, the sites are some of the wonders of the world and no trip to India is complete without at least one visit to the Taj.

Get In
Agra is 200 km southeast from Delhi and is one of the points of the tourist's Golden Triangle of Agra-Delhi-Jaipur. Agra is also very well connected via rail and road with other nearby cities and tourist destinations.

Get Around
Tongas, electric buses and electric tempos are readily available, and the best way to get to the Taj where no cars are allowed. Auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws are available every where, remember to agree on fares clearly in advance. In case you are a foreigner, please ensure that you bargain everywhere and bargain hard! Generally things are available at 40% of the initially quoted fares.
The best way to experience the city is to take a walk on the Mall Road (Sadar). The street is full of handicraft and leather goods shops. You will also find plenty of food items quite unique to the city. Indian palate is generally very spicy. Please ensure that you carry antacid tablets in case you are not habitual to the spicy foods
As a guide, an auto rickshaw from Agra Cantonement station to the Taj Mahal is about Rs 80 (at least in off season); and a cycle rickshaw from the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort is Rs 40.
An air conditioned taxi for the day should cost around Rs 1200. They will charge slightly more if you want to go to Fatehpur Sikri as it's a bit further out. Be warned that the drivers will probably try to make unscheduled stops along the way at marble and textile shops for which they receive commissions. Firmly tell them that you're not interested in shopping - though this might not get you anywhere so try to just go with the flow - you won't be pressured into buying anything but if you have a tight schedule it can be annoying.

Tourist Attraction
Tajmahal
Please note that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday
The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife. Taj Mahal means Crown Palace; one of the wife's names was Mumtaz Mahal, Ornament of the Palace. The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture, and one of the great sites of the world's heritage.
Grand Entrance Building to the Taj Mahal Complex
The Taj Mahal has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones. It is a celebration of woman built in marble and that is the way to appreciate it.
Although it is one of the most photographed edifices in the world and instantly recognisable, actually seeing it is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, and extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.
There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy out of black marble on the opposite side of the river. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.
If you are taking a camera, beware that because the Taj is white your camera may underexpose your photos. If it is a film camera you will not find out until it is too late. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.
The Taj is open from 6:00 AM to 6:30 PM (sunset) every day except Friday. Entry costs ₹750 for foreigners and ₹20 for Indians. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds, crowds are the worst during the weekend when people overshadow the grandeur of the Taj (but note that the gates won't open until at 6AM at the earliest - often a few minutes later, so don't bother getting there at 5AM), and plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is also utterly stunning under a full moon. You can also get very good views from Mehtab Bagh (see Gardens section below).
To buy tickets, you can go to the South gate, but this gate is 1 km far away of the entrance and the counter opens at 8:00 AM. At the West and East gates, the counters open at 6:00 AM. These gates also have smaller queues in peak times as the big tour buses drop groups off at the South gate. Alongside the ticket counter, you can also purchase a self-guided audio tour (allows two to a device) for ₹100 in English and foreign languages and ₹60 for Indian languages.
The Taj is located pretty much in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds. There are three gates. The western gate is the main gate where most tourists enter. A large number of people turn up on weekends and public holidays and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are much less busy and should be tried on such days.
There are night viewing sessions on the nights of a full moon and the two days before and after (so five days in total). Exceptions are Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) and the month of Ramadan. Tickets must be purchased 24 hours in advance, starting at 10am, but do not always sell out, so it can be worth looking into it when you arrive even if well after 10am. Tickets only allow viewing from the red sandstone plaza at the south end of the complex, and only for a 1/2 hour window. Make sure to wear mosquito repellent.
It is a good idea to bring a flashlight, because the interior of the Taj Mahal is quite dark (even during the day) and to fully appreciate the details of the gem inlays, you need a good light.
Taj Mahal can also be seen during Night 2 days before and 2 days after full moon in all 5 days including full moon, the booking has to be made 24 hours in advance from Archeological Society of India office situated at 22, Mall Road, Agra. Ticket fare is Rs. 500 for Indian Nationals and Rs. 750 for Non Indians. The viewing hours for night viewing is from 8:30 pm to 9:00 pm and 9:00 pm to 9:30 pm. A visitor has to reach 30 mins prior to viewing hours for security check at Taj Mahal Ticketing counter on East Gate of Taj Mahal or he may loose his/ her chance. The Night View is not worth spending as the visitors are kept quite far from Taj Mahal nearly 200 Mts away and there in no light so it could hardly be seen during night hours at viewing hours. Cameras also do not give images with near zero flux can easily be avoided for night viewing.

Agra Forte
The fort is similar in layout to the Red Fort in Delhi, but considerably better preserved, as much of Delhi Fort was razed by the British after the Mutiny. As much as palace as a defensive structure, it is also constructed mainly from red sandstone.
Emperor Akbar, king at 14, began consolidating his empire and, as an assertion of his power built the fort in Agra between 1565 and 1571, at the same time as Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. Emperor Shah Jahan added to the fort and ended up a prisoner in it. The fort has a beautiful view of his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal, on a clear day.
You can get to the fort by Rickshaw from Taj Mahal for around ₹25-30. Entry to the fort is ₹250 (plus levy of ₹50 if you have not already paid the ₹500 fee for Taj Mahal).
There are left luggage services at Agra Fort where you can stow your bags at no cost. A fine of ₹5,000 applies if you lose your luggage ticket.
There are also audio guides available at Agra Fort which you can rent for a cost of ₹100 in English and other foreign languages (German, French, Spanish, etc) or ₹60 in Indian languages such as Hindi or Bengali.

Gardens
  • Soami Bagh, (10 km north of Agra). The white marble samadhi of the Radha Soami religion is currently under construction. It was started in 1904 and is not expected to be completed until sometime next century. You can see pietra dura inlaid marblework actulally being worked on. Soami Bagh is 2km north of Agra and can be reached by bus or cycle.
  • Ram BaghThe first Mughal gardens, built by the first Mughal Emperor Babar, 500 m North of the Chini Ka Rauza.
  • Mehtab Bagh, (directly across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal, the trip takes about 30 minutes from the centre of town by autorickshaw and will cost about ₹200). Sunrise to SunsetThese botanical gardens give you an opportunity to view the Taj at a remove from the crowds of tourists.. Alternatively, walk past the entrance and straight to the sandy banks of the river: the view of the Taj is every bit as lovely (perhaps more so, since the barbed wire fence surrounding the gardens will be behind you), although you may have to deal with aggressive touts. In the rainy season when the river is full you can get good photos of the Taj at sunset, as the reflection mirrors off the water. Don't forget to take a round trip by auto rickshaw. Entrance to the park is ₹100 for foreigners.

Temples

  • Balkeshwar Temple, (At Balkeshwar, at river side of Yamuna). A temple of Lord Shiva
  • Kailash Temple, (at Sikandra, at the river Yamuna). A Lord Shiva Temple.
  • Mankameshwar Temple, (At Rawatpara, near Agra Fort railway station. Near the raja ki mandi; a simple cycle rikshaw can take you there for a fare of 20/-.). Listen to the aarti, it purifies your soul. It is the MOST VISITED temple by LOCALS.....and during festive seasons its so crowded disrupting the traffic in the nerby areas.... 
  • Prithvinath Temple, (At Shahganj. On road to Jaipur.).
  • Rajeshwar Temple, (At Village Rajpur. On road to Shamshabd.).
  • Shyam Ji Maharaj Temple (At Bijlighar).
  • Mahakal And Mahakali Temple, (At Sikandra railway crossing on Sikandra Bodla road).
  • Rawli Maharaj Temple, (At Collectrate crossing, beside the railway track). Very old temple.

Other sights


  • Sikandra, (10 km north of Agra on the Agra Delhi highway). Open from sunrise to sunsetThe tomb of Akbar lies here in the centre of the large garden. Akbar started its construction himself but it was completed by his son Jehangir, who significantly modified the original plans which accounts for the somewhat cluttered architectural lines of the tomb. Four red sandstone gates lead to the tomb complex: one is Muslim, one Hindu, one Christian, and one is Akbar's patent mixture.

  • Itmad-Ud-Daulah's TombEmpress Nur Jehan built Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb, sometimes called the Baby Taj, for her father, Ghias-ud-Din Beg, the Chief Minister of Emperor Jahangir. Small in comparison to many other Mughal-era tombs, it is sometimes described as a jewel box. Its garden layout and use of white marble, pietra dura, inlay designs and latticework presage many elements of the Taj Mahal.

  • Mariam's Tomb, (West from Akbar's Tomb on Agra-Delhi highway). Constructed by Jahangir in the memory of his mother Mariam Zammani a title bestowed upon her,. The grave is made of white marble. Though this building is in a ruined condition, yet it has in its vicinity, a Christian Mission School and a church. It is also said; Akbar himself made that it in the memory of his Christian wife.

  • Jama MasjidA large mosque attributed to Princess Jahanara Begum, built in 1648 during the reign of the father Shah Jahan. Notable for its unusual dome and absence of minarets.

  • Chini Ka RozaA memorial dedicated to the Prime Minister of Shah Jahan, Allama Afzel Khal Mullah Shukrullah of Shiraz, notable for its dome of blue glazed tiles.

  • Gurudwara Guru ka Taal, (at Delhi-Agra Highway, located between Transport Nagar and Sikandra),