Getting Around Agra
Agra's Taj Mahal is undoubtedly the one thing which is a must see. But the city has so many things to offer other than the Taj itself that if you have limited time, you may have to keep your priorities in place and choose what you would like to see and what you think you may skip. Historical Monuments of the finest Mughal Architecture, Tombs, Best of Handicrafts, lots to shop at the local markets, some mouth-watering delicacies, gardens, temples, street and corners, they all come to life especially during the evenings.
Agra does have Buses that run within the city from one destination to the other via selected stops in the city. But for a Tourist to be going around sight-seeing with the help of the city buses is too hectic a task since they can get extremely crowded , and a bigger reason because there are only few buses and they are not connected to every corner in the city. However, if you are one who wants to make the most of time, and ready to travel an extra yard to have a complete the experience of Agra, you can get on the state bus to Fatehpur Sikri from Idgah Bus Stand in Agra which is regularly available at every 30 minutes. The fare is less than a dollar, so it’s a budgeted travel. The distance is 30 odd kilometres and takes around 45 minutes.
Auto Rickshaws are the most visible and common transport in India’s cities and townships, Agra being no exception to this. You can get Auto Rickshaws from just about anywhere in Agra, not just from Bus Terminus, Railway Stations, and Airports but in the narrowest of streets. There are some which travel between certain fixed destinations within the city and available on share, while many are for hire, be it for a certain place to be reached ,or for certain places within the city that would probably take few hours of sight-seeing. While sight-seeing, it is completely up to an individual as to how he wishes to use these effective vehicles. You may choose this for transfer to the Taj Mahal at the first instance after arrival at a railway station or bus terminus, and pay him for the single trip. Else, you can also hire him for the entire day and depending on the places you wish to visit, you would be charged. If you are in Agra for a day, it is not possible to cover all the sight-seeing places. Hence, you may choose whether you would like to visit Akbar Tomb in Sikandra, which is almost 15 kilometres from Agra on the outskirts or visit the Itmad-ud-Daulah which is on a different direction. You would be charged on the distance you wish to cover and the time you wish to hire the Auto for. A visit to a famous shopping place such as Sadar Bazar after sight-seeing of the Taj and Agra Fort which are in close proximity and at the heart of the main city would reduce your cost rather than travelling to Sikandra. Do make sure to decide the fare in advance. Also, be ready to bargain at whatever fare is said at the first instance. They are effective to go around Agra and up to Sikandra but one would have to hire a car or board the state transport buses to make it to Fatehpur Sikri which falls on the National Highway to Jaipur.
There are car hire agencies available at the airport as well as Railway Stations. Hiring a car for the day has its own advantages and drawbacks. The major drawback for is that there is no car parking facilities anywhere near the Taj Mahal. The advantage is that it a fast mode of travel and one can cover the Agra Fort, Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in a single day.
There are other alternatives which can be availed for short distances. There are regular tempos between certain spots within the city. However, most recommended are the tongas or cycle rickshaws, which are the most effective to get to nearby destinations, especially the Taj Mahal where heavy buses and cars are not allowed near to the vicinity of the monuments. They are also very cheap and if you are someone looking for the experience, this is a must ride. They are also effective when going around the narrowest of lanes and streets while shopping and looking for the best of food joints.
Places to Stay
There are a number of hotels that you can choose from while in Agra, depending on your budget. If you are looking for serious luxury and want to find a way to get yourself pampered, there would not be any better than the Oberoi Amarvilas, the most expensive of all the places to stay in Agra. Expect excellent service, since this is often rated as one of the top 10 Hotels in the globe. It is at close range to the Taj and on falls on the eastern gate of the great monument. The other two which one can look to stay and of the same category, are the Mughal Sheraton or as it is now known as the ITC Mughal is around the Taj Ganj area, relatively close to the Taj. One can have a fine view of the Taj from the roof view pavilion. It is old in terms of age but well maintained with fine rooms. Hotel Trident on the Fatehbad road is another good accommodation and well recommended in terms of quality service. You may get luxury here but in terms of location, it is very near to the Basai Khurd area in Agra, which isn’t that great a location as the other two are situated in. Overall, it is a good property and at a little distance from the Taj. It is important to note however, that advance booking is the best way to reserve your accommodations prior to your arrival at Agra for the Luxury class hotels.
There are multiple hotels in Agra of various categories. Many are of mid range prices but worth staying with decent service. Hotel Mandakini Villas situated at Purani Mandi, very near to the Taj is a good option. It provides the basic requirements in terms of service and the rooms are of decent standard. However, it is recommended that one takes up rooms on higher floors since the noise on the first floor can be a little disturbing and at times may carry on all night at the reception with people checking in and out. For those who would like to experience a little colonial past within a mughal stronghold of history , may put up at Laurie’s Hotel which is known for decent standard in service. Its an old hotel and dates back to the British era. It’s worth a try and well known in Agra. There are many others too such as the Hotel Yatri Nivas, Hotel Amar and so on. These fall on the Fatehbad road and not too far from the Taj Complex. Another hotel recommended is hotel Raj which has a good sense of hygiene and is in front of the central gate of Taj.
For those who are have a limited budget to travel such as many backpackers, can put up at various hotels in the city and choose according to the price or location. Budget Hotels can range anywhere between Rs.300 to Rs.800 per night. Hotel Kamal and Hotel Neel Kanth near the Taj, Hotel Amba Inn near Raja ki Mandi Railway Station which is closer to Sikandra, Hotel Jaiwal on the Taj road close to Sadar Bazar, the popular shopping area in Agra are some of the numerous hotels in the city which provide basic amenities to put up for a couple of nights at Agra at very reasonable prices. But for those who have finished with the sight-seeing of Agra and plan to move out of the city the next day, should go for accommodations near Idgah Bus Stand from where you can board buses to Jaipur, Delhi, or Fatehpur Sikri in the morning. Hotel Evergreen is one of the budgeted hotels very near to Idgah Bus Stand. Hotel Sai Kripa at Idgah colony is a mid ranged hotel with decent service.
What to Eat
When it comes to food, Agra has its own specialities. The most famous or popular is the Panch ka Petha, a sweet candy associated typically with Agra, but now available almost throughout North India. They are usually of rectangular shapes and with growing demands; there are different innovations that have come about in the last few years. If you love sweets, then you can try the different kinds of Petha which are now available. One recommendation would be to try the Kesar Petha, which is delicious indeed but at the same time very rich. This is usually made of Pumpkin, along with sugar, rose water, saffron and water. If you’re looking for something spicy, then the typical thing to try would be Dalmoth, a kind of a lentil mix which is spicy at the same time. But when talking of spices, one should not skip the famous chaats of Agra. They are of various kinds and at the same time quite filling. Aloo Tikka or gol gappa are couple of the many spicy snacks you can hog on. However, the mughlai cuisines are the one to look forward. Agra serves some great Cuisines, and if you are one who loves non-vegeteraian dishes, then there are lots on offer. Starting from the more regular Mutton Curry, Tandoori Chicken or Roasted Chicken, to Mutton Afghani, Kadai Chicken and Rogan Josh and so much more. But Kebabs are the ultimate and even though you would get good Kebabs of various kinds at the most popular Mughlai Cuisine Restaurants, the ultimate experience is to head out to the Jama Masjid area, where the experience of authentic food is added by the shabby environment to give you a feel of what it is to be inside the narrow lanes and hog on the best food on offer, and where the mughal culture lives on amidst the modern day Agra.
Places to Eat
There are a number of restaurants offering decent meals of your own choice, be it Continental, Chinese, Mughlai or simply North Indian.
Peshwari restaurant located at the ITC Mughal Sheraton provides some excellent North-West frontier Indian Cuisines. This restaurant is the sister restaurant of the famous Bukhara restaurant in Delhi. Saroj Restaurant near the Taj Ganj Place also known as the Tibetan restaurant is known for chinese and Korean dishes, and run by very friendly and hospitable people. Other known and fmalous places to eat in Agra would be The Rooftop restaurant at Saniya palace hotel, Silk Route restaurant on the Fatehbad Road, and Journey’s Place at the Taj Ganj area are few of the many decent places when you’re looking for decent meals. There are also many dhabas that serve North Indian Food such as Paranthas along with Paneer which can be prepared in various ways such as Paneer Kofta, Tikka Paneer or Panner Tandoor. This is a good substitute to those looking for vegetarian dishes. If one is wondering hwat the Paneer is all about, it a simply cheese chunks baked in Tandoor with various spices adding to the flavour. Making small pieces of balls out these baked cheese before dipping them into typical spicy Indian curry, is the Paneer Kofta.
Most restaurants will either have a bar or drinks that you can order. Else you can also purchase from any alcohol shop and the knowledge to this would best be from the locals itself. It would not be too difficult to find one since there is a shop at every second corner in Agra. The other alternative is too simply order it from the hotel you are putting up at, and the staff would willingly get it for you at a nominal commission. All drinks are at a reasonable price but considering the Indian weather, chilled beer is most recommended.
In case you run out of cash and need to withdraw, there are various ATM centres of various banks all across the city, the most notable of the Banks being State Bank of India, HSBC, HDFC, ICICI and Standard Chartered. There are also many western union centres of Travel Agencies or at some of the banks in the city itself. But if you do have your credit card, it can be the most useful, since most of the notable restaurants and hotels do accept credit cards.
The way you travel inside the city of Agra is a personal choice and itineraries can be chosen according to your own needs and time at hand. But there are some things that should be kept in mind while at Agra. For women travellers, it is advisable that you avoid travelling to the narrowest of lanes especially at night, unless you are a part of a group or accompanied by an escort who knows the places inside out. While looking for eat out joints, please do keep in mind the hygiene factor while visiting any restaurant. Also, if you have a soft belly, try avoiding the spiciest food. Please always be alert and careful of touts and crooks. It is recommendable that when you first step into the city, do clarify whatever doubts you may have regarding to your getting around the city from Tourist Information Centres at the Airport or Railways Stations. While in the city, if you wish to ask any one on anything, it is safe to do so from the nearest Police Station or Traffic Police at any crossing .Most locals in Agra do welcome guests with warmth and affection, and are used to tourists, backpackers and travellers in their city. But there are always exceptions that can spoil you trip. So it is better to be careful but friendly to the locals at the same time. The best way to get around the city would be to have a local from Agra or at least an Indian who knows Agra well enough to take you around, this also gives a chance for those travelling from far off places to have someone for company while on the tour. Even though most locals in the city can speak English, if you have an escort with you, do make sure he speaks at least two languages which is Hindi and English. For Tourists from countries such as Spain, Germany , Italy or Japan , the best way to understand the monuments and get a correct and detailed interpretation of the Historical sites, it is advisable to hire the guides speaking the language you want at the monument gates itself. The charge for this is nominal and worth a hire.