Travel

Travel Spotlight… Agra, India

Come for the Taj Mahal, stay for the countless other wonders on offer.

3 weeks Discovery Channel

You’d be forgiven if the only thing you knew about India’s Agra was that it houses one of the seven wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. But there is plenty more to see and do in the exotic, ancient city – as our below guide will explain.

See: The Mehtab Bagh is a stunning garden with views of the Taj Mahal – especially when it reflects in the Moonlight Garden in the centre of the park.
Eat: Relax He Relax has delicious food and is located right near the Eastern Gate of the Taj Mahal.
History: Visit Chini Ka Rauza: the 1635 tomb of Allama Afzal Khan Mullah, scholar and poet.
Relax: Air Safari offer balloon flights. See the city from the sky and marvel at the intricate rooftops.
Adventure: Hire a scooter from Agra Bike Rides, and buzz through the ancient streets.
Shopping: Sadar Bazaar is the biggest, best, and most famous shopping centre in Agra – and right next to the train station, too.
Art & Culture: Taj Museum has a huge collection of historical artistic pieces.

MONUMENTAL MONUMENTS

It’s humbling to realise the majestic Taj Mahal — quite undeniably one of the most stunning and beautiful buildings in the world — was built in only 22 years. That’s longer than it takes most modern councils to fix a bridge! The building has been there since 1648; a shrine to Muslim Emperor Shah Jahna’s wife. At 65 metres, comprising entirely of white marble, and crafted by over twenty thousand men, it is a monument to human achievement.

Even older still, is I’timād-ud-Daulah’s Tomb, which sits on the Yamuna River, in the Persian Garden (which is really worth a few hours if you have the time). It was built in 1628, in less than seven years, and was commissioned (read: demanded) by the Queen Nur Jahan to honour her deceased husband. It’s more varied than the Taj Mahal (albeit not as impressive), being crafted in black, yellow, and white marble. It’s no wonder it received the nickname Baby Taj.

For a taste of the truly macabre, you cannot go past a visit to Akbar’s tomb – where the most famous Mughal Emperor in history was laid to rest. The creepy part? (Aside from the body inside, of course) is that the Emperor started construction of the tomb himself, well before he passed. His son completed the job, keeping the family business alive to boot.

BUILT YOUR FORTITUDE

The Agra Fort is a 21-metre high, 2.5 kilometre long beast; a sandstone masterpiece built to fortify the early emperors of the Mughai Dynasty.

The name ‘fort’ diminishes the power of this structure somewhat – it is basically a gated city, complete with a number of India’s finest and most opulent palaces, such as Jahangiri Mahal and the Shah Jahani Mahal, as well as the Pearl Mosque, and an impressive “private ladies garden” named the Grape Garden – complete with a reflection pool.

Architecture buffs will be delighted by the amazing craftsmanship of the fort and the many palaces alike. There are also two beautiful audience halls which were used as courtrooms; the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan used to hear the grievances of the public inside the Diwan-i-Aam; the bigger of the two. Considering most of these buildings are close to 400 years old, the upkeep is immaculate.

STAY IN STYLE

If luxury is important to you, then the Oberoi Amarvilas is where you’ll want to stay. As Agra’s most impressive (and expensive) hotel, it is understandably pricey — you probably won’t be able to afford to stay in the 915 square foot Kohinoor Suite complete with a marble bathroom — but you’ll be more than pleased with the other hundred-odd rooms on offer. There are bars, restaurants, a spa (with massages and beauty treatments aplenty on offer) and numerous luxurious pools in which to relax between trips to the surrounding architectural highlights.

Image: Oberoi Hotels

Speaking of impressive architecture, the hotel is less than a kilometres from the Taj Mahal too; in fact you can see the impressive monument from the lawn and the majority of the rooms. Pro tip: if you are planning a visit to the Taj, the hotel runs golf carts to and from there all day.

EAT SWEET, AND LIKE A LOCAL

It’s quite hard to describe the taste and texture of Petha, a small, soft candy-like treat that also happens to be one of the biggest exports from Agra. It is sugary, made from the winter melon (also known as ‘white pumpkin’ in some regions) but not quite as sweet as that would suggest.

There are variations on the flavour too, with coconut, vanilla, and nutty types available, although if you are trying the treat, you may as well go traditional. And we’re talking proper traditional, too; Petha was apparent invented by cooks employed by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to appease his sweet tooth, although many scholars dismiss this as folklore – despite what local vendors would wish you to believe.

Words by Nathan Jolly | Images from Shutterstock