Like most other things, I like to divide my vacations into sections as well. For me any vacation has 5 elements to it: travel, accommodation, sightseeing, food and lastly shopping.

My recent visit to Agra was primarily taken for the travel bit of it. I have lived in Gurgaon forever now and hadn’t travelled on the Yamuna Expressway even once. I basically wanted to strike that off my to do list. So we planned a 2 day trip to experience the expressway and revisit few monuments in Agra.

We started on Sunday morning at 0800 hrs from Gurgaon and reached our destination in Agra in 4 hours. The route we followed was Gurgaon > Moolchand Hospital > DND Flyover > Towards Greater Noida > Yamuna Expressway . We exited the expressway on NH509 to avoid going further and coming back into the city.

Total distance travelled : 240 kms

Total time taken: 4 hrs

Yamuna Expressway

This road truly does what it claims. It shortens your travel time!!! It was heartening to see people stick to the speed limit (100 kms/hr) in-spite of clear roads. I am not sure though was it because people are fined for over speeding or are we genuinely adhering to speed limits now. The midpoints on this expressway are well designed. They don’t disturb the traffic on the road at all. You exit and re-enter the expressway gradually. The signage for these midpoints however isn’t good. You had boards along the way indicating a midpoint where none existed. Another thing I liked was a single toll ticket till Agra. Having purchased your toll ticket once you were required to only show the ticket at subsequent toll booths. I truly believe if they can replicate the same model on GT Road from Delhi to Chandigarh or further up, one can reduce travel time there as well. The toll from Jewar to Agra is 415.00 one way. Now coming to the main component of this expressway – the road. It is a nice well maintained wide road, a delight for travel.  The only thing I thought that could make my journey to Agra more comfortable was if there was a tar layer on top of the cement road. Personally, I didn’t find driving on the road as smooth as it could have been.

What worked What didn’t work
Adherence to speed limit Poor signage for mid points
Single purchase of toll ticket up to Agra Cemented road
Well designed mid points

While we have planned to visit many places during our 2 day stay, we only managed to see the standard monuments : Agra Fort, Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri. We could have gone ahead with the other places as well but then that would have been a stretch.

Agra Fort

The sheer grandeur of the Red Fort of Agra symbolizes power, resilience and strength. This fort has seen many invasions and with each invasion, the fortification grew.

Agra Fort
Jahangir Mahal – Agra Fort – Agra, India

It is said that there were about 500 beautiful buildings inside the fort out of which only 30 remain today. Out of the remaining ones there are only a few which are open to public. If you are a great historian you would be good on your own. If that is not the case, I would suggest that you take a guide. They might not be able to provide accurate information but the stories they weave give you a sense of how things worked back then. You will also get a chance to display your haggling skills in finalizing the fee for a guide. We paid 50.00 / person. While there is parking close to the fort, I would suggest that you take local transport to move around in the city.

Timings – Sunrise to Sunset; open on all days

Entry Fee

  • Children below 15 years: Free
  • Indian Visitors: 40.00
  • SAARC and BIMSTEC Visitors: 80.00
  • Other Foreign Visitors: 550 .00

A light and sound show both in Hindi and English is conducted daily.

Good to know
Carry a photo ID
Guide is a must!
You can carry water, but NO EATABLES!!
 Wear a pair of walking shoes
Keep a cap or some headgear handy

Fatehpur Sikri

Our next stop was at Fatehpur Sikri. I was really looking forward to this visit. I had first visited the place way back in my 8th Grade. As luck would have it we were studying about Din-i Ilahi at the time. I distinctly remember our guide showing us the place from where the concept was introduced and that moment has stayed with me since then.

Fatehpur Sikri
Panoramic View  – Fahtehpur Sikri, India

There are 2 routes from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri, one via the Agra – Bikaner road and the second  via NH21. We tried both the routes one while going and the second while returning and they were a BIG disappointment!! Considering the kind of tourism that is here, well maintained and wide roads are a minimum one expects. A stretch of about 40 kms took us close to 2 hrs. The toll for a return journey from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri is 65.00.

The monuments in Sikri are some distance apart. One way leads to Diwan-i-Aam and the Museum and the other towards Buland Darwaza and the tomb of Salim Chisti. The parking here is far away ad there is quiet a bit of distance you would need to walk. We did a guide here for a package of 400.00 which included entry tickets for 3 adults, parking in a hotel driveway closer to the monument and taking us around one of the monument sections in Sikri.

The tomb of Salim Chisti is well known to believers even today. Many throng this place to have their desires fulfilled. It is said that you can ask for a wish by tying a ‘dhaaga’ (thread) here. Back in the times, one could simply take a thread there however now there are packages you need to choose from. My advice would be that carry a ‘mauli’ or some other thread along to avoid getting fleeced.

Timings – Sunrise to Sunset; open on all days

Entry Fee

  • Children below 15 years: Free
  • Indian Visitors: 40.00
  • SAARC and BIMSTEC Visitors: ₹40.00
  • Other Foreign Visitors: 510 .00

Entry to the museum is free. However it remains closed on Friday.

What worked What didn’t work
Sheer opulence of the monuments The road from Agra to Sikri
Blend of Rajputana and Persian style of architecture Poor signage
Commercialization of offerings at the tomb of Salim Chisti
Good to know
Carry a photo ID
You need to cover your head to enter the tomb area
You need to remove your shoes before entering the monument complex. Cover your feet. The floor gets very hot once the sun is up.
Carry some water
Keep a cap or some headgear handy

Taj Mahal

We kept our last day to visit Taj Mahal. This is undoubtedly the most famed structures of India. The grandiosity of this monument justifies it to be a wonder of the world.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal – Agra, India

The best time to visit the Taj is early morning and trust me when I say that early morning is late as well!! The parking is some distance away but there are battery operated cars available for a drop till the entry gate. The charge for using these cars is 10.00/ person. We reached there at 0630 hrs and there were people in large numbers already queuing up to get entry. Once inside your are spellbound by the magnificence of Taj Mahal. The serenity here engulfs you. You can simply sit around and watch the day go by. You can’t help but admire the project management skills people had way back then. Something so expansive took around 12 year to build. Today with all the technology available we fail to complete a flyover in half the time!

Timings – Sunrise to Sunset; open on all days except Friday

Entry Fee

  • Children below 15 years: Free
  • Indian Visitors: 40.00
  • SAARC and BIMSTEC Visitors: ₹530.00
  • Other Foreign Visitors: 1000 .00

There is nothing to dislike here but it did trouble me to see that Indian tourists were not allowed to enter the mausoleum area via a shorter route because the others had purchased an “expensive” ticket. Talk about discrimination against Indians in India!!

Good to know
Carry a photo ID
Carry shoe covers
You can carry water, but NO EATABLES!!
Keep a cap or some headgear handy
There are battery cars available from ticket counters till the entry gate

Gastronomics

It comes as a surprise to me that a there are no cuisines that originated in a place that has so much to offer in history. But then in the absence of specialty comes variety. If you have the stomach for it, the city offers finger licking street food. We tried a few places and here are my recommendations. Hope it excites your taste buds as well.

Devi Ram at Pratapura Chowk: Known for his ‘bedmi aalo’ and ‘jalebi’, a traditional breakfast his business starts early in the morning. Come monsoons and ‘jalebis’ are replaced by ‘amurti’. In the evening the same place has some amazing ‘samosas’ and ‘khasta kachoris’.

Chaat Gali in Sadar Bazaar: Agra has a lane dedicated to street food in a busy market place. I recommend Agra Chaat House. Everything we tried there was lip smacking.

Mama’s Chicken in Sadar Bazaar: An absolute delight for non-vegetarians. One of the reasons I would want to go back to Agra is simply to have more food here. The portions are big and delectable. (I carried back their menu flyer as souvenir)

Panchi Petha in Sadar Bazaar: A trip to Agra is never complete without indulging in ‘petha’. Famous for his ‘daal moth’ and ‘petha’, many have started selling the same by his name. The original shop is close to the Chaat Gali in Sadar Bazaar.

Heading Home

After having an eyeful and a stomachful of the city it was time to head home. Our drive back home was the bonus we got from the entire trip. It was recommended to us that we try the route via Mathura and take the Kundli- Manesar- Palwal (KMP) Expressway. We left our place of stay in Agra at 1030 hrs and headed towards NH19 via Sikandara. The route we followed was Sikandara > Mathura > Kosi Kalan > Hodal > KMP Expressway . We exited the expressway at Sohna.

Total distance travelled : 200 kms

Total time taken: 4 hrs

Once out of Agra and onto NH19, you are on a decent 4 lane highway. All along this route you find construction of flyover’s underway much like the Delhi – Chandigarh highway some 5-7 years back. We didn’t stopover for refreshments en-route (thanks to Devi Ram) but there are many dhabas along the way offering you ‘pranathas’ like the ones you get in Murthal. Short of Palwal we took the KMP expressway and the drive there on was a breeze. There are a total of 3 toll plaza’s and the total toll is 215.00 one way. I could finally strike off the Yamuna Expressway from my to do list!!

Useful Links

Online ticket booking

Entry fee for various monuments

General research

I don’t think I will visit Agra anytime soon, but I will surely go back to visit Akbar’s Tomb (which looked picturesque even from the crowded streets in Sikandara), gorge over Mama’s Chicken and travel again on the KMP expressway. PS: Your guide at all these places can advise you about the best photography spots.

First hand information: Many thanks to Anuja Anand, Chitra Goyal, Neha Yadav and Gurgaon Food Freak for sharing their first hand experience.

2 thoughts on “Agra – The Erstwhile Power Center of India

  1. What an incredible account of the trip! Superb Story telling and detail orientation make it such an easy, enjoyable and educative read! A must read for anyone planning to head Agra!

    Like

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