After 3 days in Delhi it was time to carry on our road trip to the next destination: Agra, home of Taj Mahal and other Mogul-era buildings.
Agra was funded in 1504 by Sultan Sikandar Lodi, the Muslim ruler of the Delhi Sultanate; and reached its golden age with the Moguls, who took over the city in 1526 and made it the capital of the Empire from 1556 and 1658. After the decline of the Mogul Empire, Agra came under the influence of Marathas and fell into the hands of the British in 1803, who ruled the city until the independence of India in 1947. Nowadays, Agra is one of the most visited places in the country for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
It took us 3 hours by train to travel the 200km that separates Delhi and Agra and about half an hour by tuk tuk to reach our hotel from the station. We stayed one night at Atulyaa Taj, located just few meters away from the Taj Mahal east gate. The hotel has a rooftop with a swimming pool from where we enjoyed a beautiful pink foggy sunset. The next morning, we headed to the world wonder before 6am, purchased the tickets at the gate for 1.000 rupees (12,5€) and passed the security check by 6:30. Despite being so early, the complex was already crowded, but at least we avoided the extreme heat of the central hours.
I was very impressed with the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum that was completed in 1653 following the design traditions of Persian and Mogul architecture. The site receives around 8 million visitors a year and, since 2001, is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World along with the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Machu Picchu in Peru, Chichen Itza in Mexico and the Colosseum of Rome.
The Taj Mahal is located at the south side of the Yamuna river and was designed to be home of Mumtaz Mahal´s tomb, the favorite wife of the Mogul king Shah Jahan, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The construction project employed about 20,000 artisans under the guidance of the Persian architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Unlike most of Moguls tombs that are made on red sandstone, Taj Mahal is finished in white marble and semi-precious stones. The mausoleum is surrounded by gardens, fountains and other temples including a mosque.
We spent about 3 hours at the Taj Mahal complex before heading back to the hotel for breakfast, checked out the hotel and hop on a tuk tuk to explore Agra Fort before taking our 7pm train to Varanasi.
Agra Fort is definitely worth a visit for its beautiful constructions and views over the river and Taj Mahal. You can purchase the tickets at the spot for 550 rupees (7€).
This fort was commissioned by the Mogul Emperor Akbar the Great in 1565 and has a perimeter of almost 2,5km, including a palace built by Shah Jahan, who also created notable buildings inside the fort such as the Pearl Mosque, a mirrored palace and halls for public and private audience.
Overall, I would recommend a visit to Agra to admire the beauty of Mogul architecture but wouldn’t spend more than a day in the city.