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Agra, a city that is hidden behind one of the seven wonders of the world is ready to be walked step by step and discover all his unexplored things.
Most of the people when heard the word Agra, immediately the first image that comes into their minds is Taj Mahal. And I would not say that this is not correct, in fact, the Taj Mahal is considered one of the seven wonders of the world, due to that Agra receives millions of tourist per year.
Is a city on the banks of the river Yamuna in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. Located 378 kilometers west of the state capital Lucknow, and 206 kilometers south of the national capital New Delhi. This city is one of the most populous cities in Uttar Pradesh, and the 24th most populous in India.
Agra is a major tourist destination because of its many splendid buildings. Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpūr Sikrī, all of these three landmarks are considerers for the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Also, Agra is included on the Golden Triangle tourist circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur; and the Uttar Pradesh Heritage Architecture, tourist circuit along with Lucknow, the capital of the state and Varanasi, which is the famous holy city of India.
I reach at Agra in the early morning, was 2:30 AM and my first though was go to the west gate of Taj Mahal to be the firsts in the line because I wanted to catch the sunrise in this wonder. The idea of catch the sunrise is not that easy as I believed, due to they open the gates at 6:00 Am so at that time the sun is already up; but you better go in the early moment if you want to take shots without people, but try to catch the Taj empty is a difficult challenge, is almost impossible to see an empty spot, moreover is good to go directly to the spot and took great shots.
The Taj Mahal is a landmark that easily can see it in three hours, counting the time on the line to get inside. This average of time is just and approximation and it depends on the interests of every person. Taking photos and seeing all the architecture with details took me this amount of time, but you can make it by your own.
The entrance of the Taj Mahal is $1.000 Rupees ($ 14.649 US) for Foreigners (like me) and for lucky Indians is $ 40 Rupees ($ 0.586 US) what a lovely and unfair difference right? One of my best advice for people is: Try to be with the fewer things possible. Why this recommendation? Because you can not enter backpacks or heavy stuff inside. For that reason, the organization crew provides you lockers to put your belongs in a safe place. If you are a photographer like me, don’t forget a very very light bag with the basic: Two lenses (zoom and a wide angle), memory cards empty, extra batteries and a lot of ideas to catch every moment. But as I say before, is quite hard because you will have a lot of people spoiling your shots.
My first impression, the dream come true
All my conscious life I was aware of the seven wonders of the world, since I’m a little girl I know all of them, and thanks to my dad I remember every single wonder. So I was very very very excited for this trip; how you can be in India and not be in the Taj, that is almost impossible; or go to Paris and no take a picture in the Eifel Tower. This is my personal opinion and I understand for some people this is not important, but for myself is just a MUST.
I wait in the line for about 30 minutes counting the moment to get inside, and when I was walking down there… pow! The Taj Mahal in front of my life I just couldn´t believe it but was not because of the construction was because actually I’m very far from home and the last thing I imagine was seeing myself sitting on a bench in front of the Taj.
Was a dream, was one of the reasons to came to India, was a MUST in my bucket list. Is just beautiful very very beautiful but at the same time, I got a little bit disappointed. Maybe because I was expecting too much, or maybe because the internet and social media show us everything very easy and when you face the reality you just feel that you have been there so many times, that you already know this place in all his angles.
Is very beautiful and majestic, but I have to say that I have seen more amazing places, like El Cañon del Chicamocha in Colombia, this is not a landmark but definitely is a wonder; or maybe Akshardham, a temple in New Delhi which is wonderful and Is built in this century. Many different opinions about one topic and this are just a point of view from my perspective.
As a traveler, all my life I feel that I’m more attracted to nature landscapes more that architecture. Nevertheless, this is another history. Finally, I have my photo, the photo who paid my trip, was an internal joke with myself.
So the question is, after the Taj Mahal what should I see? What is next? Should I come back to my hotel? The answer is NO. Agra is more than just the Taj Mahal or Agra Fort, which is Beautiful and for my personal taste is better than the Taj, but I do not want to create bias.
I spent my morning getting involve with ancient traditions and learning about all the history that is behind these constructions. After the Taj my destination was the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, well know as the baby Taj. This building is more antique than the Taj.
This building is regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal and along with the main building, the structure consists of numerous outbuildings and gardens. The tomb, was built between 1622 and 1628 represents a transition between the first phase of monumental Mughal architecture primarily built from red sandstone with white marble decorations, it’s the second phase, based on white marble and Pietra dura inlay, most elegantly realized than the Taj Mahal.
At that hour my body was melting due to the high temperature that we were having in the day. A 40-degree weather is hard from someone that can barely resist the 30. My hometown is Cali, Colombia and despite is a warm city, never goes like this.
The tour of landmarks finished around 3:00 Pm, exhausted and with wants to get knowledge from the city I went to Agra Beat, a travel agency that offers good tours for travelers and tourist. The first thing was doing a city tour around the Old city, the real Agra. Like Delhi, Agra has a part Old and New. As Delhi, the Old parts of the city are completely crowded and with a lot of chaos, a lovely typical chaos.
Why I refer to the chaos as lovely? Ok, this because for me is delighted to see real situation; I mean, I love to see the best of the city but in his normal environment. Not the typical tourist things and spots like go to Agra in the morning see the Taj and then go back in the afternoon. And what happened with the rest of the town?
I discovered a different world and I learned a lot of things about Indian culture and traditions. Old Agra has the magic to involve you completely in the Indian atmosphere, which for my perspective is a mess. Don´t get scared, is just an amazing mess a mess that makes you love more this country and the way of living of his people.
Cars horning, motorcycles going crazy in the streets, cows, and dogs walking fresh on the road and me, tasting local food in Mughal Bazar. Old Agra is just a different world, some of the best places are Rawat Bada, Seth Gali, and Kinari Bazar.
After the tour of Old Agra, I was in the New Agra, a completely different contrast but it reflects the same feeling. A lot of things to do starting with walk in Sadar Bazar and entering to Mankameshwar Temple for pray to Lord Shiva, the God of the heart wishes. The tradition says that if you ask for a wish to Lord Shiva with all your pure heart every day, he will make it real for you. But you have to keep the wish for you, in secret.
In New Agra, you can do the famous street food tour, that consist in taste a bunch of delicious snacks that I didn´t know it before, for example, the Aloo Tikki Potato, which Is like a fried cake made with potato and dry fruits inside. This one was my favorite but you have tons of options to choose the best for you. Also, you can not miss the Paan Trading experience; Petha Daresi, which is a very good desert; the famous Naan; and one of the best, Cheela – Dal – Panner – Ginger, which is a perfect combination between the sweet and spicy taste.
But when I thought the food tour was done, I meet the best delicious chicken in town. Mama Chicken is a restaurant in where you can find a lot of varieties of chicken, mixed with spices and special ingredients that make the flavor irresistible to your tongue. Totally recommend the Reshmi Chicken without spices, due to for my taste I don´t like much spicy food. Is a well know restaurant and you will find it with a lot of people around, people that know how to eat good food.
Was almost 9:00 PM and my body were tired, so I said to (VJ), my tour guide that I wanted to rest a little bit, to get ready for tomorrow´s adventure, a cycling tour around the local villages.
No time to rest
At 7: AM I was facing a bicycle to ride all the morning the nature of Agra City, the first stop was in Dashermpra Gmat, the place to take the famous picture in the boat and the Taj Mahal behind. If you want to do this tour or take this photo you can go, there and pay just $ 150 Rupees per person ($ 2 US).
Later we rode the bike to a very special place. Nagla Pema Village, a place where the main word is kindness, all the people is kind with you and gives you the best of their company for you. Interact with locals, play with the children, eat with them, being inside his houses and share moments are things that don’t compare to anything.
I entered to that house with a heart full of expectations, without knowing I was going to left a piece of that heart there. This is India, share your knowledge with the people, meet new ways of life and accept that despite we are different we are all humans that want the same thing, happiness. Besides, in Dilip home, I ate a wonderful chapatti with the delicious chai and potatoes. Dilip has three years old and he stole my heart for a second.
Meeting local people is the best way to gain culture and to learn new thing. I learned how to make Chai and the difference between a Roti and a Chapatti, which is basically the same but the way of preparing change. In the chapatti you use a roll and you put the bread inside the fire, this makes the bread sponge and with the Roti, you just use your hands to bake it. Is curious because they have the same flour just the way of cooking and technique is different and this cause a very different taste. This family that opens their doors for us is going to be unforgettable because I had and incredible experience with them. When you see the magic of being open to new adventures you realize all the things that you need to discover.
In the evening, the destination was Agra Fort, an ancient fort in the city of Agra. It was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till 1638. This fort can accurate be described as a walled city. Which is more interesting and has a lot of things to see as well.
Having this experiences are the most valuable gift that someone can have, all the good things that you can absorb from people and from a trip is just an extraordinary way of living. Get in touch with the real city, the real atmosphere. At the end, I went to the bus station with a body completely exhausted to go back to Delhi. Tons of pictures, a bunch of new knowledge and more dishes to add in my list were in my notebook. Adventure is on every corner, I went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, but I end discovering more than one wonder, more than one landmark, more than one adventure.
This Trip would not be possible without the help of Agra Beat and Vijendra Singh (VJ). If you want to have this experience you can have more information on www.agrabeat.com or in the numbers: +919027199464 +918445870893. You can have the opportunity to:
– Meet local people
– Learn how to cook traditional dishes
– Ride bicycle in nature
– Go to the village school during the week
– Play with children
– See the Taj Mahal and all the monuments in town
– Eat wonderful food