Agra is a city of many architectural marvels. Every visit makes you fall in love with it even more. During my recent visit to the city – one after ten years, I realized how much I had missed it. It has its own charm and despite being close to the National Capital of Delhi and the exquisite city of Rajputs – Jaipur, it holds its place high and proud in the list of heritage cities.
Here are 7 things that you absolutely must experience for yourself when visiting the city on the bank of the famous Yamuna River.
- Walk to the Taj Mahal in the rain
Nothing more exotic than walking barefoot on the wet marble, hand-in-hand with your loved one, with the rain pelting down on you, drenching and enriching your love. Revel in the magic of romance, as you learn about the lesser-known secrets about the Taj. They are sure to leave you spellbound.
- Peek into the Mughal era at the Agra Fort.
Although lesser known than its more marveled sister monument across the river, this majestic and imposing Mughal masterpiece of architecture holds many an interesting tales of its own. The monument is famous not just for its red sandstone construction and landscaped gardens but also because it was a defense fort when first constructed and, being a Military base of Indian Defense Forces, it remains an important military base even today. It doesn’t just stop at that. The Agra Fort is an important setting in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Sign of the Four’.
Also, known as ‘a walled palace city’, a strategic terrace view even offers an up close and direct line of sight across the river, to the Taj Mahal.
Explore the many mysterious corners of the monument and be awed by the intriguing stories of the Mughal era.
Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Stay at Courtyard by Marriott, Agra – While I will obviously be partial to my former hotel company, this particular hotel redefines the standards of guest service. I would easily rate it as the best place to stay and dine at if you are in Agra. From the front-line staff at the reception to the culinary superstars who are rarely visible outside the kitchen, they all make a genuine effort to please, no wow the guest.
Our stay at Agra needs a separate post all by itself – one that I am unable to write because I am so floored and still in awe by the whole experience that I fear not being able to do justice to their wonderful hospitality.
Stare in wonderment at the real Taj Mahal in the morning, then come back to the hotel and drool at not one, but four exquisite chocolate versions that are on display at their pastry counter MoMo 2 Go!
And do let me know before you make your reservations, so I can arrange for some delicious ‘goodnight’ chocolates to be sent up to your room. (Although, I am pretty sure my friends at the hotel won’t stop at just the chocolates. 😉 )
- Visit the Shilpgram Crafts Village. At a distance of just half a kilometre from the Eastern Gate of the Taj Mahal, this open air handicrafts heaven is a spread over a whopping 11 acres. Make sure you carry an umbrella and deep pockets.
- Shop for locally made, world famous goods.
Agra is famous not just for its marble (the predominant stone used in the construction of Taj Mahal) but also shoes and other leather products. It is home to the Government Leather Institute and is also the largest shoe manufacturing industry in Asia. If you venture out into the local market, whether at Raja ki Mandi or the Sadar Bazaar, pick up marble souvenirs, traditional handicrafts and leather goods. Be sure to negotiate like hell. Or take a localite along. In fact, take me along. 😉
- Sample the local Awadhi delicacies.
Awadhi cuisine is known for its Mughal influence and a visit to the city without sampling the delicious succulent kebabs and biryanis would be a waste. So whether you are a vegetarian or non-vegetarian, do make sure you try some of the rich, aromatic preparations that would send you straight to food heaven. Better still, since you are at Marriott Agra, ask for Chef Vivek Kalia and tell him you want Popcorn Chat – an uber-modern twist on an old favourite or the Seekh Parantha – a delicious flavoured Indian bread.
- Gorge on ‘Agra ke pethe’ and ‘Mathura ke pedhe’ – the two delicious sweetmeats whose origins, as the name suggests, are from the twin cities of Agra and Mathura; and have quite a few flavoured variants like the almost translucent ‘dry petha’, the golden orangish ‘angoori petha’, and the red-speckled ‘kesar petha’.
And finally, take lots of pictures to share with your friends back home.
Have you been to Agra? What would you like to the above list? Share your experiences and suggestions via the comment box below.