Delhi to Agra - Day 1

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Prologue: With almost nothing to do in these rainy days, I have decided to write about two road trips that I had been on in March 2007 - one from Delhi to Agra and one more through Himachal Pradesh. Four years is a long time and one tends to forget those minute details associated with a trip, but Agra's glorious heritage sites and Himachal's enchanting environs are something I think even after a decade I'll be able to recall very precisely. 

I had just finished my Bachelors and I was spending the summer at my uncle's place in New Delhi when this weekend plan came up... 

Day 1, 31st March 2007, Saturday: After starting from Pitampura at 8 a.m., it took us around 30 minutes to reach NH2, which connects Delhi with Agra. We crossed  Faridabad, Palwal, Aurangabad and Mathura on the way and after a total of three and a half hours, made our first stop at SIKANDRA - Emperor Akbar's tomb, at the outskirts of Agra. The mausoleum surrounded with beautiful gardens, was built by Akbar himself during his lifetime and it was later completed by Jahangir after his death. There are four gateways to the tomb, the main entrance being the Southern gate which faces the NH2.

Top left: Sikandra entrance; Top right: Sikandra Tomb;
Bottom left and right: Gorgeous inlay work inside the tomb;
Centre: Akbar's sarcophagi in the main burial chamber
After parking our car, we entered through the main entrance of the Sikandra complex into a charbagh style area, in the centre of which is the tomb of the great emperor, thus dividing the gardens into four quarters. The mausoleum stands on a higher stone platform on which is the doorway that leads to Akbar's cenotaph - the false tomb. The actual tomb is at the basement inside the burial chamber. We had to pass through a partially dark vestibule to enter the burial chamber of Akbar, which contains a very plain white marble sarcophagi. After spending some time in the gardens and feeding the monkeys, we started for our hotel.

Post lunch, we went to visit AGRA FORT - my 9th strike-out from the 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India.
Agra Fort Entrance
There are two gates to enter the fort - the Delhi Gate on the west and the Amar Singh Gate on the south. Entry through Delhi Gate is restricted because the area surrounding that gate is under military occupation. The latter, previously known as the Akbar Darwaza during Akbar's rule, is the one open for tourists and was later renamed after Rajput Amar Singh Rathore, by the British. As the entire fort is surrounded by a moat, one has to cross a drawbridge to enter it. After buying the entrance tickets (Rs. 20 for Indian nationals) at a counter right after the gate, we passed through a long and narrow inclined path, much like a ramp, that led us to the Jahangiri Mahal - the residence of Jahangir built by Akbar.

Made of red sandstone, the majestic building has an arched gateway that leads to a central courtyard which is surrounded by grand halls, rooms and corridors. It also has a whispering gallery on the second floor and has two octagonal towers on either side. Placed right in front of Jahangiri Mahal is Jahangir's Hauz - a huge bathtub with stairs on its interior and exterior sides. We heard a nearby tour guide say that it was gifted to Noor Jahan by Jahangir. To the right hand side of this Mahal are the ruins of Akbari Mahal - the residence of Akbar. Together the Jahangiri and the Akbari Mahal was once known as the Bengali Mahal, owing its name to the Bengali designs used in the Mahal.

Jahangiri Mahal (Jahangir's Hauz can be seen at the far right end of the picture)
Just next to Jahangiri Mahal is the Khas Mahal. Buillt by Shah Jahan for two of his daughters, this white marble palace has two golden roofed private pavillions on either side of the central hall. It overlooked the Anguri bagh on one side and the Yamuna river on the other side. The Anguri Bagh, a colorful geometrically patterned garden, was used for harvesting grapes. It was meant to be a private garden for the royal ladies.

Top left and Bottom right: Khas Mahal and Anguri Bagh;
Top right and Bottom left: Private pavillions of Khas Mahal.
The northern pavillion of Khas Mahal leads to the Musamman Burj - an octagonal tower from where the Taj Mahal can be seen. The tower was built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaj, but he eventually ended up spending the last days of his life here, imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb. The tower's lower floor has elegant marble pillars in semi-circular pattern and in those days this place used to be inlaid with precious stones. Legend has it that the Kohinoor diamond was positioned here opposite a window so that Shah Jahan could see Taj Mahal's reflection in the stone.

Musamman Burj and a view of Taj Mahal from there
Steps from the courtyard of Musamman Burj led us to the Diwan-e-Khas on the upper storey - a hall where the Emperor used to address the dignitaries. The hall overlooks an open terrace, on either side of which are two marble platform thrones - a white and a black. The black throne known as the Takht-e-Jahangir, belonged to Jehangir, whereas the white throne was added during Shah Jahan's rule. To the west of Diwan-e-Khas across the courtyard is a building known as the Machchi Bhawan - a place used for rearing fishes, the lower floor of which was used  as a treasury. The courtyard surrounded from all sides was used for harem functions or as the Zenana Meena Bazar - a shopping complex for the royal ladies.

Top left: Diwan-e-Khas; Top right: White platform throne
Bottom left: Takht-e-Jehangir; Bottom right: Meena Bazar
To the northern side of Diwan-e-Khas were the royal baths or  the Shahi Hammams along with the Sheesh Mahal - the royal dressing room fitted with tiny mirrors. Entry to these parts were restricted for some reasons. So we followed a path that led us to the Diwan-i-Aam - The hall of public audience. Again a white marble structure, it was built by Shah Jahan to use as a place where he could address the common people. The jharokha from where the emperor addressed the public was known as Takht-e-Murassa and rumor has it that it once hosted the Peacock throne. On both sides of the jharokha are perforated marble windows through which the royal ladies could witness the court proceedings.

Lost in the pages of history, we suddenly realized that we were running out of time. By now we had almost explored a fair part of the fort, so we decided to make an about turn.

We left Agra fort by 5 p.m. and started for TAJ MAHAL, which is about 2 km from there. As it was two days before full moon, the Taj complex was scheduled to be open from 8.30 p.m to 12.30 a.m. for night viewing. Our tickets were already purchased by a family friend a day back from the Archaeological Survey of India's Agra office, as tickets for night viewing needs to be purchased one day in advance. The night viewing tickets costed us Rs. 510 per person. We bought the Rs. 20 tickets too, as we wanted to see Taj before sundown. After a thorough security check at the entrance, we finally stepped into the Taj complex - thus happened the 10th strike-out from the 28 UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India.

TAJ MAHAL - the name itself churns up so many emotions in me, as if it is a melancholy poetry written in marble.  A monument of love built not by an emperor, but by a loving husband for his beloved wife. I cannot explain the elaborate and exquisite architectural features of this World Wonder, all I can do is try to express what I was going through... I was dumbstruck by its eternal beauty. So white and so pure it was. It overlooked a long pool in which one can see its reflection too.


There is a staircase that leads to the platform where the Taj stands. After ascending it, we spent some time just staring at the world's most beautiful mausoleum. Before entering the tomb we went around it once. At its backside, one can see the Yamuna river on its meandering course. And then finally we entered the tomb. It was almost dark inside. At the center, surrounded by intricately carved marble jali  screens, is the cenotaph of Mumtaj Mahal. Right beside it, on a slightly higher platform lies Shah Jahan's cenotaph. Even in partial darkness, one can see how excellently the inlay works are done on the marbles. The real graves are at the basement below the false tombs, the entrance to which is permanently blocked. In fact, Mumtaj Mahal was buried thrice, once in  Burhanpur, M.P. where she died, then she was transferred to the Taj complex and after 12 years, finally buried where she rests now. So it's a question worth asking - whether she really lies there and if so, how was the body preserved for 12-13 long years?

Mumtaj's Cenotaph
We had to leave the complex at 7.30 p.m., but by 8.00 p.m. we were back at the eastern gate for the night viewing session. Once again after a security check we entered the Taj complex on the 8.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. slot. 'Taj at night' was an entirely different view. So magical... and so romantic... I still remember the day and I remember that for almost an entire year I had advised every person I met to go and visit the mesmerizing Taj on a full moon night. Two days before full moon, I was clean bowled by this sight. I still think how magical it would look on a full moon night, when the moon is at its best. Unfortunately, my camera could not capture the magic in its truest form.

Finally, as the sands of time ran out, we were asked to leave the premises so that the next batch of people could enter. I wished I could turn the hourglass over, but all good things do come to an end. We returned to our hotel - filled with excitement till the rim, and waited for the next day to dawn, when we would be driving to Fatehpur Sikri - another architectural marvel.....

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