Agra - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Agra


The last Lodi Sultan moved his capital to Agra in 1504, and although he was defeated in 1526 by Babur, the founder of the Mogul empire, it remained India's premier city for almost two centuries. The city's greatest days were during the reign of Babur's grandson, Akbar the Great (1556-1605) who built Agra Fort, and although Shah Jahan created a new capital in Delhi, his heart remained in Agra. In 1631 he chose Agra as the spot to construct what is undisputedly the world's greatest monument to love - the Taj Mahal.

For many, Agra represents the best and worst of India. The city is a daunting sensory experience for even the most hardened traveller: the streets are foul, the air polluted and, particularly in the alleyways around the Taj Mahal, you will come across the most persistent touts and rip-off merchants in the East. Despite all this, however, Agra's magnificent sights make the adventure more than worthwhile.

Agra, along with Delhi and Jaipur, forms the 'Golden Triangle' - India's most popular tourist route. Situated just 125 miles (200km) south of Delhi, it makes an easy day-trip by train. However, it is worth spending at least a night here just to truly appreciate the wondrous Taj Mahal and its many moods: to stand in awe and watch it change from rose-pink in the morning, to brilliant-white at noon, to eggshell-blue at dusk.

Information & Facts


Agra is located on the Ganga plain and has a continental climate, with very hot summer weather and cool winters. In summer (April to September) temperatures can reach as high as 119°F (48°C), and hot, dry winds prevail. The annual monsoon season is between July and September. Winter temperatures (November to February) are comfortable, at about 57°F (14°C) during the day, but may fall below freezing at night. Agra experiences dense fog during the winter months of December and January. The most pleasant time to visit Agra is between October and March.

Although English is generally used for official and business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official languages

The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into 100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in India there will be an exchange office open at the airport. It is illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs are not generally available.

Not far from the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 1.5 mile-long (2.5km) enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises many fairytale palaces such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan; audience halls such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and Sheesh Mahal (The Glass Palace), which, inlaid with thousands of mirrors, was once the harem dressing-room. There are also two beautiful mosques, including Shah Jahan's Pearl Mosque. The Octagonal Tower is exquisitely carved, and is the very place where Shah Jahan spent the last seven years of his life. The tower used to be known for providing one of the best views of the Taj Mahal - but these days, regrettably, air pollution has reduced this visibility.

The deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1570 and 1585. It was built under the personal supervision of the Emperor Akbar. The story goes that the emperor was childless and, having tried all sorts of solutions to his plight, visited a Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti, for help. Soon a son was born, and - impressed and overjoyed - Akbar started building on the site where he had met the saint. However, due to a severe shortage of water the city was abandoned after only fifteen years, and the capital was relocated back to Agra. As a result Fatehpur Sikri stands untouched and perfectly preserved: a complete medieval fortress built of red sandstone, with vast central squares, exquisitely carved multi-tiered pavilions, cool terraces and formal gardens. Fatehpur Sikri is a 25-mile (40km) journey west of Agra, on the way to Jaipur.

The Taj Mahal is one of the world's most recognisable and evocative sights, and despite the incredible hype, a visit here cannot disappoint. Set overlooking the River Yamuna, visible from Agra Fort in the West, the Taj was built by Shah Jahan to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, who died giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. This story of this great monument to love is given an added poignancy by the fate of Shah Jahan himself. When his devout and austere son Aurangzeb seized power, Shah Jahan was interned in Agra Fort, where he lived out his final years gazing wistfully at the Taj Mahal in the distance. When he died there in January 1666, with his daughter Jahanara Begum at his side, his body was carried across the river to lie alongside his beloved wife in the peerless mausoleum. Completed in 1653, the Taj Mahal is set in a large walled garden, between two mini-Taj's (one of which is a mosque), and in front of a long reflecting pond. Close up, the craftsmanship of the building is as spectacular as from a distance - the inside of the vast double-dome is inlaid with delicately-filigreed verses from the Koran and semi-precious stones. Visitors should aim to visit it at dawn and at dusk, as the building truly does change colour through the day, from rosy pink, to gleaming ivory, to twilight-blue. Note that there can often be smog and fog in the mornings. Two days before and after the full moon, the Taj Mahal is open for moonlight viewing, but tickets must be booked at least 24 hours in advance, through the Archaeological Survey of India's offices in Agra.

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