Asia,  India,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Agra (India) – and the splendor of the Taj Mahal

Today is the big day. We approach the Taj Mahal with our Jaipur – Agra train at 7 am

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Agra, Taj Mahal, Fatekpur Sikri Travel Diary

Day 1: Jaipur -> Agra -> Agra Fort

Difficult awakening at 5am. I hardly slept all night after drinking too much tea. I hate the person who came up with the idea of such an early morning train. It was me! I also don’t understand why I did this to us 🙂 if I remember correctly, it’s a “rehearsal” for tomorrow’s dawn wake-up for the Taj Mahal

We walk from the hotel to the Jaipur train station, almost in the mud (it rained during the night) among the pigs, dogs and cows digging through the garbage. Finally, garbage is a big word, since everything is thrown in the street. The advantage is that it wakes you up straight away

We find the right platform and the right train without any worries. If 3 out of 4 trains of this morning seem to be late, ours is on time. This time, we take the AC chair class (chair with air conditioning like the train in France). It’s spacious, very cold with breakfast (milk tea with cookies) and lunch (some nasty vegetarian stuff) included

Of the whole wagon, there are only 8 seats that form the two squares and as if by chance, it is for JB. JB hates these squares in the TGV in France because he can’t extend his legs. Whether it’s in France, Switzerland, Belgium or India, by chance it almost always falls on him lol :’) we have two consecutive chair numbers but we find ourselves 2m from each other

At one point, two guys come with wreaths near JB and start putting wreaths everywhere, on the chairs, under the suitcases. At first we thought it was a forced sale, that it must be a new scam not yet recorded by Lonely Planet, like the fake priests who bless you in the temples and make you pay. We imagined that the suitcase “blessed” by the wreaths of flowers would also be taxed

And then 😆 we realize at the departure of the train that these two guys are just relatives of two other guys who are traveling and the wreaths are put around their chair and wagon just to wish them a good trip. MDR

So after those 10 days of constant solicitation, we see evil everywhere now. Not good not good!

The arrival at the station of Agra Fort is chaotic. JB negotiates a rickshaw as well as possible because there is no rickshaw prep office as in the other stations. 150 rupees later (we did not negotiate very well), we arrive at the youth hostel. The opinions on Internet are very good but we are more than doubtful about the cleanliness of the place. We take out both our meat bag for the 1st time in India. Fortunately that the food is good, the staff very relaxed (in mode peace & love), adorable and it is very close to an entrance of the Taj Mahal. If we had to do it again, frankly we would have chosen the same inn. The location, the unbeatable price (8 € the two nights for both of us) and the cleanliness of the dishes (very important especially in Agra) largely compensate for the rest. It is rather well decorated: there are drawings, quotes all over the walls


We spend the afternoon recovering some sleep before visiting Agra Fort just before sunset. I love this fort where you can see the Taj Mahal from afar. As usual, the guides tell us that we will get lost and understand nothing without them. But in truth, they tell the same thing as what is written in the Lonely Planet


There is a palace in red sandstone, and two palaces in white marble (one of which is closed to the public because of the works). Obviously, we prefer the marble palace. A huge public audience hall overlooking a beautiful garden ends the visit. Just in front of it, a guy sells carrots to the tourists so that they feed the squirrels




We have a drink on the terrace of the hotel opposite (Taj Resorts) where we see the last light of day spread out on the domes of the Taj Mahal. The spectacle seems unreal. After years of dreaming/wishing/what ifs, and months of planning, we have never been so close to this marvel


Then we have dinner at the youth hostel and play some UNO games with the staff. One of them shows us the work in progress and a preview of the view they will have of the Taj Mahal once the work is finished. I have a feeling that it will be one of the best hostels in the city (well, once they have solved their problems of cleanliness, water and electricity cuts…)

Day 2: Taj Mahal -> Fatehpur Sikri

Wake up at 5 o’clock again. It takes me a good ten minutes to realize where I am and what I’m going to do. We leave to get the tickets for the Taj Mahal at the south-east ticket counter

JB hurts his heel when he gets his foot stuck in the hotel door and bleeds heavily. Fortunately, our first aid kit is quite complete

At the ticket counter, they give us a bottle of water each and enough to cover our shoes. Finally, it’s just for foreign tourists, Indian tourists pay 10 times less and aren’t entitled to anything (there is systematically in India a tariff for Indians and a tariff for foreigners in tourist places)

From the ticket counter to the entrance of the Taj Mahal, it takes another 1km. It is to preserve the Taj Mal from dust that only non-polluting vehicles are allowed to enter up to 500m from the Taj Mahal. Polluting vehicles: up to 1km. In reality, residents still travel by motorcycle (a polluting good) honking their horns at all times

A small moment of emotion when we see the Taj Mal through the large entrance door (the Taj Mahal reveals itself gently to visitors, first the white marble center, then the minarets and then the entire garden). It is really beautiful, very big, impressive. We are sometimes disappointed when we discover monuments “in real life” after having seen them in photo, it isn’t at all the case of the Taj Mahal. No other monument that we visited can compete with its beauty. The two decorative minarets in front are under construction which spoils the photos a little. But we are glad that it is just the minarets and not the main mausoleum


Despite the early hour, there are already many people. I’m not the only one who is dressed well for the Taj Mahal today. Many foreigners wear Punjabi or sari to get a nice picture.image

The fountain and the gardens in the middle are forbidden to the public. Between the entrance to the garden and the Taj Mahal stands a marble platform with some marble benches

To access the platform leading to the mausoleum, we take a small, well-concealed staircase, either barefoot or with the shoe covers we were given beforehand. On both sides of the mausoleum, one can see the mosque (still in use) on the left, and an identical building on the right (which only serves to ensure the symmetry of the place)

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The entrance of the mausoleum is decorated with calligraphy of extracts from the Koran, made of black marble (magnificent), flowers made of ordinary or semi-precious stones, large carved marble slabs, patterns created from superimposing stones of different colors. In short, a meticulous craftsmanship as we can no longer do today






Inside, it is forbidden to take pictures. It is very dark. Unlike Humayun’s tomb, the two tombs here are surrounded by openwork marble walls (octagonal in shape). The main tomb is in the middle. (The Taj Mahal was built for Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of Emperor Shah Jahan. She died giving birth to their 14th child). Her husband’s tomb is next door, completely disrupting the symmetry of the place. Legend has it that he planned to build an identical black Taj Mahal for himself across the river, but he was dethroned by his own son. He spent 8 years in prison at Agra Fort, where he could follow from afar the construction of the Taj Mahal for his beloved

Like the other Mughal tombs, all the pieces are octagonal in shape. This shape is obtained with two squares and a circle. It is very symbolic because it represents the crossing between the deity (the circle) and the earthly world (the square), a very symbolic shape for the mausoleums. According to some specialists, the fact that tombs like the Taj Mahal have so few aisles would impose views on visitors. Thus, they will see only the main building

The visit is extremely pleasant but you can feel the heat coming even if it is only 7:30 am. We are satisfied to return, like everyone else, to have the breakfast at the inn and by zapping the Taj museum on both sides of the garden which opens only at 9 am


We then spend the afternoon in Fatekpur Sikri (we rented a cab for the afternoon). The site is pretty but without more because we visited too many palaces and forts these 10 days to be amazed now. The Indian food also starts to weary us. This means that we have to leave Rajasthan and see other regions. It’s good timing, we leave Agra tomorrow for Khajuraho

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Two young boys who run their mothers’ stores near our hostel are very interested in us, and especially in my Japanese range. They propose me to sell it to them for 5 rupees lol and ask a lot of questions (where did you buy it? how much?). So I make them two miniature fans with A4 paper and tape (another model). When we give them the fans (really ugly, sorry), they seem extremely happy. One of them offers us two sweets to thank us. It’s really adorable


We spend the whole evening playing cards with the staff of the hostel. They are super cool. Seeing that the game lacks cards, one of them went to buy a new deck of cards just to show us the rules of the Indian game (very complicated, with a lot of tricks and calculations to know to make his team win)

That’s not how they’re going to make money. The hostel offers several services: provision of bottled water, dinner, laundry, … We will notice later that they don’t write down everything we buy, we have to check the bill again and tell them what is missing. They are really in peace and love mode (by the way there is a big drawing of Bob Marley on one of the walls), and we feel so good with them that despite my legendary stress about cleanliness, I am very happy to be here

Day 3: Rest

We spend half a day in a hotel near the Agra Cantt Station waiting for our train at 11pm. We have dinner at the market next door, this part of the city not being touristic, we are observed more than usual by the locals and benefit from local prices (10 rupees here and there) in the bui bui. Except for one of them who asks us 110 rupees after the finished dish and who will get away with half as much, don’t take us for tourists! (Well… Actually… Yes…). Seeing JB eating fried noodles, several people stop to ask him if he knows how to eat spicy lol

We also each take a glass of sugar cane juice. The juice is very fresh, while the seller assures that it is “no ice”. JB is a bit stressed at the idea that it should be cut with fresh unfiltered water, but it’s too tempting, we take the risk (the material seems very clean to us). Finally that went well but we will not start again, especially not before taking a night train

23:10 : Departure for Khajuraho, known for its temples with erotic sculptures. Our wagon is at the end of the platform, the train stops only 5 minutes, we run without slackening (obliged since the wagons do not communicate). Finally we reach our wagon 1 minute before departure. So all these years of running after the Parisian subway finally bear fruit

Part 2: Practical Tips

How to get there

From Jaipur, a daytime train runs from Jaipur to Agra Fort in 3 hours
From Delhi, an early morning train runs from Delhi to Agra Fort in 6 hours but travel agencies will always try to convince you that there are no more tickets and that you should take a driver instead. Check on that this isn’t the case (when you do a search on Cleartrip, you have to specify the name of the station and not just the name of the city). The closest train station is Agra Fort, so don’t make the wrong stop


  • It is recommended that you spend at least one night in Agra because the morning visits (at 6am) are the best to avoid the heat and tourists. This also gives you enough time to visit Fatekpur Sikri and Agra Fort, classified by UNESCO
  • Hotels are expensive and of poor quality in Agra, read the reviews before choosing a hotel (take the same one as us if you can live 2 days with questionable hygiene)
  • The rickshaws ask for exorbitant rates, try to negotiate. Ask your hotel for rates to get an idea of how much you will have to pay for each trip
  • To do without the services of a guide, buy the chapter “Delhi, Agra, Taj Mahal” from Lonely Planet for 3.5 euros (available on smartphone via the Kindle app, in French) and the excellent guide “India Revealed Delhi & Agra”, in English only with full explanations on Mughal architecture (with detailed plans, illustrations). I liked it very much.
  • To purchase quality marble/stone souvenirs with prices listed, go to the Subhash Emporium. A miniature 30cmx30cm stone Taj Mahal costs in the region of 3500 rupees. Other marble boxes with inlaid stones cost about 3000 rupees. This is more expensive than average but it is quality, and not plastic!


  • 100 rupees = 1,3€
  • Visit of the Taj Mahal: 1000 rupees/person
  • Visit Agra Fort: 500 rupees/person, reduction of 50 rupees if you visited Taj Mahal on the same day
  • Rent a car for 5 hours to go to Fatekpur Sikri (with air conditioning, waiting and parking): 1350 rupees
  • Youth Hostel: 325 rupees/day private room
  • Room next to Agra Cantt station: 660 rupees/day
  • Dinner at the youth hostel: 160 rupees/person – at will
  • Laundry: 150 rupees
  • Rickshaw : Station -> Taj Mahal 110 rupees
  • Train Jaipur – Agra: 600 rupees/person

TOTAL : 10 529 rupees or 140€ for 3 days 3 nights
Budget can be improved by replacing the cab rental for Fatehpur (1350 rupees) by the bus (40 rupees/person)
Plane marked here = train from Udaipur


Useful links

  • Youth Hostel: Big Brother Hos tel -> adorable staff, it deserves a stay with them just for that. Lots of services offered for a small fee of nothing, excellent location, inexpensive. Average cleanliness but it’s like all youth hostels.
  • Souvenir store: Subhash Emporium -> quality products, prices displayed, we can haggle a little, they can pick you up at your hotel for free and take you to the workshop for a little visit


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