Looking at the map of India, I find Kolkata and Agra pretty close to each other. My small hands can draw a line between them in a jiffy. In my small world it all sounded really simple and I thought it would be like any other road trip I have been to before until we finally hit the road ..
Roads excite me and I have been doing them since I was 14 months old. Journeys were shorter back then, now my parents are like – “Oh darling ! let’s be adventurous.”- I guess they have sensed how comfortable I am with road trips.
Apart from finishing a dozen of books on the way (am a book nut! ) I love gazing at the different landscapes, farming flat lands changing into steeps hills and mountains; laughing at how the weather uncle can be so funny on the road, when the sunny weather changes into a rainy one in a moment and also admiring the changes in the dressing style of local women and children with the change in the places. In a road trip I feel it’s the journey that makes the destination worth while. I will always remember Taj Mahal for the miles I had to cross to finally see it. I have a story to say and that’s what makes it memorable !
We started from Kolkata in the wee hours of morning to avoid any traffic blockages, but we still ran down into one. After a dozen of stopovers for breakfast, lunch, regional produce, nature’s call and picturesque locations we made it to Varanasi only at 11 in the night.
Distance from Kolkata to Varanasi is 686 km and according to google it should take you 13 hours but it took us 18. We crossed two beautiful states – Jharkhand and Bihar to reach Uttar Pradesh. Dad said the ongoing construction work on the national highway was the reason behind our delay. Trust me it sounds more difficult than it actually was.Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in India and it lies on the bank of river ganges. It is home to more than 20,000 temples. We visited the most famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple at 3am in the morning for the ‘Mangala’ aarti. You can book the tickets online https://shrikashivishwanath.org/TicketBooking.aspx Before sunrise we reached Assi ghat for the morning aarti. It was a treat to eyes.
After witnessing two of the most famous spots in Varanasi we headed back to our hotel for a sumptuous breakfast. By 9 am we were back on the road heading towards Allahabad – our next destination. Allahabad, earlier called Prayag was renamed by Mughals as Allah-baad. One of the most interesting fact about Allahabad is the confluence of three rivers Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. Luckily we made it to Allahabad in a couple of hours. We took a boat ride to see the confluence. It was a lovely sight and one of the most visited in India.
Later in the evening, we covered a two hour distance to reach the bustling city of Kanpur. If you skip Allahabad you can make it to Agra by the evening but we were not in a hurry and wanted to see all the famous spots on the way. Kanpur is a small, over crowded city and it had an old small town charm. Instead of Kanpur one can also stop in Lucknow, but it does not fall on the route to Agra, so we stayed overnight at Kanpur.
Next day after a relaxed breakfast we started for Agra. It was a smooth ride and we reached Agra by afternoon. With no prior hotel bookings done, we were lucky enough to get a room in the ITC Mughal. We used goibibo to get a good last moment deal. ITC Mughal will only enhance your experience of Agra with its architecture and its white marbles. Even the names of the various sections of the hotel is kept after the Mughal ruler Akbar and his wives. The massive lobby is called the Akbar Mahal and the bridges to the two wings are called Mariam and Jodhabai bridge. See it for yourself !
Agra has three popular UNESCO world heritage sites. There is a lot to see and sink in when you put your foot in Agra. We started with the grand Taj Mahal. This majestic monument was built by Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. She was his third wife but the one he loved the most. She died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. It was a heartbreaking incident for Shah Jahan and hence he commissioned Taj Mahal as a memorial. Taj Mahal is the most symmetrical a monument ever built by Mughals and I am sure you have never seen something more beautiful than this ever. This timeless monument and the story behind its creation are both mesmerising. Please do hire a guide (it’s a must) to understand everything in details.
Tip: When in Agra, do visit Taj during a full moon night ! Coincide your stay with full moon night dates to get the most out of your trip. Things to keep in mind for night time viewing –
- You can view Taj in the evening from 8.30 to midnight on a full moon night and for two days before and after it.
- People are allowed to go inside in batches. Each batch will have 50 people and only 8 such batches are allowed.
- You are allowed to view Taj only from the platform adjoining the main gate of the Taj Mahal.
- Altogether only 400 people are allowed for night time viewing of Taj hence book your tickets early.
- Book tickets from Archeological survey of India’s office in Agra. Get all the information from their website http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_agratajmahal_night.asp
- Be prepared for strict security. Only binoculars and still cameras are allowed inside.
Thanks to my Aunt for clicking these pictures for me during the visit to Agra!
Next up was Agra fort. Agra fort is a grand red sandstone fort which was used by the Mughal dynasty as its residence. There were beautifully designed rooms, perfectly manicured gardens and courtyards after courtyards. Every room, gallery, pavilion spoke its own story. Since Agra fort is situated really close to Taj Mahal, when Aurangzeb (Shah Jahan ‘s son) imprisoned Shah Jahan, the latter looked at his beloved’s tomb from a window of his room. The enchanting story of Agra fort is nothing like you have heard before. We spent an entire afternoon to learn about the Mughal era which lasted for more than three centuries.
Fatehpur Sikri also known as City of Victory is a small town situated two hours away from Agra. It was founded by the Mughal emperor Akbar who lived in it with his three wives – Jodha Bai, Ruqaiya Begum and Mariam. Made also out of red sandstone it is an architectural beauty. The main entrance to the fort is from Buland Darwaza, the picture of which can be seen below. This fort also houses the tomb of the famous Sufi saint Salim Chisti who lived in Sikri and blessed Akbar with a son. Later when the saint died , Akbar built his tomb in the same fort. This fort was used by the Mughals for a full decade after which it was abandoned by them due to scarcity of water. The Mughals then shifted to Agra fort.
Please also check my guest post on Taj Mahal at Bailey Buss’s travel site –