Agra's top two sights by far are the incomparable Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. When planning your sightseeing, take heed of the convoluted entry fee system: for Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Itmud-ad-Daulah, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri, you must pay a ₹500 levy to the Agra Development Authority in addition to the prices mentioned below. Once paid, the levy is valid for all sights, but only for one day. However, If you are not going to the Taj Mahal or happen to turn up on a Friday, then you do not have to pay the ₹500 levy but a smaller one if you are going to the other sites. E.g. ₹50 for Red Fort.
Current prices (June 2012) are: ₹750 for Taj Mahal (250 entrance + 500 levy) and ₹300 for Agra Fort (250 entrance + 50 levy). One gets ₹50 discount when presenting ticket for Taj Mahal at Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal entry fee also includes a 500mL bottle of water and shoe covers. Make sure you pick them up when you buy your ticket.
Official guides are available for Agra for INR 900 (approx US$ 20) for a half day (including Taj Mahal & Agra Fort). Contact your hotel for details. Any guide that charges less than that is probably an unlicensed tout. Most unlicensed touts have fake IDs and focus more on taking you shopping rather than on presenting accurate information.
Effective April 2011, the Archaeological Survey of India introduced an official self-guided audio tour facility of international standards for visitors. The tour allows visitors to experience the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort at their own pace, with authentic and factually accurate information. Visitors may avail of the audio guide facility from the official audio guide booth near the monument ticket counters. Prices for audio guide services are ₹105 (approx US$ 2) in English & Foreign Languages or ₹63 in Hindi & Indian Languages. Reviews for the audio guides have been positive on tripadvisor and other travel websites. Several Apps for self-guided tours are also available for iPhone and Android phones.
Please note that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday
The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife. Taj Mahal means Crown Palace; one of the wife's names was Mumtaz Mahal, Ornament of the Palace. The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture, and one of the great sites of the world's heritage.
The Taj Mahal has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones. It is a celebration of woman built in marble and that is the way to appreciate it.
Although it is one of the most photographed edifices in the world and instantly recognisable, actually seeing it is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, and extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.
There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy out of black marble on the opposite side of the river. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.
If you are taking a camera, beware that because the Taj is white your camera may underexpose your photos. If it is a film camera you will not find out until it is too late. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.
The Taj is open from 6:00 AM to 7:30 PM every day except Friday. Entry costs ₹250 (plus levy of ₹500) for foreigners and ₹20 for Indians. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds, and plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is also utterly stunning under a full moon.
To buy tickets, you can go to the south gate, but this gate is 1 km far away of the entrance and the counter open at 8:00 AM. At the west and east gate, the counter open at 6:00 AM. Alongside the ticket counter, you can also purchase a self-guided audio tour (allows two to a device) for ₹100 in English and foreign languages and ₹60 for Indian languages.
The Taj is located pretty much in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds. There are three gates. The western gate is the main gate where most tourists enter. A large number of people turn up on weekends and public holidays and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are much less busy and should be tried on such days.
There are night viewing sessions on the nights of a full moon and the two days before and after (so five days in total). Exceptions are Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) and the month of Ramadan. Tickets must be purchased 24 hours in advance, starting at 10am, but do not always sell out, so it can be worth looking into it when you arrive even if well after 10am. Tickets only allow viewing from the red sandstone plaza at the south end of the complex, and only for a 1/2 hour window.
Make sure to wear mosquito repellent.
It is a good idea to bring a flashlight, because the interior of the Taj Mahal is quite dark (even during the day) and to fully appreciate the details of the gem inlays, you need a good light.
Taj Mahal can also be seen during Night 2 days before and 2 days after full moon in all 5 days including full moon, the booking has to be made 24 hours in advance from Archeological Society of India office situated at 22, Mall Road, Agra. Ticket fare is Rs. 500 for Indian Nationals and Rs. 750 for Non Indians. The viewing hours for night viewing is from 8:30 pm to 9:00 pm and 9:00 pm to 9:30 pm. A visitor has to reach 30 mins prior to viewing hours for security check at Taj Mahal Ticketing counter on East Gate of Taj Mahal or he may loose his/ her chance. The Night View is not worth spending as the visitors are kept quite far from Taj Mahal nearly 200 Mts away and there in no light so it could hardly be seen during night hours at viewing hours. Cameras also do not give images with near zero flux can easily be avoided for night viewing.
The fort is similar in layout to the Red Fort in Delhi, but considerably better preserved, as much of Delhi Fort was razed by the British after the Mutiny. As much as palace as a defensive structure, it is also constructed mainly from red sandstone.
Emperor Akbar, king at 14, began consolidating his empire and, as an assertion of his power built the fort in Agra between 1565 and 1571, at the same time as Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. Emperor Shah Jahan added to the fort and ended up a prisoner in it. The fort has a beautiful view of his masterpiece, the Taj Mahal, on a clear day.
You can get to the fort by Rickshaw from Taj Mahal for around ₹25-30. Entry to the fort is ₹250 (plus levy of ₹50 if you have not already paid the ₹500 fee for Taj Mahal).
There are left luggage services at Agra Fort where you can stow your bags at no cost. A fine of ₹5,000 applies if you lose your luggage ticket.
There are also audio guides available at Agra Fort which you can rent for a cost of ₹100 in English and other foreign languages (German, French, Spanish, etc.) or ₹60 in Indian languages such as Hindi or Bengali.
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