The 6 lane Yamuna expressway was a great way to unwind, relax for 3.5 hours and catch up on my sleep. Having caught the early morning flight after a long week of hard work, the smooth car ride was a great beginning to my weekend trip. We were headed from Delhi to Agra for a 3 day visit. To fasten our journey we avoided the old highway that passed through small towns.
Domesticated animals grazing on the farm land masses on both sides coupled with signboards warning fast driver to slow down to avoid accidents with Nilgai passing; the road was as smooth as silk. They had landed an army flight on this road, how was it not supposed to be straight and non-bumpy. For a distance of 234 kms, food courts are few.
Tip: Try the D Dhabha near the Petrol Pump just before Exit 8, for Mathura for decent vegetarian food. There is a sitting space accommodation outside but not recommended during the day. Meal for 2 – approx Rs 600/-.
Recommended dish: Dal Makhani and Paneer Sabzi.
After a distance of 165 kilometres, the expressway ends and there is a 30 minute drive to the Taj. The old way to Agra is slow.
There are 3 historical places that are a must visit when in Agra:
- Taj Mahal
- Agra Fort
- Fatehpur Sikri
Stay: (Zostel Agra)
Zostel, Opposite 132 KV Sub Plant, Near Shilpgram, Taj East Gate road, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, Agra, India
The Taj Mahal:
The magnificent marble edifice called the Crown Palace or the Taj Mahal, stands tall on the banks of the Yamuna River.
There are 4 gates in the courtyard surrounded by Moghul gardens leading upto the Taj Mahal; the Royal Gate seems to shine out from the rest. While walking into the garden of the Taj Mahal, witness an optical illusion. The Taj Mahal seems far too near from the Gate, but as you enter the Royal Gate, you will see that the distance further increases and the Taj becomes further away. There is a center line leading from the Royal Gate to the Taj which is exactly where Mumtaz’s grave lies. The entire structure of the Taj Mahal goes up to 171 metres (561 feet). The Metal Pinnacle is at a height is 30 feet. Macrana translucent highest quality marble used from Rajasthan carried by elephants were used to make up the structure.
In the memory of Arjumand Banu Begum, alias Mumtaz, Shah Jahan promised to build the Taj Mahal, as she had asked for a dying gift in 1631 of something that the world would remember and that the world could not replicate. The Taj Mahal is considered as one of the 7 wonders of the world due to its symmetrical view. Mumtaz was born in Pakistani and was married to Shah Jahan in 1612. The story about Shah Jahan cutting off the worker’s hands who had worked on the Taj Mahal was incorrect. Infact they were rewarded handsomely such that they would never have to work again ever.
Arabic writings and 22 domes adorn the Royal Gate, signifying 22 years of completion of the structure. The Taj and the Royal Gate have semi-precious and precious stones engraved in the marble. Persian designs gave the room its magnificence through the inlay work done.
There are 202 rooms in the courtyard kept for workers. The Taj was built at a cost of about 32 million.
On completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan wished to make a Black Taj Mahal, so as to build a shadow for the edifice. The cost of the structure was estimated to be around 120 million & was not endorsed by his son Aurangzeb and was hence put under house arrest. It is said that Shah Jahan used a window in his mausoleum Burj to view the Taj in his wife’s memory. He asked his eldest daughter Jahanara Begum Sahib to bury him close to his wife’s grave and thus there are 2 graves in the Taj Mahal. 22 feet exactly below what we see as the graves of the couple, the actual grave lies.
Did you know:
- Inside the Taj, where the mausoleum lies, an echo will continue for 15 seconds.
- It was said that Shahjahan shaped the Yamuna river adjacent to the Taj in the form of a half moon.
It is said that the Moonlight view is magnificent and not to be missed. Moonlight viewing is allowed 2 days before and after the Full Moon date and only for half hour upto the Royal Gate.
Entry fee: Rs 500 for Indians.
The Agra Fort through my eyes;
Akbarabad to Agra and Badalgar to the Agra Fort, the names changed with the change of power and hands. The Agra fort housed the army of Shahjahan. Made of Sand Red stone, only 20% of this large expanse is currently open to the public. The rest are territories of the Indian Army. It took 95 years to completion and was ruled by 4 Moghul Rulers. The walls of the fort are such that there is sand in between the rocky wall to stop cannon balls if the fort is under attack. There are 3 gates to the Fort – Amar Singh Gate, Delhi Gate and the Aurangzeb Gate. Currently only the Amar Gate is open to tourists. There are steep roads leading upto the fort. It was said that Akbar desired a family heir and offered prayers to a Sufi. His wish was granted and in memory of the granted wish or dua of Salim Chisti, he named his son Salim, who was renamed as Jahangir after a while. This area houses a Jehangir fort too.
The family: Jehangir’s son – Shahjahan – his son Aurangzeb and his son was Bahadur Shah Zaffar.
The fort which was completed in 1660 has a majestic view of the Taj Mahal from the top. The top section of the fort is also made of marble similar to the Taj Mahal.
Some very interesting sections of the Fort include:
- The drainage system on the main verandah with quintessential windows overlooking the Taj.
- The Hawa Mahal offers a magnificent view of the city below was built for the king
- The inlay art floral patterns were similar to the Taj, but the flowers that show blossoms at the Fort were shown with their heads down at the Taj Mahal as the Taj was a mausoleum and this was the place of residence.
- Adjacent to the royal chamber of Shahjahan and Mumtaz were rooms of daughters Jahanara and Roshanara.
- There are 7 floors built below the fort, which was used as underground tunnels or jails
- The Dewan-e-Khas has 2 seats, the one for Jehangir is made out of kasuati stone and the other for Shahjahan was made of marble.
- The Dewan-e-aam was a huge hall, with 64 pillars but erected in a way that the view of the King seated in the center should not be blocked by the many pillars.
- The fort houses 3 Masjids; Moti Masjid, Meena Masjid and the Neena Masjid
- The boundary wall of the fort extends upto 2 kms.
The guide charges range from Rs 300 – Rs 500. Negotiate a price for a guide who can be with you at the Taj and the Agra Fort.
All monuments in Agra shut at 6.00 pm. Entry fee for the Taj is Rs 40/-
Other things to do at Agra:
The visit to Fatehpur Sikri to pay homage to the dargah of Salim Chishti is considered a must.
Itimad ud daulat is a monument made by Noor Jahan and is on the must visit list. It is the oldest building in Agra after the Agra fort.
The Pethas of Agra are a delicacy and not to be missed.
The Dhabas on the way to Agra and back, both on the expressway and the old highway are decent and offer basic facilities.
A few kilometres into the border of Rajasthan, on the way to Vrindavan from Agra, we took a detour to visit one of the Palaces. The city of Gowardhan is a holy place and is popular for the Radha Kunj. The Gowardhan mountain is believed holy as Krishna had lifted this mountain on his finger as a show of strength. Such is the devotion that people walk all the way to this temple and around it on foot or roll over on the road as visit the temple.
A little farther away from the Radha Kunj, lies the Deeg Palace. The Deeg Bhawan, popularly known as Jal Mahal was built by the Jat rulers – Maharaja Surajmal and Jawahar Singh. The monument is made of Sand Stone in Pinkish colour brought from Bansi Paharpur and the floor are made of Sea Shell paste. The Palace was the summer palace of the king of Bharatpur
The buildings in this courtyard include Gopal Bhawan with two flanking pavilions Sawan and Bhado, Suraj Bhawan, Hardev Bhawan, Kishan Bhawan, Keshav Bhawan, Nand Bhawan, Singh Pol, Central Garden and tanks – Gopal Sagar & Rup Sagar. The Kacha Bagh across the Gopal Sagar served as the Royal garden.
Objects of erstwhile rulers are exhibited inside the Gopal Bhawan and the Kishan Bhawan. This includes the carcass of a white Tiger; a prized possession of one of the rulers Maharaj Kishan Singh. In another section lies the legs of an elephant who had well served the army of the ruler and as a mark
This palace is very famous for its 2000 colourful fountains which still run twice in a year; during Janmashthami and another festival. The fountains work on a sand system. In the museum lies various artefacts of the era; A foot of an elephant who was used during a war was preserved in his memory, Belgium glass, Persian carpets adorned the floor and did vintage furniture. In the garden, lies secret underground roads that lead to different sections of the city.
13 Kings ruled this palace, right from badan singh to Bijender Singh.
-A guide is definitely a must, but there are chances that you may not find a good guide in this small town of Govardhan
-You will encounter a check post before you enter Rajasthan travelling from the Agra road, state & road tax needs to be paid for the same,
Radhe Radhe, the words echo as we enter the holy city of Vrindavan. The road from Faridabad to Vrindavan, is via the old expressway and is definitely unlike the expressway.
Vrindavan city is not called a holy city just like that; temples & devotees of Radhe Krishna throng the city singing to the tunes of the God.
Stay: (Kridha Residency)
Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg, Near Prem Mandir, Raman Reti, Nandanvan, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh 281121
Bakey Bihari Temple:
The city owes it to Balram Bihari the brother of Krishna after whom the Bakey Bihari temple is inaugurated. To visit the Bake Bihari temple, you need to walk through the bylanes after a point as Rikshaws are not allowed. Bake Bihari is the brother of Lord Krishna. On your way, vendors will lure you into buying various miniatures of Radha Krishna and other devotional items. You are welcomed by devotees at the temple with Haldi Kumkum and don’t just walk away like me, you are expected to pay devotional fees for the same. The
Travel with a Rik either shared or on your own is not very expensive, although most of the bylanes will have to be travelled by foot. The Iskon Temple lies in the center of the city and finding a mode of travel is simple. The temple hosts a library and a book shop, where devotional material on Iskon is available. The evening Aarti is a must attend at the Iskon temple. The founder Swami Paramansa’s Samadhi rests here. Dont forget to eat Kala Jamun from the sweet shop outside the temple. Shopping for kurtas or other clothing items can be done in the lane opposite the temple.
The Kesi ghats at Vrindavan are unlike the Ganga Ghats at Banaras but a festival can bring these ghats to life and chaos. There are fisherman with small boats that roam around the waters offering a ride to tourist for a megre amount. The boat ride in the evenings are pleasant.
A visit to Nidhivan is preferred in the morning hours . Nidhivan, also called as Madhuvan and is a mystical place in Vrindavan. As recalled in history, the name Vrindavan originated as the city was a Tulsi tree forest (Vrinda – Tulsi, Van – Forest). Lord Krishna was believed to roam this forest; in the center of which lies the Madhuvan or Lord Krishna’s temple. There are 1600 odd Tulsi trees, which are believed to be the friends of Lord Krishna or as they say ‘Gopiyaan’ in Indian mythology. Mythology goes that Lord Krishna used to visit this area to graze his cows. It is here that he met the black Snake Kaaliya. Lord Krishna fought Kaaliya; the snake with a 100 heads for 3 days. The people of Vrindavan believe that Lord Krishna resides in this temple after sunset and hence, no animal or human is allowed to enter the Nidhivan area. Anyone who does so either becomes deaf, blind, dumb or does not live to tell the tale.
In case you happen to visit the temple in the afternoon, you can to be taken to an area which is called the Terrace from where the Tulsi Forest and the top of the Temple can be seen. Don’t forget to chant out aloud “Bakey Bihari ki Jai”
After you visit the Nidhivan, guides will ask you to visit the Snake Temple. The temple is built in the memory of Krishna Kaaliya the snake who was defeated by Lord Krishna.
Lanes of Vrindavan:
The several lanes of Vrindavan are filled with sweets and snacks. Passing thorough these lanes with packets in your hand (food or eitherways) is risky due to the monkey menace in the city. Glasses, caps, handbags, food items, nothing is safe in the hands of pedestrians walking these streets. The monkeys follow unmindful tourists and grab their share. Locals warn tourist roaming around with hand bags to hold on to them.
The houses in Vrindavan remind one of a holy city as we see religious marking outside doors. Large doors with intricate designs and house entrances are peculiar of the city.
Although it is rare to have people walk around the lanes in the afternoons, evenings are crowded with tourists and locals alike.
– The city is relaxed and hence Nidhavan is shut in the afternoon from 12.30 until 3.30 and so are the other temples
– OYO rooms will suggest Kridha residency, it is one of the best hotels in town at affordable prices and is a little further from the Iskon temple.
– Guides will take you to the Temple of Balram next to the Ashram and Priests will make you sit & force you to perform the Bhajan Kirtan in the name of God. Talks will follow about Gods and devotion and then gracefully you will be forced to donate in the name of religion. Do not fall prey to such malpractices. You can donate if you wish to with devotion though.