Agra may be densely populated, extremely touristed, heavily congested and highly polluted, but it is also home to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is absolutely a must see in India. Sure, there is more to India and if all you see is the Taj Mahal you’ll certainly be missing out. But with its incredible beauty and intricate design, if you have the chance to see it, don’t hesitate! It really upsets me when I hear people say that Agra’s crazy reputation puts them off seeing the Taj Mahal. Although with all its touts, scams, hassle and congestion Agra can be overwhelming, how you cope with it also has a lot to do with your own attitude and the measures you take. Here are my top tips for staying cool, calm and collected in crazy Agra!
Being in a hurry is one of the worst things that you can do. If your allow yourself plenty of time to get around each site, your experience will almost always be less stressful. Keep in mind that in India things often won’t go to plan. Your meal might take an hour to come out, your train might be six hours late (it happens!) or you might just need a break from the heat, smells and traffic. At times like these, you’ll be so glad you allowed yourself that extra hour, afternoon or even night in Agra. While it’s certainly possible to see the Taj Mahal as a day trip from Delhi, this is likely to leave you thoroughly exhausted and you’ll miss out on the other amazing things there are to see in Agra. So I’d highly recommend budgeting extra time for Agra to have the best experience.
Have an open mind
Although it helps to be educated about what hassle, scams and annoyances you might expect in Agra, having an open mind is always the best policy. Use your common sense and don’t let situations get the better of you. In my times in Agra, I have been made by my rickshaw drivers to look in many shops, been quite aggressively bargained with despite showing no interest and been taken to many marble factories against my will. Although I could have been upset or yelled at my rickshaw drivers or the shopkeepers, I try to remember that they are just trying to make a living. If you keep smiling and remain polite, the experience is likely to be better for yourself and others.
Enjoy the view
If things are getting a bit hectic on ground level, make your way up to one of the many rooftop restaurants in the Taj Ganj area. You can relax with a cool drink or a cup of chai, and marvel at the instantly soothing beauty of the Taj Mahal, which seems miraculously close. Photos never seem to capture this moment, it’s something you have to experience for yourself. After a day in Agra, make sure you head back to a rooftop restaurant to claim a seat for the iconic view of the sun setting behind the Taj Mahal. The stresses of the day will melt away, and although the food often isn’t amazing, you’ll be so thoroughly entertained by the view that it won’t even matter.
Chose the right hotel
The romantic notion of a room with a view of the Taj Mahal lures many travellers to some of the many overpriced and underwhelming hotels in the Taj Ganj area immediately surrounding the Taj Mahal. However by looking a little further out or forgoing the view, you’ll often get a much better value room. After all, no matter where your hotel is, you won’t be able to see the Taj view while you’re sleeping. And if you’ve taken advantage of the the rooftop restaurants throughout the day, you will have seen plenty of Taj views. I found the perfect balance with Hotel Sheela, which is located in Taj Ganj, but instead of being built upwards, Sheela’s simple, clean and good value rooms are located around a peaceful garden courtyard.
I hope with these tips I have encouraged you to take on Agra, and survive! I have another post coming in a few days on seeing the Taj Mahal, so stay tuned for more info on this incredible monument!