We arrived at Agra Cantonment train station at about 8am on Sunday, 05 March 2006. We stayed in Agra for two nights, at Hotel Kamal in Taj Ganj. Here are some of the places we visited.
Hotel Kamal and Stuff Makers Restaurant
We had a standard room, for which we paid Rs 450 per night. There was hot water and the room was clean and bug free (although we did burn mosquito coils at night). The location in Taj Ganj was completely great, within walking distance of the Taj Mahal, the Taj Nature walk, and a very laid-back and tourist-free bazaar area. The front gate is locked at night and normally opens again at 6am (good to know if you want to get an early start). The roof-top restaurant, Stuff Makers, provided standard food and a spectacular and unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal. The hotel will add your Stuff Makers tab to your room bill, which was very handy. The hotel has a generator in case of power failures.
Taj Nature Walk
Before checking out the Taj Nature Walk on Sunday afternoon, we had lunch at the garden restaurant opposite the entrance. Unfortunately we don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but the food was good and the garden was quiet. We shared vegetable curry, soup, naan bread and pakora, washed down with hot Coke sipped through an amazingly flimsy straw. With every smidgen of liquid we managed to sip up, we got thousands of bubbles. A feral pig came and snorted around some dusty garbage piled up behind our table. On the ground nearby squirrels ran about nervously, and a few sparrows and one skittish crow sat in the trees. Later I saw a White-Throated Kingfisher sitting in the tree right behind us.
The nature walk itself was a bit of a disappointment. We could not walk in the forest but had to stay on paths guiding us through dry scrubland and sparse grass. However, there were some lovely views of the Taj Mahal. We didn’t see much wildlife besides a jackrabbit just as we were leaving. The “wildlife in nature” mentioned on the sign outside was not really to be seen.
The Taj Mahal
On Monday morning, we got up early. We wanted to be at the Taj Mahal right at opening time, 6am, in time to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, the gate to our hotel was locked! A taxi driver staking out our hotel told us which door we should knock on to wake up some poor schmuck to open the gate for us. A young man came out in his bedclothes and unlocked the gate for us. Oops.
We waited in line at the East Gate to be searched, in separate lines for men and women. Certain items are not allowed to be brought into the complex and must be left at the cloak room. Arthur waited in line behind a guy with several cameras and tripods and other forbidden gear. The guards would look in his bag and ask, “What’s this?” and he would answer, “Telephone, computer, GPS, MP3 player, camera batteries,” etc etc. Boy did he have a lot of useless crap on him. Our strong advice for visiting the Taj Mahal is only to bring your camera, your hotel room key, and yourself. Anything else is just going to slow you – and everyone else in the line – down!
On our visit we spent a lot of time gaping at the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site and the lovely grounds. We stayed about three hours.
Akbar’s Mausoleum & Agra Fort
On Monday afternoon we hired an auto-rickshaw to bring us to Akbar‘s Mausoleum and the Red Fort. We were bombarded by guides at the tomb and by touts selling all sorts of stuff by the fort. The grounds of the tomb were extensive and occupied by lots of Blackbuck antelopes and friendly Hanuman Langur monkeys.
The fort was impressive but we were a bit exhausted so we cut the visit short and went back to the hotel. Here are some photos of the fort:
Shankara Vegis restaurant & Yash Café
For dinner on Sunday night we walked to a nearby rooftop restaurant, Shankara Vegis, and shared a thali. It was delicious. Shankara Vegis advertises a great view of the Taj Mahal, but we couldn’t see it from our table. Nevermind, the food was great and atmosphere cozy, with fairy lights and a laid-back crowd. We closed the place down and as we finished our meal the waiter came over and started talking with us, asking where we were from, if we were married, what we thought of India, if we wanted a beer, etc etc. Earlier in the evening he had implied to me that I was eating my papadam incorrectly – it should not be dipped in curry, but rather nibbled at, plain. How embarrassing.
On Monday night we went to Yash Café, also in Taj Ganj, to have dinner. Arthur had a pizza while I had Indian style spaghetti (with vegetables mixed in, instead of sauce). Both were quite tasty.