A tale of two cities: Exploring Delhi and Agra's iconic landmarks
We recently visited Delhi and Agra from 15ᵗʰ September to 19ᵗʰ September 2016. It was a last-minute plan, but we decided to go for it because of the excellent air connectivity between Mumbai and Delhi.
New Delhi is the capital city of India, located in the northern part of the country. It is a modern metropolis with a rich history and diverse cultural heritage. Some must-visit attractions in New Delhi include the Red Fort, India Gate, Lotus Temple, and Qutub Minar.
Agra is a city located in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. It is famous for being the home of the Taj Mahal, one of the world's most iconic and stunning structures. Agra also has other popular tourist attractions, such as the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
While I had visited Delhi many times before for professional reasons, it was Sheetal's first time. During my previous visits, I had already seen famous landmarks such as India Gate, the Parliament Building, and Red Fort.
I have always admired Delhi's metro network, so we decided to use it during our trip. On the 16ᵗʰ, we started our Delhi exploration with breakfast at Hotel Sarvana Bhavan in Connaught Circle. We had discovered Sarvana Bhavan during our Chennai trip in 2014 and have been fans ever since.
Our first destination was India Gate. For those who may not know, India Gate is a war memorial located in the heart of Delhi, and it was built in 1931 to commemorate the Indian soldiers who died in World War I. It bears the names of more than 13,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army who died in World War I.
We then walked the Rajpath to the heavily guarded Rashtrapati Bhawan and Parliament Building. Despite the hot and sunny weather, we decided to walk and experience it on foot.
Rashtrapati Bhavan is the official residence of the President of India. It is a grand building that was designed by British architect Edwin Lutyens and completed in 1929. The building has four floors and 340 rooms, including a Durbar Hall, banquet halls, and presidential offices. The estate also includes Mughal Gardens, which are open to the public during certain times of the year.
The Parliament House of India, also known as the Sansad Bhavan, is a circular building located in New Delhi. It houses the Lok Sabha (the lower house) and the Rajya Sabha (the upper house) of the Indian Parliament. The building was designed by British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker and completed in 1927.
Later, we booked a cab to visit the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum. The museum is dedicated to the life of the former Indian Prime Minister, who was assassinated in 1984. It was surreal to see the blood-stained clothes of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and the exact place where Indira Gandhi was assassinated.
After exploring a bit of Lutyens zone and seeing a few houses of Union ministers, we took a metro to Qutub Minar.
Qutub Minar is a historical tower in the Mehrauli area of New Delhi, India. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the tallest brick minarets in the world, standing at a height of 73 meters (240 feet). The tower's construction was started in the 12th century by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, and was completed by his successor, Iltutmish. The tower is made of red sandstone and marble and is decorated with intricate carvings and verses from the Quran.
Due to the scorching heat, we spent just 30 minutes exploring and taking photos before deciding to skip the Red Fort altogether.
On the 17ᵗʰ, we had an early morning train, the Gatiman Express, to Agra from Hazrat Nizamuddin. Gatimaan Express is a high-speed train service in India between Delhi and Agra. The train was launched in 2016 and is one of the fastest trains in India, with a maximum speed of 160 km/h (100 mph). The train covers the distance between Delhi and Agra in under 2 hours, making it the fastest train between the two cities. The Gatiman Express has excellent timing for a one-day trip to Agra from Delhi. The train offers onboard catering, WiFi, and multimedia entertainment facilities. The Gatimaan Express has become a popular mode of transportation for tourists visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra.
At Agra, we stayed at The Gateway Hotel, also known as Tajview, which offered a clear view of The Taj Mahal, but unfortunately, we didn't get a room with that view.
At around 1700 hrs, we arrived at The Taj Mahal, which needs no introduction. After buying the entry ticket, we hired a tour guide at the entrance who accompanied us around the premises. The Yamuna River flowed serenely beside the Taj, and our guide informed us that the river was home to many crocodiles that had been introduced as a security measure to prevent people from swimming across. We saw the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan inside the Taj. Once we completed the tour, we offered tip to the guide and requested some time to explore at our own pace. We took numerous photographs and stayed until sunset, eventually becoming the last to leave the premises.
According to popular belief, The Taj Mahal exhibits a distinct appearance during different times of the day, including morning, afternoon, evening, and night. In my opinion, I found the monument to be quite intimidating after sunset, with its massive size looming in the darkness. The solitary structure seemed to be silently watching over the surroundings. However, in the evening, when we first laid our eyes on it, it appeared stunningly beautiful and evoked a sense of awe in us.
After reaching our hotel, we decided to explore the neighborhood. Though we were very keen, the area seemed unsafe for a late-night walk, and we returned to the hotel.
On the second day of our trip, we woke up early in the morning and headed straight to the terrace of our hotel to catch a glimpse of the Taj Mahal. As the sun rose, the iconic monument's view was breathtakingly beautiful. We also visited the terrace at noon to see the Taj Mahal from a different perspective.
Our first destination on 18th September was Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site near the Yamuna River's banks. The fort was built by the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th century and was later expanded by his grandson, Shah Jahan.
Agra Fort is a massive red sandstone fort with several palaces, mosques, and halls inside its walls. Some of the notable structures inside the fort include the Jahangir's Hauz, Shahjahani Mahal, Jahangir's Chain of Justice, The Muthamman Burj (Shah-Burj) & Jharokha, Shish Mahal, etc. The fort also has a beautiful garden and a stunning view of the Taj Mahal.
Walking through Agra Fort, we could see the Taj Mahal from various angles. The view of the monument from the fort was equally mesmerizing as it was from up close. We spent a few hours exploring the fort and learning about the rich history of the Mughal era.
After visiting Agra Fort, we headed to Akbar's tomb in Sikandara. The tomb is located around 10 kilometers from the city and is the final resting place of the Mughal emperor, Akbar. The tomb is a grand structure with intricate carvings and beautiful gardens surrounding it. We even spotted Black Bucks in the park.
As we stood before Akbar's tomb, we felt an emperor, who once ruled India, now lay in his tomb in front of us. It reminded us that in death, all are equal, regardless of their status or power. It was a stark reminder of the transience of power and status.
After visiting Akbar's tomb, we headed to Agra station. Before leaving Agra, we stopped by the famous Panchhi Petha store to buy some Petha. Petha is a sweet made from white pumpkin. We were thrilled to see so many varieties of Petha, especially Kesar and Pan Petha.
We reached Delhi by 1930 hrs and stayed in a hotel near the airport as we had an early morning flight to Mumbai the next day.
Our trip to Delhi and Agra was memorable, and we were glad to experience the rich history and culture of these two amazing cities. The trip was worth every penny and left us with memories we will cherish forever. Delhi has its unique charm, and Agra, with its iconic Taj Mahal, was indeed a sight to behold.