To many in North India, Agra may seem like a been-there-done-that destination. The truth, however, is that given the flavour and versatility of the city, repeat visits can be just as fun and explorative as the first-time wonder and amazement one feels when in a new destination. Agra is one of the most accessible destinations, whether by road, train or air, and that’s a huge plus. One does not need ten days to make it; even a quick spin over a long weekend can be enough.
Agra is home to the Majestic Taj Mahal and other popular historical places like Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and Baby Taj (Tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah). Still, there is so much more to offer, so even if you are tight for time in Agra, there is a list of unexplored or less explored places which will be a rendevous to the hidden parts of Agra. Not just this, Agra can also be a getaway for nature lovers. Here is a list of places which can form part of your itinerary for your next visit to Agra.
Since Agra is more about historical monuments, let’s start with the lesser-known ones, which is a definite reason to visit it at least once. Akbar’s Church may sound contradictory, the first reason being that he was born as a Muslim and the second that he was also known to be an atheist. But we all know that Akbar was a curious learner of all religions. His curiosity made him invite Jesuit priests from Goa. So Father Rodolfe Aquauiua, Father Anthony de Monserrate and Father Francois Henriques came to Agra on 18 February 1580. Akbar learnt about Christianity and held debates between priests and other religious scholars. Although he didn’t convert, he allowed the construction of the Church and allotted land. The Church built was called Akbar’s Church and became the first Roman Catholic Church of the Mughal Era. This Church has had its own share of downfalls and upliftments. After Shah Jahan came into power, he declared war against the Portuguese and reclaimed the imperial patronage of the Church. The Portuguese were defeated and priests were oppressed. Shah Jahan allowed their release but only on the condition of bringing down of Church. It happened in 1635, but the Church was built the following year again in the same spot. Later the Church had to bear attack from Ahmad Shah Abdali, whose troops ransacked the place. However, in 1769, it found a new patron, a European adventurer Walter Reinhardt, who helped to rebuild the Church. The white building of the Church looks remarkable and calms the mind. The quiet around the place adds to the piousness.
Where: Wazirpura Road, Kamla Nagar in Agra
Timings: The best time to visit is from early in the morning till late evening.
Entry Fee: There are no charges to enter the place.
The Taj Mahal is a celebrated monument of Agra, so much so that the other monuments sometimes take a back seat. One such monument is the Red Taj, a nearly a replica of the Taj Mahal, also a monument dedicated to love, but only in red colour. Red Taj is also called John Hessing Tomb. Other than the colour and size, another factor that distinguishes the Taj is that instead of being made by a husband for his wife, this Taj is made for a husband by his wife. John Hessing was a Dutch traveller who became an army officer and served the Marathas in Agra. Impressed by his loyalty and dedication, in 1799, Daulatrao Scindia gave him the command of Agra Fort. But he gave his life defending the fort against the British attack in 1803. His wife, Ann Hessing, was devastated by her husband’s and wanted to honour his husband. She commissioned the construction of a tomb that would look like the original Taj Mahal. Red Taj clearly depicts the Mughal architecture in red stone. It stands on a square platform with a surrounding corridor. The top is a typical dome-shaped structure, and John Hessing’s grave rests in the tomb’s main hall. You can still read a few English inscriptions engraved on the tomb.
Where: It is housed inside a Catholic cemetery in Agra on Mahatma Gandhi Rd, Kripal Colony in Civil Lines.
Timings: You can visit here between 6 AM to 6 PM.
Entry Fee: There is no charge to visit this place.
Chini ka Rauza
Chini ka Rauza is yet another lesser-known place to be in Agra. But it holds a history that no other monument in Agra does, not even the very majestic Taj Mahal. This is the last resting place of Shah Jahan’s prime minister Afzal Khan Alami, also known as Maula Shukrullah, Shirazi. he was also a Persian poet during the reign of Jahangir. He started building the tomb in his lifetime, and as he wished, he rested in peace in the tomb. Along with his grave is his wife’s. Built in 1635, it is surrounded by gardens and merely one kilometre from Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb on the eastern bank of the Yamuna river. Inspired by Persian art, it is believed to be the first structure in India to extensively use glazed porcelain tiles for embellishments. This porcelain is believed to be brought from China. This is how it gets its name- Chini ka Rauza. You can still see a major part of the porcelain art in blue colour. The monument has not been taken care of for a long time and thus shows signs of being ignored. But the beauty reflects through the leftover tiles still intact. It is a first of its kind and a notable landmark in Indo-Persian architecture.
Where: Katra Wazir Khan, Ram Bagh
Timings: You can visit from sunrise to sunset.
Entry Fee: There is no entry fee to visit this monument.
Another masterpiece from the Mughal era, this place of worship, was commissioned by Jahanara Begum after receiving permission from her father, Shah Jahan. It took about six years for its completion from 1643 and the hands of 5000 workers. In today’s time, it serves as the principal mosque for people in Agra. The massive complex of this masjid is made with red sandstones and white marble. The monument is so surreal that it is sometimes compared to Baitul-Mamur, a precious stones studded mosque believed to be located in Jannat or heaven. It is one of the largest mosques in India, made on a platform with a flight of 35 stairs and a large courtyard with a beautiful fountain with four kiosks and cloisters on three sides. Like any Islamic structure, it is adorned by a vast dome. The inside of the mosque is also beautifully decorated in Petra Daura work. There are Quranic verses and praises of Shah Jahan and his daughter Jahan Ara written in Persian style with marble inscribed in inlaid black stone. The architecture and inlaid work is significantly inspired by the Taj Mahal. This massive masjid can accommodate about 25,000 people at one time.
Where: It is situated right opposite the Red Fort of Agra / Agra Fort. It is located in the heart of Fatehpur Sikri.
Timings: From sunrise to sunset
Entry Fee: The place has no entry charge. It is a place of worship; all it needs is faith and a pure heart.
Time to explore some places other than the ones from history.
Wildlife SOS Elephant Reserve
Moving out a little outside Agra, you will find a splendid elephant reserve by Wildlife SOS. It is India’s first and only place that runs elephant conservation and care centre. Established in 2010 they can support from Uttar Pradesh Forest Department for rehabilitating abused and exploited elephants. There are over 30 elephants who have found a home here at the centre after a tough domestic life. These distressed elephants were owned by individuals and have borne much suffering. You can see that elephants here happily spend time eating well and staying free. Here you can receive detailed information about rescued elephants, meet & greet them and learn about their life. The place is also a natural patch of green at the border of the river Yamuna and is surrounded by farmland. The river forms an integral part of the life of elephants, where they walk through the lush green fields and take a refreshing dip in the river. Wouldn’t it be great to see such majestic creatures live the life they deserve?
Where: It is situated on Agra Mathura Road, NH2, in Uttar Pradesh.
Timings: There are slots between 9 AM to 6 PM. You can book for any day of the week.
Entry Fee: The Forest Department charges a sum of INR 50 for Indians and INR 500 for Foreign Nationals. All the collection goes to support the animals.
Cheetham Bear Park
Yet another destination for nature lovers is the Agra Bear Rescue Facility. Again it is an initiative by Wildlife SOS in association with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department. The sloth bear is not a sloth; it is entirely a different specie. One should also not confuse a black bear with this one, which a lot of people do. This is the reason why the situation of decreasing the number of sloth bears is not identified easily. If you are a nature lover and love to know and watch wildlife, then this is the second place to be when you are in Agra. Cheetham Bear Park is the largest Sloth bear rescue facility in the world. The centre has rescued about 200 sloth bears from brutal bear dancing practice and given them a safe and comfortable home to stay in. One can take a tour provided by SOS as a conservation educational visit and interaction with bear experts. Here you can closely watch the bears. For more information on these bears, you can have a personal guided tour and a video presentation about bear conservation. Visit this centre will undeniably give you lots to talk about and share information with your circle.
Location: The park is part of Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, Mathura Delhi Highway, Near Runakata, Uttar Pradesh
Entry Fee: The Forest Department charges a sum of INR 50 from Indians and INR 500 from Foreign Nationals.
Timings: The facility remains open from 9 AM to 6 PM. You can book a slot for a visit and tour.
Imperial Wax Museum
If you are looking for something exciting & fun and want to load your camera memory, visit Imperial Wax Museum. The museum exhibits 26 handcrafted wax figures of world-renowned personalities from political, historical, social, sports, Hollywood and Bollywood. You can find your favourite celebrity and pose & click pictures for your Instagram. It is a refreshing addition to the tourist attraction in Agra after all the historical and cultural places.
Where: Fatehabad Rd, Taj Nagri Phase 2, Agra.
Timings: You can visit from 9 AM to 9 PM.
Entry Fee: The entry fee is INR 200 per person
Beyond sightseeing, food and shopping are the other two activities that must be indulged in. For those who are locally inclined, Shankar Ji and Joney’s are the places to be. With no fancy infringements, both of these local favourites offer fresh food that is authentic and yummy. Even if you are staying at a five-star resort in Agra, we recommend that you should try the local food.
The shopping can be explored at Sadar Bazaar. There are marble and leather handicrafts to pick from, and these two are the most popular types. Emporiums selling local handicrafts are also a good choice for shopping for locally made and represented products. Eventually, it boils down to the budget and time that you have.
Where to Stay
After visiting some luxurious monuments of Agra, you will need a luxury stay that should be non-negotiable. Comfortable accommodation is key to a successful trip. When looking for 5-star resorts in Agra, Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre is the best pick in every sense of the word. It’s accessible and luxurious with excellent service, and the hospitality is top-notch. It is spread over a vast expanse of greenery with landscaped gardens, water bodies and pergolas, making it a truly majestic experience in the city of love. Inspired by Mughal architecture, Jaypee Palace Hotel, Agra, is built of red sandstone and white marble. The Hotel is an iconic property located in the heart of Agra and is a perfect blend of old-world charm and contemporary luxury.
The property offers 341 exquisitely well-appointed rooms and suites. Though inspired by the days gone by, each of these rooms is crafted keeping in mind the contemporary choices and comfort of the occupants. The stay at Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre will make you feel contended with its royal treatment and modern services. There can be no better and more luxurious place to stay in Agra.
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