Agra, India is the home of the Taj Mahal. With that being said, you would just assume that one of the seven wonders of the world would have a cute little town to go along with such a prestigious honor. However, that is the extreme opposite. Agra, mainly the street leading up to the East Gate of the Taj Mahal is one gigantic mess. The whole town looks like it went through an earthquake and is in ruins.
Here is a short video I took on the way back to the hostel from the Taj Mahal (East Gate Entrance) …
I now understand why many people will only do day trips to see the Taj Mahal and not stay overnight in Agra. I did get to spend one interesting night in Agra, and I considered it more character building than anything else.
And without further ado, Agra through the eyes of the wanderlusting yogi …
We arrived by train from New Delhi, India into the Agra Cantt train station (Agra Fort station was closer to our hostel, but the times did not work for us). It was a $250 Rupee($3.94 USD) cab ride (with AC) to Zostel (our hostel). Along this drive we save a herd of cows walking down a busy street, monkeys, and camels. It was like going on a safari of Indian animals.
We come to Zostel and from the outside it looks nice. A two-story building with a separate glass enclosure with pillows and chairs (a common area). People were outside playing soccer and socializing … almost looked like a scene from a movie.
We check in and they take us right to our room without any tour or explanation of facilities. However, they do inform us that the air conditioning is not working. Umm, that can’t be happening in the middle of the summer in India. Already annoyed, I go to use the bathroom and the toilet does not flush and they cannot get a plumber to come until the next day. At this point I am ready to blow a fuse. There also were no pillows and blankets on the beds. My friend and I decide to go eat (because that always makes things better), and we need to lock our important things in the locker underneath the bed. The locker was off the hinges and not easy to use. I start making a lot of noise and the main man working at Zostel, comes down to our room and can tell I am annoyed. He says he can have another room ready in an hour for us. This was strange though, because at check in a couple was inquiring about a room and they said no rooms were available, but five minutes later, they found a room for them, and now we are getting another room .. but no one is complaining, we needed AC!
My friend and I go to dinner down the street, which was recommended by Zostel. It was called, Namaste India and it was very good. We had two dinners and one breakfast there, and every time we were the only customers since it was the off-season. After each meal, you get anise seed and sugar cubes to help with digestion and improve your breath. A fun little treat that is accustomed in India. The staff was super friendly and it ended up being one of our favorite restaurants in India.
We come back to Zostel and we are moved to the second floor with a working toilet and air conditioning. However, this time there was no toilet paper. They just couldn’t get it together. We were in a shared mixed room and there was one other girl from Columbia with us. The bathroom is all in one with a toilet/sink/shower all in one open area. Zostel did not provide towels so it is a good idea to pack a quick drying towel. We did lock our personal things in the locker and a small lock would slip through, so make sure you have a sturdy lock!
We woke up early for the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We left Zostel at 5am and took a tuk tuk to the ticket office down the street. The ticket is $750 Rupee ($11.82 USD), which included a ride to and from the Taj gate, foot covers, and a bottle of water. Since it is June, and the off-season, hardly anyone was there. It was almost like a private showing. A man starting taking pictures for us and stayed about 45 minutes with us, taking every shot possible. He was a wonderful man and we just tipped him very well!
I can go on and on about how amazing the Taj Mahal is .. I could have sat there all day and enjoyed the hard labor that took 22 years to create. It is truly a perfectly man-made structure. Here are a few of my many favorite photos!
After the Taj Mahal, we packed up from Zostel and headed down the street to Oberoi Amarvilas (5 star hotel). We had friends staying there, so we went to take advantage of all their amenities, and view of the Taj Mahal from their balcony. Everything was top-notch and gorgeous. I have never been in such a fancy hotel. While laying at the pool, they walked around with water and fresh sorbet. I felt like royalty for the few hours I spent there. If you are willing to spend roughly $500 USD during off-season and $1,000 USD (all for the cheapest rooms) per night, do it, because it is a little bit of paradise in the middle of a scene from National Geographic.
Agra was quite an interesting city, as all of India is. Seeing the Taj Mahal was worth it all. An incredible experience, like non-other! Hopefully one day, they can make the city as equally beautiful, but I doubt it will be in my lifetime.
Recommendations and Advice
*Sunrise at the Taj Mahal is the best time to go … worth waking up early
*Zostel is manageable for ONE night ONLY for true backpackers and remember to bring a large, sturdy lock
*Eat at Namaste India
*Pack a quick drying towel … I have microfiber quick drying towel that I bought on Amazon (almost like a yoga towel for my yogis out there). Make sure to read and understand the measurements .. the one I bought is small, but it gets the job done (it is great for your hair)!
*You DO NOT need to stay in Agra for more than one day … there is Agra Fort that you could see before/after the Taj Mahal, depending what time you go see the Taj.