Sthan Parivartan: Lucknow to Agra

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Well, my Lucknow trip was soon to get more interesting as we had planned to visit Kanpur, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra.

Friday early morning about 6.30 am we left from Lucknow to Kanpur via road in car. It took us about 2 hours to reach Kanpur – the biggest city and commercial capital of Uttar Pradesh. The roads are good. From Lucknow to Kanpur, there is only one toll plaza on the way (I think INR 60 for one way and INR 120 return is what it costs for a sedan.)

The best part on the route was Trans Ganga City project. It is huge and once completed will be one well planned accomplishment. And you get a view from the bridge of the largest river of India –  Ganga – the holy river is a beauty in itself.

We stayed in Kanpur for two days. In the city you will see several manufacturing units right from Guns to Leather, and many academic institutions spread over acres of land. Kanpur market is very famous as a wholesale market for male-female garments as well as for leather products, shoes, bags and bangles. It is one the best markets I have visited so far in India. Naveen Market, Chowk, and Shivala are massive bazaars, while Gumti Market (prices are slightly higher here but again much lesser than that in Mumbai) is a condensed version of the entire Kanpur Market.

If you plan to go for shopping, then it is advisable park your car at a distance and then walk down or use the Battery Rickshaw. Yes, you read it right. They are solar paneled rickshaws and fun to travel in, although the speed isn’t great. But as the market is extremely crowded, you can’t drive in those narrow lanes.

A Must Visit: ISKCON temple where you get delicious pure ghee sweets and do not forget to try the masala chai (flavoured tea). And Pandit Restaurant – amazing food and excellent ambience set by Rajasthani Folk music in the voice of traditional singers.

From Kanpur, our journey was towards Agra and I was all excited to admire the Taj Mahal for the second time in my life!

We left at 7 am and reached Agra by 12.30 pm – around 5 to 6 hours depending on the traffic. The roads are overall OK, but at some places they give you a very bumpy ride. It is advisable to drive safe and with care as you will find too many heavy vehicles on this route.

Post lunch and a little rest session, we were all geared up to visit Fatehpur Sikri. In summers, marble flooring at Taj gets very heated making it impossible to walk without getting foot burns and blisters. So we decided to visit Fatehpur Sikri the first day and the Taj Mahal early morning next day in our two day stay tour.

It takes about one-and-a-half-hour maximum to reach Fatehpur Sikri from Agra city. Fatehpur Sikri is known for Salim Chisti Dargah (Tomb of a Sufi Saint) – a major tourist attraction as well as a shrine were believers,from across the globe with varied faith, visit and keep visiting for the fulfillment of their prayers. For years now, numerous threads are tied by believers every day on the designed windows of the Dargah with a strong faith that what asked for will be granted by God.

Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate) – the red sandstone gate leads to the Jama Masjid (mosque)on the west, Badashahi Darwaza (Emperor’s Gate) to the east and Dargah sculpted in marble in the centre—overall it is a beautiful glimpse of Mughal Architecture.

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Some pointers:

  • Opening hours – from sunrise to sunset.
  • There is entry fee INR 20 as you move towards the city.
  • There is no entry fee on the site.
  • INR 2 per pair of shoes as you cannot wear shoes inside.
  • If you decide to offer, then the chaddar (cloth piece), sweet (sugar balls) and rose petals packet will cost you anywhere between INR 150 to 500. The thread is for INR 10.
  • You can donate in the shrine and in the donation boxes, and to the Sufi singers, if you wish to.
  • There are many sellers with variety of souvenir, you can choose if you want memories.
  • You cannot click pictures inside the Dargah, but outside and in the premises you can. It is advisable to wear covered clothing in any religious site.
  • The steps to the BulandDaraza are very high and steep.
  • For anyone with any joint problem, it is advisable to wear appropriate joint support or have a friend or someone next to you. Take steps slowly, do not rush towards the entrance.
  • Flat shoes/sneakers, scarf/cap, glares and camera – you will miss them if you don’t get them along.

We spent good two hours or more here, and as the sun sets for the day, we decided to go back to the guest house.

After a King’s Breakfast the next morning, we were all set to visit the Taj. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the destination. From the car parking at the Western Gate, we took Battery Rickshaw towards the ticket counter. (There are different entry points – western, eastern, southern and octagonal hall). You can walk, it is a long elevated walk. Post ticket there is men and women queues which guides you towards the entrance where bags are checked alongside identity proof. This entire process took about 40 minutes at about 9 am when the place was not very crowded. As the tourist crowd increases, so will the queue and the time.

From the red sandstone gates as you enter the white marble floors – you feel a transition of emotions, and of time. In 21st century you are back staring at the 17th century. Taj Mahal – built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal (houses their graves and a mosque) has all reasons to be one of the wonders of the world. No words can express what you feel when you witness this marvellous structure of art. Despite the scaffolding installed for the restoration work, Taj Mahal still stands beautiful. The minarets, the dome, the flower motif, the marble jalli (lattice), the calligraphy – I can stand admiring each for hours as it makes you wonder how it must have been done about 500 years back with limited technology available. Glimpse of Yamuna river against the red sandstone bordered walls is another mesmerizing view.

Recently there has been erosion of the Taj marbles due to some insects flying from the stagnant river direction. The green corrosion on the side of Taj facing the river is pretty much visible. Government is working to resolve this issue.

It took us over two hours; by 11 am the temperature was rising, and it was getting difficult to tolerate the heat and direct hitting sun rays. Agra Fort was on our-to-visit-list, but in such extreme temperatures it was not possible to cover Agra Fort. I had the energy just to click the picture of Agra Fort from the main road.

After some chowmein with awesomely delicious and filling lassi(sweet curd), we took some flavoured pethas– the very famous sweet delicacy from Agra – on our way back to the guest house. Lunch, followed by some much needed rest re-energized us for our next visit to the Akbar Makbara – Tomb of Akbar the Great, situated in Sikandara.

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Some pointers:

  • Timing is from sunrise to sunset.
  • From car parking to the entrance you can either walk or opt for a horse cart ride or battery rickshaw. A six-seat battery rickshaw will cost you about INR 100 one route.
  • Entry fee is INR 40 per person.
  • Shoe/Foot covers will cost INR 10 per pair.
  • Please carry an ID proof.
  • Ensure your bags/purses do not have metallic decorations because it takes time at the security counter when they are rechecked if there is any blink in the counter.
  • In summer, for a foot relaxing walk, visit as early as possible because heated marbles are not foot friendly. And the heat is killing, you will not be able to enjoy or even click good pictures.
  • It is a long walk inside, so be prepared to walk. If any joint complaints, please carry the necessary orthotics.
  • Flat shoes, glares, scarf/cap and camera – should be on your checklist.
  • Pictures are not allowed near the sacrophagi. Otherwise you can click pictures as desired.
  • Photographers offer clicking pictures INR 40 each. It is a good decision to opt for these pictures as they know the right places to click from, and guide you with right poses in front of the Taj Mahal – these pictures are a great souvenir. Of the ten clicks, I selected eight clicks and those eight pictures I love looking at again and again.
  • Miniatures of Taj Mahal in forms of key chains to show pieces are available at a prince between INR 10 to 700.
  • There are shops near the gate were water bottles, light snacks, souvenirs and handicrafts are available.

Around 3 pm, we reached Sikandra – at a distance of 30 minutes from Agra City. One again we were admiring yet another red building with multi coloured decorated roof and pillars adorned with calligraphy of verses from the holy Qu’ran.

As you enter there is Kanch Mahal on the right side – the structure once beautiful is now looks haunted. It needs restoration if it has to survive to see the future.

As you walk towards the gate leading to the tomb, you will spend time clicking pictures from various angles or staring at the beauty of the red massive structure – similar with minarets yet different. There is a long walk from the gate towards the tomb, which is flanked by gardens on both sides. Deers, peacocks, parrots, squirrels, many species of birds – all look peaceful in their natural environment. It is surprising to see wildlife living quietly uncaged, free, enjoying their own surrounding in midst of a city—a man jungle.

As you walk further ahead, you will look at the Tomb building. There are many tombs, of the emperor and his daughters. However, the actual tomb of Akbar is at the basement—huge, plain grey, high roofed hall with a grave in centre. There is no ornamentation here but peace. Despite the burning heat outside, I felt cool breeze here. And the echo of the Azan (call to prayer) verses by the caretaker/guide present there, takes you to a different world.

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Some Pointers:

  • Opening hours – from sunrise to sunset.
  • Entry fee is INR 20 per person.
  • INR 2 per pair of shoes as you cannot wear shoes near the tomb.
  • Do not forget – flat shoes, glares, scarf/cap and camera.
  • Anklets, postcard books, etc. are available as souvenirs.

Well, our Agra journey ended here with a yummilicious dinner at a dhaba on the highway, on our way back to Lucknow to board a flight to Mumbai. This nine-day trip was one of my best trips, refreshing trip, that has filled my memory bank which I revisit almost everyday in form of Display Images or Cover Images on Social Media pages.

Hope the article helps. All the tariff mentioned in the articles are for Indian citizens. For Foreign Tourists, the tariff differs.

Till I pack my bags once again for another Sthan Parivartan session, to discover yet another beautiful city of India…happy reading…

…AshuBolar

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