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Agra: Touring the Awesome Baby Taj & Old Fort

Baby Taj



As I discovered, Agra, India, is not just about the Taj Mahal — take in the charming Baby Taj and the impressive Old Fort before catching the train out of town.

In This India Article You Will Discover:

  • What is the Baby Taj?
  • Old Fort Photos
  • Agra Survival Skills

I hadn’t done proper research on Agra. I had expected a quiet town — a picturesque, serene setting for the Taj Mahal. In retrospect, that was pretty naïve. After all, Agra is the home of one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions — so of course, it’s one gigantic tourist trap.

Agra-vating. The roads here are more chaotic than in Delhi — lacking the sheer volume, sure, but the absolute pandemonium of it all more than makes up for that.

Dump trucks, cargo trucks, cars, cycle-rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians, goats, chickens, camels, donkey carts, camel carts, an elephant or two; everyone seemingly driving in whatever direction they feel, at whatever speed, meandering where ever they choose. Roads converge without traffic signals or stop signs — not that they’d be heeded anyway. Thinking of renting a motorcycle and self-driving? As one person put it, “Get a check-up from the neck-up.”

Still, Agra is a must-do, not only for the Taj Mahal — but also for the Baby Taj and the Agra Fort.

Agra Traffic

Chaos on the streets of Agra. Be careful with your camera, motorcycle-riding thieves have been known to snatch it from tourist’s hands.

Our auto rickshaw driver, the perpetually annoying “Johnny,” swerves out of the way of an oncoming bus, skimming the grille and avoiding getting us T-boned by such a narrow margin I can only assume it was blind luck. He turns to us, beads of sweat on his brow and his eyes bugged out.

“Good driving, yeah?”

Sure, Johnny. I guess we’re all still alive…

baby-taj-agra

The so-called “Baby Taj” — a rough draft of the famous Taj Mahal?

A flat-deck truck carrying burlap sacks of chilli and curry powder accelerates past. The spices waft off the truck like poison gas, choking us and burning our eyes. Even Johnny is gagging. I turn my head to the side to catch my breath and take in a lovely vista of what appears to be a gigantic garbage dump-turned-cow-trough. Oh no, that’s just the Yamuna River.

Lesson one: when in Agra, reserve a nice hotel (not a flophouse like we did). You’ll need a respite at the end of your day. A pool would have been so nice…

baby-taj-agra

Not a honk to be heard from within the grounds of the Baby Taj… paradise.

Perhaps that’s why I loved the Baby Taj— actually called Itimad-ud-Daulah — so much. In the midst of all this chaos, it is quiet, beautiful and a little unexpected. I could have stayed all afternoon, although it takes only 20 minutes or so to tour the grounds.

baby-taj-ornate

The ornate carving of the Baby Taj’s marble is incredible.

An ornately carved marble tomb, the Baby Taj almost appears to be a rough draft of the Taj Mahal; it was completed a couple of decades earlier, in 1628. The intricacy of the marble is astonishing; it is more ornate than the Taj Mahal, although lacking the sheer magnificence. Indicative of the symmetry so common in Mughal architecture, the Baby Taj is in direct line with the Taj Mahal, though located on the other side of the city.

Panoramic views of the Yamuna River valley are found behind the Baby Taj — and don’t be afraid to spend some time here, strolling the manicured grounds. It’s a nice break before heading back out into traffic — from within the tomb, not a single horn-honk can be heard. (Entrance fee of 110 Rupees, open dawn-dusk.)

While the Baby Taj is charming, the Agra Fort is spectacular. Dating back to 1565 — but with much construction commissioned by Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) in the mid-1600s — this sandstone castle takes a few hours to appreciate fully.

old-fort-gates

Entering the Old Fort from the streets of Agra.

The desert-red walls measure 20 metres in height and expand for 2,500 metres in circumference. This was a military complex, designed to repel attackers — hence the convoluted, dogleg entrance, which would confuse raiding forces if they ever stormed the gate. Tour guides beg for your business, but we chose to wander alone. The gates are congested, but the space within is so expansive that solitude is easy to find — the quiet aids in architectural appreciation. However, some locals hiding the fort’s secluded corners are a bit suspect (in our case a group of teenage girls).

“Let me take a photo of you — I’ll hold your camera.” (Um, no thanks.)

Throughout the fort you’ll find ornate Mughal architecture and vistas of the Taj Mahal (in the distance, about two kilometres away), as well as tombs, celebration halls and the marble Khas Mahal — this where Shah Jahan was imprisoned in 1660 until his death in 1666. Shah Jahan was overthrown and locked up by his own son; punishment for bankrupting India while building the Taj Mahal. I guess the son wasn’t the sentimental type. However, even in prison, the ex-Shah was still allowed a view of his wife’s tomb. Nice… sort of.

old-fort-agra

The 20-metre-tall exterior walls of Agra’s Old Fort.

Entrance fee is 300 rupees. Joint tickets for the Taj Mahal and Old Fort are available, and will save you 50 rupees when bought together (1,000 rupees for the double-pass) — but you have to visit both in a single day. Open dusk-dawn; night time music and lights shows operate weekly.

old-fort-agra-india

Inside Agra’s famous Old Fort.

Our tour guide in Delhi had recommended visiting Sikandra to see the Tomb of Akbar the Great, some 30 km out of town. Johnny had even offered to drive us… but we were looking forward to ditching him and moving on to the princely city of Jaipur.

old-fort-hall

One of the Old Fort’s stunning halls; featuring classic Mughal architecture.

So we did — and as annoying as Johnny was (“no, let me take to my friend’s restaurant instead…”), he showed up at 5:00 a.m. to drive us to the Agra Fort Train Station.

“I told you I’d be here,” he said. “One-thousand per cent.”

old-fort-coutryard

Like many such places around India, the Old Fort offers peace and serenity even with some tourist crowds about.

I guess he wasn’t so bad after all. And for all its hassle, and because of the stunning Taj Mahal, charming Baby Taj and impressive Old Fort, neither was Agra.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

3 comments… add one
  • David Webb Feb 24, 2013

    But without the chaos, how can you appreciate the quiet? 😉 Thanks for reading.

  • Leigh Feb 23, 2013

    As much as I’d love to see the Taj Mahal I’m really not sure I’m up for all the noise and confusion that is India. I had a taste of that in Vietnam and swore I’d stick to the wild, quieter places after that trip. But I’m happy to visit vicariously.

  • Johal Feb 22, 2013

    You were afraid of some teenage girls?

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