Agra will always be dominated by the Taj Mahal's magnificent shimmering domes. We used to think the crowds didn’t detract too much from the experience, but these days we’re not so sure. By all means visit the Taj at sunrise - the most popular time of day - but see it again from a different angle too. Agra is much more than the home of one iconic building. Although much of the city isn’t particularly eye-catching, the tombs of Itmad ud Duala and John Hessing echo the delicate craftsmanship of the Taj, and the Ram Bagh garden is a haven of fragrant trees and tinkling fountains.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
This white marble mausoleum, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, is undoubtedly spellbinding at sunrise. However, that’s exactly what attracts large numbers of people, and we want to make sure that seeing the Taj Mahal is memorable for the right reasons! Sadly we can’t do much about the throngs of visitors, but we can advocate for a change in perspective… The villagers of Kachpura, located across the Yamuna River, live in the shadow of the Taj every day, and it makes an impressive and thought provoking background to their excellent community tourism project. Alternatively those who have the inkling and budget can stay at the Oberoi Amarvilas and view the Taj in the distance without even leaving their room.
Around an hour from Agra you’ll find two projects run by Wildlife SOS, an NGO doing important work to protect and conserve local wildlife. The Bear Sanctuary is home to over 200 Indian Sloth Bears, the majority rescued after being forced to ‘dance’ for tourists, or saved from poachers who sell the bears for use in certain traditional medicines. The Elephant Conservation and Rescue Centre shelters around 20 elephants, rescued from captivity and nursed back to health after being found malnourished, dehydrated and suffering from injury. Tour the facilities, meet the residents, learn about their individual histories, contribute to a very worthwhile cause, and take a break from gazing at the region’s famous architecture for a while.
Just an hour away from Agra in a different direction is the Chambal Valley, though its tranquil river makes it feel a million miles distant. It's a magnet for rare birdlife, turtles, crocodiles, and even freshwater dolphins. Head out on a small boat to explore, or wander around the rural villages on foot, then stay at the family-run Chambal Safari Lodge, a homely eco-lodge full of antique furnishings and surrounded by flower filled gardens.
Take your best shot at spotting wildlife with an itinerary that includes not one but three different parks, all located in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. This allows you to explore some surprisingly diverse scenery, see myriad bird and animal species, and hugely increase your chances of spotting one of these elusive big cats.