Most people visiting India will include a visit to the Taj Mahal. I was lucky to be able to visit it 3 times now and still it takes my breath away. It is a magnificent sight that you should not miss. Unfortunately I am not a city person and Agra is the typical big, dirty and chaotic Indian city.
Back in 2007 my initial plans to stay in Agra changed after I fell ill in the small village of Fatehpur Sikri. The accumulation of 3 weeks of Indian bacteria in my stomach finally took its toll. I stayed in a lovely guesthouse where I stayed in bed for two days while the concerned staff brought me roti’s and herbal medicines.
I was supposed to stay only 1 night, but eventually ended up spending almost a week. The neighbour children took me to their local madrassa classes and invited me for tea to their homes. The hospitality was heartwarming and it was hard to leave.
Birthday visit to the Taj Mahal
But my days were numbered. If I still wanted to see the Taj Mahal I needed to go to Agra. Everything inside of me simply refused to stay in this city and I made a decision. The next day would be my birthday and nothing is more special than seeing the Taj Mahal on your 25th birthday, isn’t it?
I would take the bus to Agra, hire a tuk tuk to see the main sights and return to Fatehpur Sikri and celebrate my birthday. When I came back the owner prepared a special birthday cake for me.
Returning to Fatehpur Sikri
The next year I returned to Fatehpur Sikri with my mother. All the children were still there and everyone still remembered me. Then it took me 7 years to return to Fatehpur Sikri. I brought pictures with me of the children. Unfortunately a lot of the neighbour children had moved, but there was now a primary school in the village.
The next day the older students shared the pictures with each other. There was a lot of giggling and smiling and the students shared stories of the other children in the pictures. Some moved away, others were studying in the bigger cities. The pictures were kept as cherished memories and for me it was the least I could give back for the hospitality and friendliness I received back in 2007.
The Ultimate guide to Agra and Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri: Akbar’s palace & the mosque
Fatehpur Sikri does not only give you a glimpse of life in a muslim village in Northern india, but also played an important role in the history of the Mughal empire. It was the capital for about ten years after Akbar built his palace here. The palace is still in good shape, even though it is now home to hundreds of squirrels and green parakeets.
The palace is without doubt beautiful, but my favourite place in Fatehpur Sikri is the mosque. Shah Jahan built one of the largest mosques in that time for his favourite daughter. Yes, Shah Jahan is the same guy that also built the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife. Nowadays the mosque is a popular place for devotees who come on a pilgrimage to the tomb of the sufi saint Salim Chisti. They believe that a visit to the tomb will make their wishes come true and devotees tie threads to the marble screens as a reminder.
Sunset View Guesthouse
The Sunset View Guesthouse is behind the mosque in Fatehpur Sikri. It is not as clean as it could be and staff are of mixed quality, but the owner is friendly. The best about this guesthouse is the peaceful and quiet location and the view from the rooftop terrace. As the name implies, a great place to watch the sunset. I stayed here 3 times now and during my last visit we saw parrots, peacocks and squirrels who came to join us on the rooftop for breakfast.
Help the Sunrise school
During my last visit I also noticed they built a new school in front of the guesthouse. The school was built by Sunrise France India and this is the first school offering free education to underprivileged children in Fatehpur Sikri.
Agra: Taj Mahal and others
It is easy to see Agra on a day trip from Fatehpur Sikri. You can take the local bus to Agra and then hire a tuk tuk. The main reason to visit Agra is of course the Taj Mahal. The ultimate symbol of love that Shah Jahan built for his beloved wife. But there is more to Agra than the Taj Mahal alone.
Some other attractions worth your time in Agra are the tomb of Itimad ad Daulah (also called baby Taj), the Agra Fort & the big mosque of Agra. It’s easy to see these sites in one day after or before the Taj Mahal.
Time 2 eat Mama Chicken
After a full day of sightseeing in Agra you can finish your day with the best chicken kebabs at the roadside stall “Time 2 Eat Mama Chicken”. There is no place to sit, but the chicken is the best you will ever taste.
Unfortunately I had no time myself to visit this amazing project, but I heard good reviews. You can make a half day visit or full day visit to the Bear rescue facility center near Agra. If you have more time Wildlife SOS India is also looking for volunteers at the Bear Rescue facility near Agra and their Elephant Conservation Center in Mathura.
One hour from Agra at the banks of the river Yamuna lies Mathura. It is the birthplace of Krishna and one of Hinduism’s seven sacred cities. Not surprisingly for a holy Hindu city it is dotted with temples and shops selling Krishna related items. It is a beautiful town, but my visit ended up with mixed feelings.
I was continuously harassed by a wanna be guide that did not leave me alone. On top of that a monkey jumped on my head and ran away with my glasses. As I was still standing there recovering from the shock a small boy quickly recovered my glasses by feeding the monkey and then asked a ridiculous amount of money.
Agra is a stone’s throw away from Rajasthan. Read my post on backpacking Rajasthan by train to see why you should visit Rajasthan next. If your next destination is Delhi you can read my post on 20 things to do that will make you love Delhi.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.