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Car or shatabdi to Agra from Delhi

Old Dec 3rd, 2006, 09:15 AM
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Car or shatabdi to Agra from Delhi

I was set to take a car to Agra for our one night trip because of the flexibility it offered and becasue we want to to fate-e -pur sikr. However, friends keep warning us about dangerous driving because of December fogs? What do others think? Also will this prevent us from enjoying the TAj early in the morning? Should we see it in the afternoon or early evening instead?
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Old Dec 3rd, 2006, 05:41 PM
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We just got back from Agra to and fro by car. The drive is unappetising, visually and otherwise, and takes about 4.5 hours. If you choose this route make sure that you have a good driver, i.e. one who drives carefully and not rashly, and is responsive to your concerns. The Shatabdi gets there in 2.5 hours, is much more comfortable. The early morning sight of the Taj is worthwhile, so schedule your time there in a way that you can catch it.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2006, 06:54 PM
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Thanks so much. I'd appreciate any other tips you might have too.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2006, 07:10 PM
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I agree with Agtou, if you can get the fast train down you will be better off than the longer road trip. You can easily hire a car and driver for the day in Agra to take you to Fatephur Sikri and other parts around Agra, you can get one through your hotel or step outside the grounds of your hotel and bargain with the myriad of drivers waiting for you.

I would certainly make every effort to get to the Taj at dawn. If there is fog it is STILL gorgeous through the fog, IMO. (I actually found evening fog to be much more of an issue there more than morning fog, but morning fog is possible.) There are also very few crowds at this time. IMO you also need to go back in the afternoon and as sunset, as the marble reflects light differently at different times of day and in different weather conditions. Some people donít like paying the admission price more than once, which I can understand, but IMO itís worth it, especially if you donít think you will ever go back to India again (and even if you think you will....). You can also go to the Oberoi and have a drink or some tea in the bar which has a good view or try to get up to the top floor where there are windows in the hallway with good views. There are no Taj views from either of their restaurants as they are on the ground floor.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2006, 07:27 PM
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Cicerone has said it all. The only other tip I have is, the touts at all the monuments in Agra are persistent and pervasive. The way to deal with them is with a firm no, once, and then completely ignore them. Else it will quickly get tiring for you and take away the joy of the sights. These touts are a national disgrace. Also beware of drivers who steer you to buy things from vendors or hawkers they have a pre-deal with. If you are a first-time visitor to India, get a car from the hotel you are staying at (but remember the tip about drivers steering you to places).

Get to the Taj between 6:30-6:45 am. It opens at 6 am and is closed on Fridays. No cellphones, tripods etc allowed. Only take your still camera and nothing else. Video cameras are allowed only upto a point.

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Old Dec 3rd, 2006, 07:30 PM
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Also - if you can get a boking at the Amarvilas, take it. You won't regret it one bit. It is among the world's great hotels. You have a view of the Taj from every room, from the lobby, the lounge and the bar.

One more thing - visit the Agra fort, too. Especially the place inside from where Shahjahan spent his final days under house arrest, gazing at the monument he commissioned.

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Old Dec 5th, 2006, 07:49 PM
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Thanks for all the tips. We've booked the Shatabdi to Agra. We actually needed two rooms so we decided to go for the Moghul Sheraton. (We got one room free because of points)

However,my husband has a conference in India in 2008. Perhaps then we'll splurge. In the meantime I'll try to get lunch reservations or dinner reservations there.

What are the touts?

I leave in one day!!!
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Old Dec 5th, 2006, 09:48 PM
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ďToutsĒ are the name applied to people who surround you at tourists sites in India and elsewhere in Asia who will try to sell you a bunch of junk that you donít want, from postcards, to film, to rickshaw rides, to carved figurines. At the Taj Mahal, they are lined up for the last hundred yards to the public entrance, as no cars, buses or vehicles of any kinds are allowed within that distance, so everyone has to walk and you are at their mercy. Admittedly they are something of a pain, but it is only about 100 yards, the length of a football field. The last thing you should do is shout or push anyone, just keep walking, keep calm and remember it is a football field at most you have to walk. IMO the touts in Bali are as or more aggressive, and the ones outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok who will tell you it is closed to try to get you to go somewhere with them are much worse...

If you can engage one in conversation for the entire walk, the others will leave you alone, as they have a pretty strict code of not interfering with each others' potential customers. Having had experience with touts in 20 years in Asia, I have two approaches: my usual one is to tell them that my husband has forbidden me to buy anything (this works extremely well); if you have a husband standing by you he can order you not buy anything, you should just bow your head and accept this with silent smiling demure good grace for once in your marriage.....I vary this by having a discussion of cost-benefit analysis in retailing, i.e. the cost of their spending time with me versus the benefit of their spending time with another person as I am clearly not going to buy anything; this discussion is admittedly one-sided on my part, but if carried on in a pleasant conversational tone while continuing walking and not looking at any merchandise, it is usually sufficient to get the tout to drop off after a few yards when they realize I am not going to buy anything, and during that time at least the others have left me alone.

You will not find any touts at Sikrandra or Itimad-ud-daula and will have a very few at the Fort and Fatephur Sikri. It really is just the 100 yards or so by the Taj where they are a problem at all. After you have seen the Taj and come back out, if you turn left and just walk 100 yards away from the Taj entrance down the side street into the old city, the touts drop away and you can explore the little streets with no cars which are full of people, cows, pigs, temples, alleyways and the all of Indian street life. The old town area around the Friday Mosque is also very interesting.

As for 2008, if the conference is in say Bangalore, getting to Agra from there may be more trouble than it is worth, plus you may then have to skip parts of south India which is so interesting, so while I am sure the Sheraton is fine, there is no guarantee that you will be back again.
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Old Dec 5th, 2006, 09:50 PM
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Sorry, for the old town area from the Taj, turn RIGHT when you come back out of the entrance gates. Directional dyslexia...
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Old Dec 6th, 2006, 08:37 PM
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We had a car and driver in doing the Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Delhi loop. It was a grueling, tiring drive, but he was wonderful and careful to a fault. He also accompanied us to the front of the Taj and kept the touts at bay. Then he turned us over to a guide who took us through the gate and gave us a private tour. Very nice not have to deal with the touts, and very nice to have a private tour guide. He also took us to some places to shop. I do not know if he got kick backs, but, frankly, we loved the experience, and wish we had had more time bought more. The quality of the goods (inlaid marble table, silk bedding sets, and rugs) was exquisite, and the prices were a fraction of what one would pay in the states for equivalent quality.

Can't wait to go back.

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Old Dec 7th, 2006, 04:37 AM
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Cicerone, a small update. The touts at Fatehpur Sikri were the worst of the lot last week. In fact, I commiserated with one American couple there who remarked that it was getting "tiring" keeping them at bay. It is amusing that the touts at the Taj have kept up with the times - they now even sell 1 GB, 2GB and 4GB compact flash cards!
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Old Dec 7th, 2006, 11:49 AM
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I think the touts at the Amber fort in Jaipur are the worst!

One of the photo takers even switches to the city palace in the afternoon and finds you' for the "remember me? My name is xxx and you "let" me take your picture this morning. Only 50 rupess for two"
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Old Dec 7th, 2006, 12:25 PM
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If you do not want to be bothered by touts at the tourist sites, you can always travel with a guide. This worked well for us.
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Old Dec 7th, 2006, 01:28 PM
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It is funny how I always assume "touts" are out to get me, and they have no redeeming qualities. When we were at the Taj, we too were followed my men who wanted to take our pictures in the Taj, which I thought was ridiculous at first. But honestly, this one guy really sold me - he had a photo album of gorgeous shots that he had taken of other tourists, he would shoot a roll for you, get them developed and return them to you within an hour. We haggled him down to about $10, if I remember correctly. These photographers take pictures there all day, so they are very good at capturing the light and the reflection of the Taj in the pool out front. For the first time, my husband and I had at least ten photos of us TOGETHER in front of a major landmark. The best photo of the lot is on my desk, right now. Sometimes, the touts actually sell something of value!
Old Dec 7th, 2006, 03:47 PM
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Personally, going by car and driver was our favorite way of getting around. The 7 hour ride to Bandhavgarh was a litte much, only due to the road conditions. We liked seeing the small villages and our drivers were wonderful guides! But, we go for the people, not the monuments.
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Old Dec 7th, 2006, 06:53 PM
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I don't know about you, but I do not liked to be gamed. Indian drivers associated with the tourist industry are master-gamers. I do not wanted to sound cynical but many Westerners are had by this put on charm. Know that it is all in service of the 'tip' at the end of the day. As an Indian I can read these fellows well and I know the tricks of the trade they ply.

I am sure someone here will now mount the high horse and lecture me on how these fellows are poor etc etc etc
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