I’m not talking about how long it takes to get there and back. I talking about the absolute minimum amount of time one could possibly spend making the trip and still experience one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen – sunrise at the Taj Mahal.
India deserves much, much, much more time than 96 hours. I don’t think that a year would be enough time to actually experience the many different regions and cultures that India has to offer. But if, for some reason, you really, really, really, really don’t want to visit India, here’s a way to be there for the absolute shortest amount of time and still see the Taj.
Hours 0 – 24
The good news is that Continental Airlines and American Airlines both offer non-stop service to Delhi from Newark and Chicago, respectively. This saves a few hours in travel time and I found that it was easier to sleep on the longer flight, helping stave off the jet lag that is inherent in such a long trip. Both carriers drop you in Delhi very late in the evening – around 11pm. Get yourself to a hotel and sleep. But not for too long.
The best way to experience the trip from Delhi to Agra is by train. There is an early morning train that runs express (2-3 stops) and takes about 3 hours to complete the journey. Along the way you get to see the city wake up alongside the tracks and then farms lands and small towns dotting the countryside – little bits of rural Indian life. The First Class tickets (air-conditioned car and seats comparable to a domestic airline) were about $6, so it won’t break the bank to go this way. If you don’t want that bit of adventure, just hire a driver to take you down to Agra. Your hotel can arrange it, but you’ll really be missing out.
Hours 30 – 48
Congratulations! You’ve made it to Agra. Hopefully you went ahead and booked yourself a room at the Hotel Sheela. It is about 100 yards from the entrance to the Taj, and has a decent kitchen to keep you nourished, as well as a nice courtyard to relax in during the day. There are two properties with the same name in town, so make sure that you book the correct one. Again, for those less adventurous, there is also the Oberoi hotel – Agra. It is uber-luxurious and has prices to match, and it is only about half a mile from the Taj. Everything else is much further.
After you’ve dropped your bag off at the hotel, find a driver to take you around and show you everything else in Agra. There’s a mini-Taj, the Red Fort and a view of the Taj from across the river that’s pretty impressive. That should get you through the afternoon and give you enough to do until dinner rolls around. Have an early dinner and get to sleep. You’re going to need to be up early again tomorrow to see the Taj.
The Taj Majal opens at 6 am for folks who want to see sunrise. Dawn is shortly thereafter, so don’t be late. The scene is amazing. Calm, peaceful, beautiful. You can easily spend a few hours wandering the grounds and taking in the sights. There are several buildings on the grounds, in addition to the Taj Mahal though certainly none quite as grand. It’s the little things that make the building so amazing; things like the inlaid marble, incredibly symmetrical or the fact that it was one of the first buildings on the sub-continent to go for non-geometric patterns, making it all that much more difficult to accomplish. Or the way the letters of the inscription that surround the door get bigger the higher up the building they go, making them appear a consistent size from the ground.
Find your way back to Delhi. You can hire one of the local cars or take the train. Take in a sight or two downtown – there are many to see. And you’re probably better off doing that than sitting around at the airport. That being said, you’re going to want to get to the airport about 3 hours early, maybe more, because lines are something they do very well in India, and there are several of them. First is the security line, then check-in, then customs and immigration, and none of the lines are particularly organized or short. There may be another security check to get to the gate area, though at least then you’re only in line with the other 250 people on your flight instead of the entire airport.
It is a long flight home. Very, very, very, very long. Bring a few books or some Ambien, or you will be bored out of your mind, though at least you’ll have been to see the Taj Mahal.
A couple of other notes:
- You need a Visa to go to India. Same day service is available in NYC.
- The Taj is closed on Fridays, so plan accordingly.
- You really should actually go visit more of India than just the Taj. It is a beautiful and diverse country. Don’t skimp out and only go for 3.5 days.
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