Once you’ve spent a little time in Delhi, you will think about making that journey down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. But how do you get there?
Well, Delhi is certainly an acquired taste, and it may not be for everyone. For most travellers, it will be the point of entry to India enroute to the Taj Mahal and other parts of northern India, such as Varanasi, Ranthambore, and Jaipur. Yet there very well be a smile on your face as you leave this city. If Delhi was included on a video game for travellers, it would be one of the later, harder levels!
With no major airport in Agra that get regular service, it means travellers between these two cities must travel on land – either by road or rail. Fortunately, popular and fairly comfortable and safe trains (well, at least by Indian standards) run between Delhi and Agra, whereas a six lane motorway has recently been built for cars and buses. Conditions on these roads are good, although there will be congestion at either end as you come in and out of the crowded cities.
It will usually take around 2hr30m to 3hrs to get to Agra from Delhi by using the newly built Yamuna Expressway. This multi-lane highway was only laid a few years ago and was designed to cut the distance between these two historic north Indian cities by over 30%. From Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, seek out a white taxi that can take you down the highway to Agra (yellow taxis cannot/will not leave Delhi). The cost is around 950 Rupees for 8 hours, which will get you to the Taj Mahal, with your driver waiting for you, then returning you to the airport. This is a great option for a day trip if you have a long transit stop at the airport.
Train travel between Delhi and Agra still seems the most popular method of transport, even with the addition of the Yamuna Expressway these days. Trains depart from New Delhi Railway Station and arrive at Agra Cantt Station. The journey takes between 2-3 hours, so it is not much less time than it takes via road transport. However, it is a much cheaper option than using a taxi or private car.
The fastest morning train from Delhi to Agra is the 12002 Bhopal Shatabdi. It departs New Delhi Railway Station at 6.15 a.m. and arrives at Agra at 8.12 a.m. The fare in executive class (first class, seated, air conditioned) is 1,000 Rupees. The fare in the cheapest carriage (chair car, seated, air conditioned) is 505 Rupees. The train runs every day except Friday. For the return journey, the 12001 NDLS Shatabdi departs Agra at 8.30 p.m. and arrives at New Delhi Railway Station at 10.30 p.m., daily except Friday. It’s the fastest train from Agra to Delhi.
It is wise to pre-book your train journey in India as the trains often get sold out months in advance. You can do this pretty well at http://www.cleartrip.com/trains, which is an official partner of the Indian Railway Company. It’s just like booking a flight or a boat trip.
When you finally make it to Agra, you can be sure of a lot of budget accommodation options, so a cool 2 or 3 night stay in this fascinating city won’t break your budget. The Taj Mahal is a mere 10 minute auto-rickshaw ride away from Agra Cantt Station. When you do visit the Taj Mahal, though, be aware that the crowds can be overwhelming at times, even at the earliest parts of the day. Also be aware that as a “foreigner” you will be charged much more for admission than Indian nationals, but I guess this is commonplace nowadays across the whole subcontinent, not just in India.
However you decide to get to Agra, you should check with your hotel or hostel to see if they offer any special deals, or know any good travel agents that will organise the journey for you.