A Day in Agra

 

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.

 

When Luxury Travel Advisor headed off to New Delhi a few weeks ago for a conference we realized we’d little time left to see many of the main attractions nearby, namely the Taj Mahal. Enter Greaves Tours, whose experts took our very limited time frame and carved out a full day of adventure in Agra, where the iconic monument is located.

Here’s how it all went. We flew in to New Delhi via Emirates, connecting from JFK through Dubai. Safely landed in New Delhi, we were met at the airport by representatives of the Leela Palace hotel, who quickly took hold of our large quantities of luggage (when you’re going to the Taj Mahal you need options), and whisked us to a luxury car that was awaiting us curbside. It was a Tuesday afternoon; we’d left our home on Monday morning. Safely in our cushy room, we saw we had a message to call Greaves Tours. We called and made arrangements to meet at 5:15 a.m. in the lobby the next morning. That suited us just fine as we were exhausted and headed to sleep even though it was early evening. We awoke full of energy at our 3:30 a.m. wake-up call and thoroughly enjoyed the pot of coffee and pitcher of hot milk our butler brought to us the moment we popped out of bed. Downstairs, we met with a representative from Greaves, who escorted us to a luxury vehicle with a private driver. He explained that they were taking us to the New Delhi Railway station, where we would take the Shatabdi Express to Agra. The ride would take just about two hours. We were pretty pleased to have a private escort to the train, since there were throngs of people at the station even at this very early hour. Our Greaves guide walked us to the train, boarded with us, found our reserved seats, and once we were seated, gave us the letter that confirmed our train reservation as well as his cell phone number. He stayed with us to ensure we were comfortable and felt secure and told us that we would be met curbside when we arrived in Agra.

The train was great fun since we felt we were traveling quite independently even though we had Greaves watching our backs at either end of the ride. It isn’t super modern, but it was perfectly accommodating and because this was reserved seating, the car was not crowded. In fact, from what we could see, a policeman patrolled the car regularly to ensure anyone who didn’t belong to our carriage was promptly told to leave.

Humayun’s Tomb
Humayun’s Tomb, one of the amazing ancient attractions in Delhi, was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

The Shatabdi Express even serves breakfast, which first came in the form of a big red thermos filled with piping hot water and tiny biscuits in cellophane. A while later we were given a hot plate of vegetarian curry, toast and juice. All along the way, we passed the countryside. We saw the sun rise and all sorts of sites; people living in very rural conditions, others in towns and villages. By the time we reached Agra we’d seen a lot. 

When we disembarked the train, we were immediately met by another Greaves representative, who knew our name and brought us through the crowds right away to a luxury car with a private driver. The representative explained he was taking us to meet our private guide, Raj. We mentioned that we’d like to have lunch at The Oberoi Amarvilas; he cautioned us that because it was high season (we were traveling in October, a good time to visit India because the weather cools down), it might be difficult to get a table. However, 45 minutes later he was able to confirm our reservation. We reached Greaves’ office, said good-bye to our rep and met Raj, our guide.

That’s the most important part of the story. The Taj Mahal did not disappoint; in fact, it’s even more stunning in person and Raj was a very informative guide who knows every intricacy of the amazing fortress, which was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. Raj also brought us to a crafts center where you can buy Indian goods and to the Agra Fort.

After lunch at The Oberoi, we were ready to head back to New Delhi. Greaves had arranged a private car and driver and we were able to take a new highway, which cuts the time down to just a few hours instead of five.

Lessons learned here were: You cannot go all the way to India and not see the Taj Mahal because when you come home, everyone will ask you if you saw it and if you didn’t you will just feel like a loser. Another lesson? Go with a luxury tour guide such as Greaves, which will help you avoid any pitfalls in a new country that you’re just not familiar with. Aside from their excellent ability to escort us through each step of the way, we found their communication to be great. We were never left wondering what would come next, which is vital when you’re not quite sure of your footing.

Last lesson: A day trip to Agra can be added on to a business trip to New Delhi but we suggest allowing yourself even more time than just a day, since Delhi itself is home to some amazing ancient attractions, including the Qutub Minar Complex and Humayun’s Tomb, which was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Greaves provides excellent day tours with knowledgeable guides to both.

Your contact at Greaves is its president, Carole Cambata ([email protected]; 800-318-7801 or 224-765-4545) who gladly works with travel advisors. Greaves has a number of itineraries coming up, including the World Sufi Spirit Festival (six-day tour will take place February 24-March 1, 2013); a Yoga Festival Tour, which takes place in February 2013; and the ongoing Best Exotic Marigold Tour, which combines several of India’s top attractions with some of the best parts of the British comedy-drama.

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