Delhi is a great place to start off on a drive. North lie the Himalaya and south lies Rajasthan. However, your driving options can range farther than that. If you drive east or southeast from Delhi, you can reach some amazing destinations all over northern India. In this particular drive, we focus on a trip to Gwalior, with Agra thrown in for good measure. So read on and start planning your driving holiday now!
Distance: 209 km
Time: 3 Hours
The Yamuna Expressway between Delhi and Agra via Noida and Greater Noida has cut down the driving time between the two cities by almost half. Even so it’s a good idea to leave Delhi early in the morning so that the wonders of Agra can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. Whatever time of the day you decide to leave, take the Bara Pulla to avoid the mind-numbing clutch-brake-clutch traffic over Ashram Flyover. Access the Bara Pulla via an offshoot from Lodhi Road and once you’ve crossed it, make a u-turn under the Sarai Kale Khan flyover to access the DND Flyway to Noida. Once you’ve crossed the toll booth on the DND, take the second clover leaf down from the DND to the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway. About 21 km down the expressway, keep your eyes peeled for signage indicating the exit onto the Yamuna Expressway. Once on the expressway, look out for the Buddh International Circuit on the right. The circuit was India’s venue for F1 races. About 154 km down the expressway, take the exit onto NH92 to reach Agra. Leave Delhi by 7.00 am and you’ll reach Agra just in time for breakfast.
Strategically located on the alluvial plains between the Ganga and Yamuna, Agra was a religious and commercial centre for centuries, but it matured when the Mughals made it their home. It became the theatre where this fascinating dynasty played out an entire range of emotions on a titanic scale: love, hate, passion, lust for power....Yet you only have to wander through their forts, gardens and monuments to see their love for nature, refinement, and devotion to the arts. Think Agra, and you will almost immediately visualise the majestic edifice of the Taj Mahal. For Delhiites, Agra is a day-trip destination, and sometimes even a chai stop on a nighttime drive. It is, however, the rivers of people, traffic and the pollution levels that make a visit to Agra a little disappointing. Even so, those who have had a taste of the Taj cannot seem to get enough of it and keep coming back.
Things to See & Do
Never mind how many clichÃ©s you have heard, when you see the Taj Mahal, it still takes your breath away. Join the crowds, admire the fountain, the water canals and the symmetry of the charbagh gardens, click the mandatory pictures in front of the Seventh Wonder, and don shoe covers before climbing up its marble steps. Emperor Shah Jahan, they say, was devoted to Mumtaz Mahal, his wife of 19 years. The queen bore him eight sons and six daughters. In June 1631, while in the labour with her youngest daughter, the 38-year-old Mumtaz died. And almost instantly work on the Taj began. Tons of white marble was lugged from Makrana’s quarries in Rajasthan, 100 miles away; red sandstone was brought from Fatehpur Sikri. The precious stone inlay work required lapis lazuli from Ceylon, turquoise from Tibet, malachite from Russia, carnelian from Baghdad, chrysolite from Egypt, as well as agate, chalcedony, sardonyx, quartz, jade, amethyst and black marble. Craftsmen and jewelers flocked to Agra from all over the empire as well as from Constantinople, Samarkand, Kandahar and Baghdad. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India and stonecutters from Baluchistan worked with 20,000 labourers for 12 years to complete the plinth and tomb and another 10 to complete the minarets, the mosque and the gateway. Shah Jahan died in 1666 and was interred in the Taj beside Mumtaz. His tomb, not accounted for in the original design, is the only asymmetry in this most perfect of structures.
Entry: Indians â‚¹20; Foreigners â‚¹750
Timings: Sunrise to sunset, Closed on Fridays
Tourist Info: Tel 0562-2226431, 2421204
While Agra is overwhelmingly associated with Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal, Akbar was the first and most prolific of its great Mughal builders. Under him came in the new architecture of the Agra Fort, and the exquisite Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra Tomb. The Agra Fort was built between 1565 and 1573. The fort’s ramparts, which rise up to 70 ft, are cased with red sandstone. Give in to a good guide to take you through the Must-See List. There's Nagina Masjid which housed the harem, Meena Bazaar, where the ladies shopped, Shah Burj, the royal quarters, Shah Jahan’s Musamman Burj and Diwan-e-Khaas and Hauz-i-Jehangiri. Towards the end of his life, Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort by his son Aurangzeb, and is said to have died gazing at his Taj from the Mussaman Burj. It was also from Agra Fort that Shivaji escaped from Aurangzeb’s clutches in 1666, hidden in a basket of sweets.
Entry: Indians â‚¹20; Foreigners â‚¹300
Timings: Sunrise to sunset
Tourist Info: Tel 2226431, 2421204
Akbar passed away in 1605, but before he died he designed his own tomb, the Sikandra Tomb as was customary then. The tomb, completed by his son Jehangir (Salim) in 1613, is all elegant pavilions and chhatris. The grounds are immaculately maintained. Even today black bucks graze peacefully on its grounds. Drink in the beautifully carved red-ochre sandstone, the majestic gateways with elegant mosaic work, the charbagh garden setting and the tomb in the midst of it all. It stands as a five-storeyed pyramid, with artistic bays, massive piers and arches. Descend into the dark recesses of the burial chamber for an intimate moment with the 400-year-old legend. Jehangir — a collector of art, naturalist and scientist — lacked his dynasty’s building skills and was given to intoxication, but made up for it by marrying Mehr-un-Nissa (who later came to be known as Nur Jahan). She ruled with the help of her family; her father, brother and uncle held important positions at the court. Her father, Ghiyas-ud-Din Beg was bestowed with the title, Itmad-ud-Daula (Pillar of the Government) and was Lord of the Treasury. Nur Jahan chose marble for the construction of Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula. It was a departure from the architecture of the age, which favoured red sandstone. Today, this beautiful creation is a must visit as it sits like a beautiful ivory jewel on the bank of the River Yamuna.
Agra is well-known for handicrafts, but the local markets are chaotic while the big shops are expensive. The pietra dura or marble inlay work seen on the Taj is still practised by a dwindling number of craftspeople. Marble inlay on tables, boxes, and knick-knacks, even sofas, can be found here. Agra is also famous for carpet-weaving. Gold wire embroidery known as zardozi is another speciality. Look out for handmade leather works such as bags, sandals, purses, shoes, and more. Do remember to take home angoori and kesar petha from Panchhi Petha (in Sadar Bazaar and Hari Parbat).
Set out early the next day after roaming around Agra (in the limited time available to you, of course). Don’t forget to pick up some of the city’s famous dal-moth and petha. From Agra city, take the NH3 towards Gwalior. Dense forests on will accompany you all the way to Morena. You will cross into Rajasthan at Semar ka Pura. About 28 km from here is Dholpur; Aurangzeb’s sons had fought an inheritance battle here, and it was also Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri’s bastion. The ruins of his Shergarh Fort can be seen from the highway. As you cross the Chambal river, you also cross over from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh. You can stop at the banks of the Chambal for a boat ride, or just continue down past lush green landscape to Morena. Stop at one of the hotels here or at a dhaba
on the way for a hot meal, then continue on the NH3. On the outskirts of Purani Chhawani turn onto the NH92, and just after the IIITM campus turn right to enter the town of Gwalior.
Queen of the Chambal
Gwalior is essentially a small city with its obligatory share of chaos, but the narrow lanes full of traffic notwithstanding, it still bears the stamp of a place that has seen much grandeur. Once the capital of the Marathas and the Mughal emperors, it is now the seat of the Scindias, an erstwhile royal family. Gwalior is usually spoken of in the same breath as its majestic 10th-century fort, which dominates the whole region from atop a huge bluff. The 14th-century traveller Ibn Batuta spoke of Gwalior as being a “fine town of white stone”, as did the Governor General of Bengal Warren Hastings, who called it the “key to Indostan”. Today, the city may no longer have that important a position on India’s political or cultural map, but there are a lot of hidden gems still to be discovered here, including the impressive fort and the structures built around it. The old city makes for an interesting stroll and there are markets nearby for shopping.
Things to See & Do
Everything about Gwalior Fort, with its jagged-toothed battlements and tall towers, is larger than life. It is two miles long and rises sharply 300 ft above the ground. Give yourself at least one full day, if not two, to see the fort. There is a sound-and-light show every evening. The eastern entrance is guarded by the Urwahi Gate and the western one by six gates built in different periods by different kings, all situated on the 2,500- foot long ramp leading to the fort. The Urwahi rock face is home to 22 Jain rock sculptures from the 15th century. Of particular note is the pretty Man Mandir Palace (for the Tomar Raja Man Murals in the Laxmi Narayan Temple Singh who ruled in 1486-1517, the period of Gwalior’s cultural heyday), with its cool underground chambers and clever lighting and ventilation systems. Watch out for the crocodiles holding lotus buds on the faÃ§ade. Hire a guide at the MP Tourist Snack Bar and negotiate rates. (Entry: Indians â‚¹5; Foreigners â‚¹100; Free for ages 15 and below Videography â‚¹25)
The exquisite Tomb of Ghaus Mohammed (a saint from Akbar’s time) is encased in gauzy stone screenwork, and is at its most fetching in the late afternoon and at night. Also here is the legendary musician Tansen's tomb — simply a raised rectangular pavilion with white marble on the platform.
Jai Vilas Palace (Entry Indians â‚¹70; Foreigners â‚¹450 Timings 10.00 am-5.00 pm; Closed Mondays Guide â‚¹100 Photography â‚¹70 Videography â‚¹150) was built during the reign of Jayaji Rao, the Scindia loyal to the British. The palace is decorated with Tuscan, Italianate and Corinthian columns. The H.H. Maharaja Sir Jiwaji Rao Scindia Museum, housed in a part of the palace, is worth a visit for its suitably eccentric collections of clothes, carriages, arms, paintings, furniture and dining accoutrements, the most remarkable of which is a silver train to ferry liqueurs round the table!
You can extend this drive to take in Khajuraho and Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh.