Agra Beyond Taj

Many of you have asked me if there is anything else to do and see in or around Agra, other than the Taj Mahal. The answer is, YES but you need to spend a couple of nights at minimum to discover some of these attractions. Let no guidebook or guide tell you otherwise. Agra and it's neighboring areas has a wealth of experiences for everyone. 

The meeting point for the below attractions / tours will be a major landmark in Agra. From Agra, I will accompany you to these attractions. It is recommended to bring your own transportation to/from Agra as there is no reliable public transportation to many of the below attractions that are outside the city. I can also arrange a taxi for you if you like. You can visit and follow our Instagram page to see the latest stories and photos from our tours that go Beyond the Taj.

Agra street food
Aloo Bedvi - Agra's most popular street food

If this is your first time to Agra, then I can arrange a licensed and experienced guide (known to me who does not waste your time taking you to shops) for the Taj, Fort and other monuments/walks. If you are in my city for more than a night then we can go off-the-beaten path to some of the below attractions.

Peacocks and Ancient Ruins
Peacocks and Ancient Ruins

Bateshwara Temples - Morena

The Bateshwara Temples in Morena include Garhi Padhavali and Mitawali all within a few kilometers drive from each other. The temples are on the way to Gwalior and mostly devoid of mass tourism. Restoration work on the temples was initiated between 2005 to 2015 by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) after some initial hurdles which included a truce with the then dacoits (bandits) who lived in the region. As you can see from the photos below, architecturally these (some are 1200+ year old) temples are outstanding and the finest that you will get to see in your travels in this part of the country.

Bateshwar Temples near Morena
Bateshwar Temples near Morena

Bateshwara Temples are a group of 200+ temples dedicated to Hindu Gods - Vishnu and Shiva. Some temples appear to have been destroyed by invading armies and others have fallen due to earthquakes (or due to blasts for stone mining). The antiquity and isolation of these temples reminds many of the temples in Siem Reap in Cambodia. According to archaeologists, there are 100 temples scattered all around the area that are yet to be excavated and restored. It is also difficult to give a precise date of construction of these temples as no records have been maintained. We can only assume when they were built by comparing their design to other temples made in the region by Gujjar Pratihara kings.

Mitawali Temple near Morena
Mitawali Temple near Morena

Mitawali temple is situated on top of a hill. You need to be fit to walk about a 100 steps and unfortunately there is no ramp for people with mobility issues. This temple is a fine example of a chausath (64) yogini (attendant to a female goddess) temple and is said to have inspired the construction of the Parliament House in New Delhi. The statues of the 64 yoginis in the temple are long gone but you are nevertheless bound to be amazed by the unique temple architecture.

Garhi Padavali near Morena
Garhi Padavali near Morena

Padawali or Garhi Padavali is actually a fortress (built in the 18th century) that was constructed around a Shiva temple - the main temple and it's remaining mandap which was built much before the fortress was. The inscriptions and intricate details cover every inch of the mandap and are stunning, still intact and pictorially narrate several stories from Indian mythology. 

Guided tour of the Bateshwar temples near Morena
Guided tour of the Bateshwar temples near Morena

To get to these places you need to organize your own transport, I wouldn't recommend public transport as it is unreliable/non-existent. I can also arrange a taxi for you if you like. Best to visit during daylight hours and carry water and food as there is nothing hygienic on the highway to these temples. Your base should be Agra as there are plenty of hotels to chose from. This experience is in rural and remote India, please do not expect 'luxury' tourist facilities here. Sometimes, road conditions are bad, especially after monsoon season or there are traffic jams or other unexpected road blocks. On occasion, the toilets at these temples may be closed and you have no choice but to go in the wilderness. 

Bateshwara Temples near Morena
Bateshwara Temples near Morena

Therefore, having a calm flexible mindset and patience is key when such unexpected circumstances pop up. These ancient temple ruins and other attractions are out of this world and hopefully you will forget the pains it took to get here.
It is recommended for women to please conservatively when traveling to these places.

chambal river safari dolphins
Dolphin spotting on the Chambal

Chambal River Safari

Critically Endangered Gharial
Critically Endangered Gharial (male)

Another must do when in Agra is river safari on the Chambal with me as your naturalist. The river safari is safe and there have been no incidents of crocodile getting in to the boat or anything of that nature. As a matter of fact, reptiles and other wildlife are scared of the boat and usually dive back in to the water when they see it approach. During the river safari we can spot marsh crocodiles, the critically endangered Gharial, turtles (two of which are now found only in the Chambal river) and migratory birds including the Indian Skimmer and Black-bellied Tern. Read more about this experience here.

Striped Hyena - Chambal river
Striped Hyena - Chambal river

If you are lucky you may spot a Desert Fox, Striped Hyena, Jackal, Jungle Cat and the rare Gangetic River Dolphin. I recommend you do the safari for at least 2 hours. The safari is best done from mid October to mid March, other than that it's either too hot to be on the boat or the monsoon when the Sanctuary is closed.

Chambal Ravine Walk

Chambal Ravine Walk
Chambal Ravines

Yes, it is safe to walk in the ravines (during the day) provided you are with a reliable local or someone who knows the ravines. Now, that I have answered the most important question, let's talk about the ravines and the walk itself. The Chambal ravines or 'beehad' as we call them in Hindi are deep mud moulds formed over thousands (if not more) of years due to soil erosion. During the monsoon, rainfall erodes the top soil and rainwater forms a network of criss crossing gullies till it reaches the Chambal river. 

Chambal Ravine Walk
Chambal Ravine Walk

Over time, some of these gullies became wide enough for animals and people to walk through them. The resulting ravines became very deep and if you enter them unguided or unless you have an aerial view which gives you a sense of direction on where to go OR if you have on point navigation skills like Bear Grylls, you're bound to get lost. 

Chambal River Walk
Aerial view of the criss-crossing ravines, easy to get lost in.

Little was known of the Chambal ravines till the 1990s, more is yet to be studied and researched. The region was home to several outlaws, dacoits or bandits. Some of the most famous dacoits included Phoolan Devi (there were powerful women dacoits too - see the movie Bandit Queen), Seema Parihar, Nirbhay Gujjar, Man Singh and Pan Singh Tomar. These and others lived in these ravines like Robin Hood and used them as a sanctuary from the 'outside world'. Even cops couldn't find a way to get to them once the dacoits entered the ravines. Some say, treasure looted by the dacoits is still buried in the ravines. During our walk we use the very same trails that were once used by dacoits. 

The Bandit Queen - Phoolan Devi
The Bandit Queen - Phoolan Devi (Source Internet)

I hope through this walk you get to discover a mysterious yet historic eco-system, one that was most feared and talked about for decades in India. Many stories and movies have been written about the bandits and their ravines. With the bandits gone, locals want to flatten these ravines and make them conducive to agriculture, I'm not sure that this is a good idea as these ravines serve as a natural barrier against the river when it floods.

Indian Mongoose on Chambal
Indian Mongoose

During the walk we may see some wildlife such as birds, Indian hare, mongoose, jackal, perhaps even a hyena or a jungle cat. I've heard there are caracals and pangolins too but I have yet to see them. If one of our trails takes us close to the Chambal river, we might even chance upon the aquatic wildlife by the riverbank. The terrain is partly uphill and scrubby with Prosopis Julifora and other shrubs. Wear pants, full sleeved shirts and walking shoes, a cap, sun glasses and water. Please travel light. My walks can be customized to your fitness level and could end with a picnic where we can have light refreshments overlooking the Chambal river. 

Chambal Heritage Villages

Havelis of Holipura
Havelis of Holipura

An hour and a half from the Taj is Agra's version of the Shekhawati havelis. If you haven't been to Rajasthan's famous Shekhawati region for it's havelis then no sweat, let me take you to small unbeknownst villages where lie 200+ year old havelis owned by once rich zamindars (landlords). 

chambal heritage
Murals inside an ancient village temple

The landlords gradually moved away from land ownership and agriculture and have become very successful in government services across India. Some of these mansions have dilapidated over time, others have caretakers still living in them and then there are some which have been locked up with the owners either living in Agra, Delhi and elsewhere.

Holipura heritage village near Agra
Once a mansion now a Bank

Regardless, during a walk through the alleys of these rural villages you will see several mansions made with a combination of Indian and British architectural styles, some interconnected with hallways, indicating these families were perhaps related and shared a strong bond - typical of most Indian families back in the day.

Holipura havelis near Agra
Inside a haveli in Holipura

During the tour, I may also show you the insides of some of the havelis. 

Birdwatching in and around Agra

Visit this link for wildlife and birdwatching hotspots in and around Agra. 

Migratory Birds in Keetham Lake
Bar-headed Geese in Keetham Lake

Agra City Walks / Photo Walks / Other monuments

If you're into street photography or like to explore old markets then I recommend a walking tour of old Agra. 

Built Heritage in Agra
Built Heritage in Agra. Year 1914

There are several places that can be walked (preferably early morning when it isn't that crowded) and walks can be curated based on your interest - street, food, architecture, bazars, traditional handicrafts etc. Walks are either lead by me or by friends who are locals and have a strong connect with the city. 

Temples of Agra
Architectural Marvel: A Hindu temple in Old City

Some of the locals who lead these walks have lived here their entire life, others have come back after quitting their corporate jobs. One thing common in all these individuals is that they're passionate about what they do and possess in-depth knowledge of the area they're walking you through.

Beyond Taj

If you are done with the Taj, then I can also point you to other monuments such as Itmad-ud-daulah and Mehtab Bagh - the moonlit garden. The view of the Taj from Mehtab Bagh at sunset is outstanding and gives you an alternative perspective to the iconic monument's beauty and grandeur. 
Then there is the Catholic cemetery with it's iconic 'Red Taj Mahal' and some of the oldest and fascinating tombstones of the earliest westerners in North India. 

Please Note:
  • There is no guarantee that you will see the above wildlife. The river and / or sanctuary is their habitat and sightings depend on water level in the river, human interference, weather conditions, migratory pattern of birds, most of which are beyond your and my control. I will do my best to show you all there is to see. 
  • What to carry: camera, binoculars, warm jacket (in the winter), backpack, sun glasses, cap, vizer, sun block, some cash, drinking water, snacks and food
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol is not permitted in National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries including the Chambal river.
  • Please do not throw trash on the floor even if you don't see a trash can. Please ask me and I help to dispose it off properly.
  • During all our tours we do not feed, bait or disturb the wildlife we see. Please ask me about ethical wildlife tourism if you are unsure about this topic.

              For bookings, email or call +91 9717148483.