If you’ve ever thought about travelling, visiting the iconic Taj Mahal will have crossed your mind at least once before. It’s a bucket list item for so many of us, but hidden in the city of Agra, even when you’re in India itself, it can feel out of reach. There are hundreds of luxury options readily available to you, with private cars, 5* accomodation or trips that lead you through the entire golden triangle. But if you’re not fussed about a limo but still want to stay safe, there are still lots of options for you!
There’s no need to book months in advance
This is a common misconception when it comes to travel in general. In Sri Lanka, I booked our train tickets six weeks before we arrived, only to find out I paid 500% more than the price at the ticket office and I believe the rule generally applies to the rest of SE Asia. You can haggle in person, explain your budget and see what you get- it’s so difficult to work out how much you’ll spend on a backpacking trip, but it’s more than possible to live on £25 for bed, food and activities and see the Taj Mahal. Ask questions at your accommodation, speak to the locals but make sure you book with a registered company with a website and you are able to get the numberplate of your driver in advance, if possible.
Hire a driver, not an Uber
This was one of the mistakes that we made. On our first attempt to visit the Taj Mahal we’d decided to save cash by travelling with uber from New Delhi to Agra and then organise some transport back later on. We had everything booked, but due to unforeseen circumstances had to spend 2 days in hospitals instead (more on that later though). It wasn’t until we were speaking to the hospital and hotel staff afterwards that we realised the vulnerable position we were putting ourselves in. There’s no uber in Agra, so we would have had to rely on trusting a stranger and pay over the odds to get back to New Delhi. As the locals understand, uber is fine to use for short trips and costs the same as a tuk-tuk, but for longer trips it’s a risky option. In the UK we have strict rules on taxi driving, but India is a different ballgame and it didn’t take long until we read enough horror stories online to put us off for life.
We still used uber to get around New Delhi and Mumbai to avoid the sun and pollution without a problem so we could have been fine, but without a way to get of Agra, it’s not worth the risk.
More People = Less Cost
It’s basic maths but it’s also very true! If you make some new friends whilst travelling (which I guarantee you will) or you plan on travelling as a group to India itself, you’re paying for a car hire and a tour guide- both of which can take upto 8 people at a time. I travelled with my partner and we paid around £10 each for a return trip in a private volvo and a tour guide for the day. Of course, tips are expected but with the amount of information we were given from the guide and the taxi driver’s willingness to make constant drink stops, it seems perfectly reasonable! Get a few quotes and work out what works best for your group- most places pay per vehicle but others want to pay per person and could end up more expensive.
A good hotel will be able to sort your trip out for you
Receptionists, shopkeepers, families, whoever I met in India, they had some connection to a driver/tour guide/company that could organise a daytrip, we were completely overwhelmed with choices! The best bet is to speak to your hotel and have them arrange the trip for you rather than leaving it to complete strangers. After all, hotels live in fear of bad reviews and almost always will try to make your trip the best possible experience that it can be!
We arranged our trip with Hotel The Spot in New Delhi. We had a lovely stay for a modest £20 a night, though don’t expect some kind of western luxury- there were still questionable toilets and exposed wires. The receptionists were very accommodating and helped us when we needed to get to hospital and organise our day trip. There’s a small convenience stall opposite selling everything from cigarettes to kitkats (and this is genuinely where we got all our food from for an entire week). The shopkeeper always charged me twice as much as my boyfriend, which although annoying, isn’t uncommon when travelling in India.
If you do want to book your trip in advance then I would recommend emailing or calling up your hotel and seeing what advice they give you; especially as everything is so cramped, it’s sometimes difficult for company’s to find your hotel (Our hotel was based on a side street down The Grand Bazaar so we had lots of uber drivers ringing us up confused) so by booking with your hotel at least you know that they’ll be okay to find you and you’ve got the reassurance of knowing the hotel trusts your driver.
Good luck planning your trip, I’m hoping to have a day itinerary of what to see in Agra, besides the Taj Mahal so I’ll link that to this post once it’s complete. Stay tuned x