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Visiting the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan Independently

Updated: May 27

This itinerary for visiting the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan is an alternative to India's famous Golden Triangle tourist circuit.


Whilst you can find a huge amount of tours taking you around this area of India (and charging you a pretty penny) - if you prefer independent travel like me, I've got you!


In this version I choose to high-tail it out of Delhi pretty swiftly, and spend more time traversing through Rajasthan; a state in the northwest of India that shares the Thar Desert with neighbouring Pakistan.


It is known for colourful clothes, camels, forts and palaces... but there is so much more to it than that!



CONTENTS




The Taj Mahal in all her glory
The Taj Mahal in all her glory

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may get a commission if you make a purchase through this website, at no cost to you. I only link to products I use and love.


 


New Delhi


As your gateway to North India, the first stop when visiting the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan independently will likely be New Delhi.


Even after 5 trips to India and more than 18 months spent in the country, I can't handle New Delhi as a solo traveller. It's a horrible city, dangerously polluted, hard to navigate, where everyone 'wants to help you' but in actuality, everyone is trying to rip you off.


I really, really tried to find the city's charming side, but I failed.


So my first piece of advice would be to immediately leave New Delhi.



 


How to Travel from New Delhi to Agra


UBER


There is an Uber pick-up point in one of the lower car parks of Indira Gandhi International Airport.


I paid 4000rs (£40) for the 4-hour Uber trip from Delhi to Agra. This is quite steep compared to public transport, but to split the cost, it's not uncommon to approach other tourists at the airport and see if they want to share with you.


I have ride-shared with other female travellers in India a few times, judging the situation at the time and deciding that it felt safe to do so.



TRAIN (best option)


A cheaper and only slightly more complicated option is the train - you can take a taxi from the airport to New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS) for 600rs. From here, you can take a 4-hour train to Agra Cantt (AGC), departing several times a day. BUY THE TICKET AT THE STATION.


Depending on class this ticket price is 50rs upwards. I always go for 2AC when possible, but for more details on train classes and a step-by-step guide to buying a train ticket in India, check out my guide: Train Travel in India for Tourists ( + Train Classes).



 

FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for India, do what I do, and have a browse on Travel Supermarket - choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


 


Staying in Agra


You can find cheap guesthouses in Agra using booking.com.


The first time I visited Agra I arrived really late in the evening and the guesthouse owner had waited up for me, which was a good sign. The place was close to the Taj Mahal, and it was less than 400 rs per night.


It featured a hard bed with no mattress, a very dirty shared bathroom, a dribbly cold water tap, a working fan, and a clean sheet. You do get what you pay for!


A hard pallet to sleep on and a quick cold shower isn't the worst thing in the world, and I was in a gated building with a very kind guesthouse owner so this was more important to me.



I Dream of Mangoes in budget accommodation in Agra in India
Slumming it in Agra

 


The Best Way to See the Taj Mahal


You do not need a tour to visit the Taj Mahal, but the following advice may be helpful...


The ticket booth just outside the gate opens 45 minutes before sunrise - so I recommend being the first one there.


To tell the truth, I wasn't that fussed about seeing the Taj Mahal initially, architecture isn't really my thing, and I was well aware that it had been built off the backs of about 20,000 slaves and 1000 elephants.


However, I am so glad I went. I was blown away, it really exceeded all of my expectations!


The details in the carvings, the symmetry, it really is fantastically beautiful. The most beautiful tomb I've ever seen anyway! It was built at the behest of Shah Jahan in the 17th century, to pay tribute and house the body of his favourite wife Mumtaz. She died at the age of 39 whilst giving birth to her 14th child. Yikes!


Entry to the Taj Mahal is a whopping 1100 rs for foreigners. For Indian nationals, it's MUCH less, but this is the norm. Otherwise, local people would be out-priced by their own country's attractions. I've never had a problem with paying more for things like this.


You can expect to spend about 2 hours wandering around. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.


I Dream of Mangoes at the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal

 


How to Spend One Day in Agra



AGRA FORT


It is possible to walk the 2.5km from the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort - but getting a rickshaw is also a good option.


The only place I've ever seen a rickshaw driver use their meter is in Mumbai, so there's no point arguing with them to turn it on, no matter what you read online.


Just make sure you agree on a price before you jump in and that you have the correct change. This length of a journey should cost something in the region of 200rs. You can also use Uber for rickshaws in Agra.


To enter the fort it will cost you 600rs as a foreigner, and I would highly recommend grabbing an audio guide (headphones) on your way in. It gives you a lot more context to understand and appreciate the beautiful architecture that you're looking at. Allow 2 hours to visit, it's open from sunrise to sunset.



Agra fort
Agra Fort


Just down the way, about a 10-minute walk away, is Agra Fort Train Station, where you can book train tickets into Rajasthan.


When I arrived they didn't have any first-class tickets left for the next day, so I booked a third-class seat to Jaipur, anticipating that this was going to be an experience!! There was also third-class standing available, but I didn't fancy that for a 5-hour journey!



MARKETS


In the early evening, after visiting the fort and grabbing a bite, my friends and I went to check out the spice markets. We were warned quite sternly by the guesthouse owner to BE CAREFUL on the streets, as Agra has a bit of a reputation crime-wise, being especially bad for pick-pockets.


So long trousers, valuables tucked away, bags switched to the front side, on our merry way. Oh and ELBOWS OUT LADIES (want to know why? Read my article on Travel Tips for India)


We found lots of tangles of streets of shops of all kinds, it was very crowded, loud, and exhilarating!


At one point we got stuck in a bottleneck of mopeds and people, nobody could move it was so jammed, and then a huge cow came striding through the middle of the crowd, using its horns it picked up a man by his trousers and flung him to the side of the road, also knocking over several mopeds. LITERALLY PLOUGHING THROUGH the sea of people and vehicles with not a care in the world.


Needless to say after some yelping I followed the cow out of the only exit of this whirlpool of people. The whole experience took my breath away - it was so strange!



SHEROES


This is an absolute must when visiting The Taj Mahal and Rajasthan independently.


If you have time, I strongly urge you to visit the Sheroes Hangout cafe in Agra, run by women who are victims of acid attacks, often at the hands of their own families.


I won't lie to you, the food is not the best, but the ambience is great and the support you're showing these strong and inspirational women is priceless.



 


How to Travel from Agra to Rajasthan


OK so, this train journey from Agra to Jaipur is up there alongside the Mali Ghat Flower Market (read about that in my article on Calcutta) as one of the wildest experiences of my life.


You will not get experiences like this on organised tours.


I had booked a morning train, third class seat, from Agra Fort Station to Jaipur. The journey was expected to take 4-5 hours.


For the first few stops the train was pretty quiet, my ticket was checked, and I even managed a cheeky lie down across 3 seats. Little did I know.


30 minutes in, a handful of people board, 40 minutes, okay a few more, next stop, I SEE THE SWARMS.


How so many people can fit in one carriage is incredible. People climb over each other shouting and elbowing each other out of the way, meanwhile, I'm sinking into my chair in terror.


When the train departs the station we are not sardines WE ARE A BOWL OF SPAGHETTI. People are just hanging all over each other (the men were careful not to touch the females, as it should be) but MY GOSH. For the next 4 hours, we all suffocated.


Every time the train stopped more people tried to get on, I can't even fathom how.


At one point a mother and her kids couldn't make it to the door, so they were all passed through the window to people on the platform. Everybody working together (not me, I was too flabbergasted to be useful). The train started moving and I wasn't even sure the last kid would make it through the window in time, but thankfully he did.


I know I have rambled on for a really long time about this but I just don't think I can find the words to explain how mental this journey was.


Normally on Indian trains, the journeys are lively, with vendors running through at every stop with snacks and chai for sale. But this train was something else. Every bit of spare air space was occupied by limbs. Surreal!





 


Rajasthan


There's a lot to see here, and travelling Rajasthan independently means you can chunk up your time however you like.


The state has great bus links (or trains if you're feeling brave) and you can start in Jaipur, hit as many as you want, and loop back around to Jaipur as a hub to go onto your next destination, or to travel back to New Delhi.



 


JAIPUR

~The Pink City~

Hawa Mahal Palace
Hawa Mahal Palace

Things to Do in Jaipur


  • Visit the Jantar Mantar

  • Hawa Mahal Palace by day and night

  • Markets - a great city to walk around in, with plenty of scarves, jewellery, shoes, and books.

  • Catch the breeze and sip on cocktails in one of Jaipur's many rooftop restaurants



WARNING!

**DO NOT GO TO CHOKHI DHANI**

I'm not normally one to write such a scathing review but this was an absolute shambles. We only went because our tattoo artist recommended it (for some reason?) Dubbed a 'cultural village' - this was far from culture, It was a fake, tacky, plastic construct, there were even dinosaurs (WTF?), the food was rubbish, and the only thing that may have made it slightly less awful was the bottle of gin in my handbag - which was confiscated on the way in. This place is a joke. I repeat. Do not waste your time.



 


JODHPUR

~The Blue City~

Jodphur
The Blue City

Things to Do in Jodhpur:


  • Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum - this was really cool. One of the better palaces I've been to, with an impressive vintage car collection and old menus from back in the day.

  • Shopping, amazing shopping! Jodhpur is especially famous for its Bazaars selling beautiful fabrics. *See note.

  • Toorji Kha Jhalra - really beautiful step walls, leading to water wells.

  • THE BEST OMELETTE IN THE WORLD - situated by the clock tower.



* THE SCAM *


Jodhpur is renowned for scams. There are scouts on the streets, and they will KNOW when it is your first day in the city, which is when you're the easiest target.

They might say ''oh hey, I'm a chef in your hotel" (NOT TRUE) or they'll ask you:


  1. Where are you staying? This way they know how much you are spending on a hotel, so they'll know your budget and how much they can reasonably fleece you for.

  2. How long have you been in India? If you've been here a while, they'll assume you're a bit more savvy.

  3. Where are you from? This is the one!!! This gets you talking, as they know you don't want to be rude, they might say a cheeky sentence in your language, to get you on side.



THEN. You're shown to 'a really genuine shop' - where they will lay out rugs made for Valentino, Hermes, Habitat......THIS IS NOT REAL. They change their shop names CONSTANTLY because of all the bad TripAdvisor Reviews *Cough Cough Maharani Textiles*. It's all extremely overpriced and fake. There are multiple layers and facets to this scam.


Rule number 1? Don't buy anything on the first day. Go away and think about it.


If you want to save yourself all of this hassle, jump in a rick and ask to be taken to a government-run emporium for guaranteed quality and set prices. Please be aware there are many fake government-run emporiums too!



 


UDAIPUR

~The White City~

Udaipur
The White City

Things to Do in Udaipur:


  • Take a miniature painting class

  • Visit Animal Aid Unlimited

  • Udaipur is a very walkable city, so hit the streets and get lost!

  • Lake Pichola views, restaurants, or a sunset boat tour

  • Bagar Ki Haveli Cultural Tour

  • Try a Bhang Lassi (a ground cannabis shake) - but be sensible!



 

JAISALMER

~The Golden City~

Sadly I never visited this city of sandcastles, it looks glorious. Go for it!


Jailsalmer
The Golden City

 


PUSHKAR


Pushkar camels
Pushkar is home to the world-famous camel festival

One of India's seven sites of holy pilgrimage for Hindus, Pushkar is a town of approx. 4 hours by train from Jaipur. Dazzling lanes of jewellery stores and cafes, all surround the beautiful Pushkar Lake.


I really wish I could have been there in the Hindu month of Kartika (Oct/Nov) for their amazing Camel festival.



 



*Don't miss the festival of colour*


HOLI FESTIVAL is really big in Rajasthan. If you want to join in with the colourful festivities try to time your trip in India to reach here in March. I've never timed it right myself, but it's on my list!



 


When to Go to Rajasthan


Oh Yeah! So. Not quite as drastically important as in other states, because even though there is a 'monsoon season' it doesn't rain as torrentially. It's VERY HOT April - June (sometimes 45-48C), but it's a dry heat which I find much more bearable than the humidity of Kerala.


Plus Side? You can throw your freshly washed clothes on the balcony floor and they'll dry in about 15 seconds.


It's recommended to visit October - March but I would say any time is good. Just drink plenty of water, avoid going out between noon and 3 pm, and make sure you get a room with AC or a good, strong, fan; AND PRAY THERE ISN'T A POWER CUT.


When travelling I SWEAR by this sunblock - it is the only one that doesn't make me sweat profusely as it is zinc, it lasts forever, and it gives my face and chest full protection from the hot Indian sun!



 


There is so much to do when visiting the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan, and without a tour, you have much more freedom to get lost in the chaos!


Thank you for reading my post on visiting the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan independently. If you enjoyed the read, please consider subscribing to my blog where I post articles once every 1-2 weeks about my current travels around the world.


I don't feel like I've covered all of it by any means. Often referred to as 'The Jewel in India's Crown', there are heaps of magical festivals all throughout the year. Keep up to date with these through the Rajasthan Tourism Board:



They also have some really good Do's and Dont's for foreign tourists whilst visiting the state, it's definitely worth a read:


As always, any questions? Hit the comments below.

If you're planning a trip to India please check out my post with a pre-departure checklist for India and more travel tips!


Happy Travels!

xx



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Disclosure:
I Dream of Mangoes is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. That being said, I only link to products I use and love.

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