Beyond Taj



chambal river safari
During the River Safari on the Chambal

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 definitely a YES but you need to spend a couple of nights at minimum to discover some of these places. Let no guidebook or guide tell you otherwise. Agra and it's neighboring areas has a wealth of experiences for everyone.

Here are my favorite destinations, some in the city and others within a couple of hours from Agra. Let me know if you would like to visit any of them. 


If this is your first time to Agra, then I can show you or arrange a guide (known to me who does not waste your time taking you to shops) for the Taj, Fort and other monuments/walks and if you are in my city for more than a night then we can visit some of these off-the-beaten track places.


Bateshwara Temple Circuit

The Bateshwara Temple Circuit comprises of Bateshwara Temples, Padhavali and Mitawali all within a few kilometers from each other. The temples are on the way to Gwalior and completely 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 sort of truce with the then dacoits (bandits) who lived in the surrounding Chambal ravines. As you can see from the photos below, architecturally these (some are 1200+ year old) temples are outstanding and some of the finest that I have seen in all my travels.


Bateshwar Temples Morena
Bateshwara Temples Morena


Bateshwara Temples are a group of 200+ temples dedicated to the Gods - Vishnu and Shiva. Some temples appear to have been destroyed by invading armies and others fallen due to an earthquake. I compare this complex to Angor Wat in Cambodia although much smaller in size. I was told by the local ASI employees there are some 100 temples out of the 200 scattered all around the area that are yet to be excavated and restored. I think there is more to be discovered and we have barely scratched the surface (literally).



Mitawali Temple
Mitawali Temple

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.

Temple in Garhi Padavali
Carvings in the Temple in Garhi Padavali


Padhavali or Garhi Padavali is actually a fort with a beautiful Shiva temple - the main attraction which was built much before the fortress was. The inscriptions and intricate details of the temple are stunning, intact and pictorially narrate several stories from Indian mythology. 

To get to these places you need to organize your own transport, I wouldn't recommend public transport as it is unreliable and you may attract unwanted attention if you've got fancy cameras and the like. Best to visit during daylight hours and carry water and some food. On the way back to Agra from the temples, make sure to buy some of the famous Morena gajjak - sesame seeds and brown sugar dessert that feels like a cookie but isn't really. Women, please dress conservatively as you are visiting temples and are driving through villages where you really don't want to attract unwanted attention. Alternatively, I can take you to these places too. I have a team of locals, some travel with me while we tour these places.

Chambal River Safari

Indian Skimmers Chambal River
Indian Skimmers in flight on the Chambal River

On the way back from the Bateshwar Temple Circuit you can stop on the Chambal River and do a boat safari. The river safari is absolutely safe and the people running the show are qualified to do so. You can spot huge marsh crocodiles, gharials, turtles and migratory birds. 

Striped Hyena on the Chambal River
Female Striped Hyena on the banks of the Chambal River




















If you are lucky you may spot hyena, jackal, jungle cat and the extremely rare Gangetic dolphin. I recommend you do the safari for at least 2 hours. The safari is best done from October/November to March/April, other than that it's either too hot to be on the boat or the monsoon when the Sanctuary is closed for visitors. 


Chambal Ravine Walk

Chambal Ravine Walk
Entering the 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 by seasonal rivers and streams that have deposited sand with gushing water creating a network of criss-crossing crevices. Over time some of these crevices have widened enough to become trails which are now used by man and animal. Most lead to the Chambal river. The ravines are very deep and if you enter them unguided and unless you have an aerial view which gives you a sense of direction on where to go or you are 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. I hope through this walk you get to experience a mysterious yet historic eco system, one that was most feared, talked, written and filmed (Bollywood movies) about and politicized, yet remains as the primary lifeline for the locals - man and animal. 

Indian Mongoose on Chambal
Indian Mongoose

Expect to see wildlife during the walk 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 crocodiles, gharials and turtles basking by the banks. The terrain is partly uphill and scrubby with thorns. Wear pants, full sleeved shirts and sturdy walking shoes, a cap, sun glasses and water. Please travel light. My walks can be customized to your fitness level and ends with a picnic where I provide you light refreshments overlooking the beehad and the Chambal river. 

Agra Heritage City Walks / Photo Walks

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, havelis, 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 have in-depth knowledge of the area they're walking you through.

Holipura - Heritage Village


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 Holipura, a small unbeknownst village which has some 30 300+ year old havelis owned by the Chaturvedi clan. The Chaturvedi's were rich landlords back in the day but gradually moved away from land ownership and agriculture to government services. Some of these brick mansions have dilapidated over time, others have 5th-6th generation Chaturvedis 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 this clean rural village you will see several artistically made massive mansions, some interconnected with hallways, indicating these families were related and shared a strong family bond - typical of most Indian families back then.












Holipura havelis near Agra
Inside a haveli in Holipura
During the tour, we will also be able to see the insides of some of the havelis.


Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary & Heritage Walk

An hour away from Agra is the famous Keoladeo National Park or Ghana as coined by the locals. This used to the former hunting grounds of Bharatpur's royal family and is now a 25 square kilometer national park that attracts thousands of birds each year. You can rent a rickshaw, a bi-cycle or a golf cart or simply walk to see the park and it's inhabitants. Carry your identification cards, water and something to munch on. You can also hire a guide and if you do, make sure you ask him to take you off the main road that splits the sanctuary into two and walk you through one of the nature trails. 


I can show you my favorite nature trails in the Park too. On these trails you can see mammals such as the neel gai (blue bull), jackal, sambhar deer, spotted deer, mongoose etc. The National Park is open from sunrise to sunset. If you're into birding then you will most likely want to hang out here the entire day. 

Cycling in Keoladeo National Park
Cycling in Keoladeo National Park


If you are not a birder and have a couple of hours to spare then you can visit Fatehpur Sikri which is 15 km before Bharatpur (if driving from Agra) or do a walk of Bharatpur's built heritage. The heritage walk is conducted by locals working for an NGO trying very hard to maintain and restore the city's built heritage. In smaller towns across India rampant encroachment is causing our legacy and history to vanish right before our eyes.

Keetham Lake and Bear Rescue Facility

On the old Delhi - Agra highway and much before Mathura (if you are driving towards Delhi) lies Kheetam Lake and the Bear Rescue Facility run by Wildlife SoS (NGO). Both the Lake and the Bear Rescue Facility are in Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary. Get there early to avoid the traffic. Like Bharatpur, Keetham is host to several migratory birds including scores of pelicans and flamingos and is a peaceful and green natural habitat worth a visit. Once you park your car, you can walk along the lake and also go beyond it (not many venture there as the entry gate is closed but in fact there is a side entrance that you can use to walk through). 

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

Entry tickets for Keetham and the Facility can be purchased at the gate. Bear Rescue Facility asks for a donation in exchange for a short visit. This amount goes directly to the upkeep of the rescued Indian sloth bears. These bears were once used in the animal trade and as a child I would see the bears 'dance' on the highway all the time. Declared illegal in the last 90s, the bears were rescued from the people who profited from their trade. Some of the bears were blinded, others missing paws or noses! The facility has some 200 bears and does a great job at taking care of them.


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.
  • To prevent any disturbance to wildlife, I do not permit the use of any call playback to attract birds, feeding or baiting of wildlife. Despite this, if you do and are caught by the authorities or called out by locals or fellow wildlife enthusiasts, then you are entirely on your own - embarrassment, fines and other penalties as per the local laws governing national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are to be borne by you.

                      Contact kunal@totravelwith.com or call +91 9717148483.

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