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. 


For details on up-coming Beyond Taj group tours or for a customized private tour, please contact kunal@totravelwith.com / +919717148483.


Agra street food
Making Aloo Bedvi - Agra's street food

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. Here are my favorite destinations, some in the city and others within a couple of hours from Agra. 

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 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 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 you will get to see in your travels in this part of the country.


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 (or due to man-made blasts by the stone mining mafia). The antiquity and isolation of these temples reminds me of the temples in Siem Reap in Cambodia. According to some, there are another 100 temples scattered all around the area that are yet to be excavated and restored. 

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. 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.

Temple in Garhi Padavali
Carvings in the Temple in Garhi Padavali

Padhavali or Garhi Padavali is actually a fortress (built in the 18th century) that was constructed around a 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. 


chambal river safari dolphins
Dolphin spotting on the Chambal

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. Your base should be either Agra or Gwalior. 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 Temples we 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 marsh crocodiles, critically endangered gharials, turtles and migratory birds including the Indian skimmer and black bellied tern. Read more about this experience here.

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




















If you are lucky you may spot a desert fox, hyena, jackal, jungle cat and the extremely rare Gangetic river dolphin. I recommend you do the safari for at least 2 hours. The safari is best done from November to mid March, 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 due to soil erosion. During the monsoon, rainfall would erode the top soil and water would form a network of criss crossing gullies till it emptied in to the Chambal river. 

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 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 / 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, 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.


Beyond Taj
Itmad-ud-daulah

If you are done with the Taj, then I can also guide you to other monuments such as Itmad-ud-daulah (also referred by many as the Baby Taj) and Mehtab Bagh - the moonlit garden. The view of the Taj from Mehtab Bagh when the sun sets is outstanding and gives you an unbelievable perspective to the iconic monument's beauty and grandeur.

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.

Birdwatching in and around Agra

Visit this link for birdwatching in and around Agra.

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

Group tour itineraries normally include the following (but can be further customized):
  • Day 1: Arrive Agra by Gatiman train from Delhi. Visit to Itmad-ud-daulah & Mehtab Bagh. Stay in Agra
  • Day 2: Bateshwar temples in Morena & Chambal River Safari. Stay in Agra.
  • Day 3: Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. Depart by Gatiman train to Delhi.

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.

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

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