April saw one of the few long weekends we are blessed with in 2022 and one of the last in the year’s first half. Since Shipra and I were both spending time in Delhi, we figured it might be a good time to get out for a weekend getaway. While there are many places to go to from Delhi, we decided on heading to Agra. Agra has been long on my list of places to go, given I have long-standing family ties there, and I hadn’t returned to the city in maybe twenty years, and never with Shipra.
An easy driving distance from Delhi, we decided to drive to Agra as we’d never driven on the new Yamuna Expressway between Delhi and Agra. The drive was pretty smooth, and you could drive at a comfortable 100 kmph through and through. We made it to Agra in about 3.5 hours after leaving home early, not including the time spent fueling up the car and on a highway halt for breakfast.
We chose to stay at the Taj Hotel and Convention Centre, Agra, one of the newest hotels to open up in Agra. The hotel was the earlier Radisson and was reflagged as a Taj property in 2019. It is also very close to the highway as you enter the city and close to the Taj Mahal. It made a lot of sense to go there for all of these reasons.
Arriving at the Taj Hotel, Agra
We arrived at the Taj Hotel, Agra, at about 11:30 AM, and as we entered the hotel, we were accorded a traditional welcome with an Aarti, and the team were ready to check us in. The hotel is over 300 rooms, and it was prime check-out time given the large number of weddings they were hosting at the hotel on the days we were there. So, the front desk crew had our key cards prepared, and they brought us straight to our room. The check-in formalities were completed in the room.
The Taj Hotel, Agra Deluxe Suite
While we were initially booked in a Superior Room, we were proactively upgraded to the Deluxe Suite by the hotel, perhaps given our status with the Taj Inner Circle programme. We were eventually put up in a corner suite on the 4th floor, and it looks like it was one of the two largest rooms on the floor.
The Deluxe Suite had a living area, a bedroom, and an enclosed bath. The living room had a work desk, a couch and a dining table.
The dining area had some very comfortable chairs, and in fact, a couple of the calls that bothered me over this long weekend were done from here, rather than the work desk at the other end of the room.
The coffee ensemble had a supply of Lavazza coffee, which was great, in my opinion.
The rest of the living room had ample space to sprawl out, whether on the couch or the solo side couch with an ottoman. The work desk was nice, but I was working off the dining table because the glass top wasn’t my style, and I could not adapt.
A television right across the sofa completed the room. A hand sanitiser was placed in the room in case we needed it.
Right about the corner was the powder room.
Here is a quick peep into the bedroom.
There was a small setup to get your morning cuppa and a dotted view of the Taj Mahal by the windows. Although it was so sunny throughout the time, we were there that we usually kept the curtains drawn.
The bed was comfortable, and I always appreciated hotels with plug points on both sides of the bed more than the kinds that don’t. It makes life easy travelling as a couple not to give up your side of the bed so your partner can plug in their phone for charging overnight.
Besides the usual, the closet and the luggage rack were in the bedroom corner. Just sitting there quietly.
The bathroom was the usual: a tub, a shower area, a basin, and a see-through glass window.
One of the reasons to love the Taj Hotels has to be their usage of the toiletries from Forest Essentials. These never go wrong, and I sometimes even pinch a few if there is a new fragrance I run into.
When we arrived in the room, a welcome amenity was already waiting for us, placed on the centre table. It had the usual suspects and some of the popular petha, which Agra is known for.
However, when we stepped out for lunch, we got back to another amenity, which had the most incredible rendition of the Taj Mahal, an edible one in white chocolate, waiting for us.
Not just that, some other nibbles were also placed along, including local favourite Dalmoth and mathri.
Taj View Rooms
The hotel has a whole assortment of rooms, and if you’d like a definite view of the Taj Mahal from your room, you should book one which guarantees you the view. These rooms are marked specifically, and even the door states that there is a view. We asked to have a look at one such room.
Dining at the Taj Agra
While there are many restaurants at the Taj Agra, the centre of all action is the all-day dining restaurant, Palato.
We headed to Palato a couple of times during our time at the hotel. Once for breakfast and once for lunch. The restaurant is relatively spacious and has an airy feel, but during busy times, which the weekend we stayed at was about, it got crowded, and I saw some people had to wait to get seated. Go early if you are going there during a busy period.
A community table was also set up in a corner, and right behind it was the bar (not pictured).
The first afternoon, after we arrived, we headed straight for lunch after checking in. We tried out the buffet lunch, which had a nice mix of Indian, Western and pan-Asian delicacies on display. I remember noticing some things included noodles, fried rice, vegetables in black bean sauce, Thai Curries, Caponata, Creamy Pumpkin, Gobi Adraki, Veg Pulao, Kadai Paneer, Dal Tadka and many others.
The salads were delicious, and there were heaps of them, even on my plate.
There were live counters, but we did not try them. You could get an excellent Pasta, for instance. Breads were served on the table. Desserts were by the heaps, but I’m usually interested in trying the Indian desserts, and that is what I did indeed.
As I said, the salads were good.
The chef sent some fresh preparations from the kitchen to our table as Shipra felt like trying some of the pan-Asian food, and it was pretty flavourful. The thing with saying yes to the chef anywhere is that they will make sure you don’t go back hungry and then some!
For dessert, I tried the Malpua with Rabri, which was terrific.
In the evening, we had stepped out for a trip to the Taj Mahal (more on that later), and we last went to the local market, which had fantastic Chaat. If you don’t know this about Agra, the local chaat is terrific, and you should head to Sadar Bazar’s Chaat Gali to try some.
Fun fact, they call an Aalu Tikki a Bhalla in Agra.
When we got back to the hotel, we were tired but slightly peckish and did not want to eat a full meal. So the hotel suggested we try out the rooftop lounge and restaurant called Infini. It was a dry day, so no alcobevs were being served, but we got a nice view of the silhouette of the Taj Mahal with our little Pizza and conversations. They don’t shine a light on the Taj during the dark, so just a silhouette can be seen at night. The pizza was made in a wood-fired oven and very delicious, and just hit the spot for us.
The next day we tried out the local breakfast on the streets of Agra and got around to the hotel after a trip to the Agra Fort, one of the many other historical wonders of the city. We could not make it to the Baby Taj and some other places we intended to go to on the second day, which was a full day due to the heat. In the evening, we grabbed a drink at the Liquid Lounge, and dinner was at the Daawat-e-Nawaab, which is a speciality Indian restaurant that was just reopened on the day we were there.
The restaurant had all the details of an experiential restaurant, and since most of the residents this evening were off to an event at the hotel banquet, we were perhaps the first people to dine there in the evening.
There is a mega menu at the restaurant, but perhaps the best idea to do an experiential meal here is to choose from one of their fix-price meals, or Daawat’s as they call it. There are two sizes, Choti (Small) and Badi (Large). We went for the Daawat, which started with a Soup (Shorba)
It was a great experience, but we should have done one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian one to try a bit more. Trust me; we were stuffed to the brim trying to finish this off. A bread basket accompanied.
And if that looked like a lot of food, there were the desserts we forgot about. We asked the restaurant to bring us one portion to share between us. That is some delicious Khajoor Badam ka Halwa and Khubani ki Kheer. Both were amazing.
Besides the restaurants at the hotel, we had the hotel send us some tea in the room, which came in good time, with some snacks.
Other hotel facilities and amenities
The hotel has two pools, one on an intermittent level of the hotel, alongside the gym and the spa and the other on the rooftop. The rooftop one had all the traffic, perhaps because of the views, but I’d prefer the other pool for a quick dip.
There is also a spa. However, we did not get enough time to go there and treat ourselves. The hotel had an excellent gymnasium as well. Given the fried food that you’d eat if you eat local, you’ll need the gym to work it off.
Besides, the hotel has lined up the common area across the floors with facts about Agra, the Taj Mahal and various other tidbits. It becomes very interesting if you take some time to read it all.
For kids, the hotel has a puppet show organised every evening. Even elders can join, of course. Every evening, the hotel also has a Noor-E-Taj show, which runs for 30 minutes frequently the evening on the hotel premises. The hotel management suggests you attend it before you visit the Taj so that you are better prepared to know about the history and what to look out for on your visit to the monument.
Although I have to admit, in our case, we knew everything because we’d already visited the monument on the day of arrival (Thursday), and we saw this mini-show on Friday, the day on which the Taj Mahal is closed to the public.
Visiting the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort
When you are so close to the Taj Mahal, and up for the touristy stuff in Agra, it makes sense to go and make a trip. While we intended to head to the Taj on Saturday, the weather turned better on Thursday, the day we arrived, so we changed our mind. The hotel concierge desk reached out to one of their trusted guides (authorised by the UP Tourism), who met us in the hotel’s lobby in the evening.
He took over, brought us to the monument, organised tickets, and took us to the Taj Mahal. We found his depth of knowledge excellent. And he knew just the right spots to bring his customers to for their pictures as well. Our guide was very conversant in English and Hindi and took excellent images. Eventually, we had the same guide to bring us to the Agra Fort the next day.
If you are looking for a luxurious experience and a stay close to the Taj Mahal itself, the Taj Agra is one of the closest you can stay to the monument. I found the hotel was great for a two-night stay, and indeed, we wanted to extend our stay for a night, but they were sold out, so we had to wrap up in two nights itself. Unfortunately, many folks go to Agra just to see the Taj Mahal, but there are so many more places to visit and experience in Agra that it could easily be a 2-3 night trip, and you could still ask for more.
Have you stayed at the Taj Hotel and Convention Centre, Agra? What has been your experience like?
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