A few months ago, I was invited by the people at Padhaaro to enjoy a local experience with them in any of the cities they offer their travel experiences in. Padhaaro is an interesting enterprise, offering customised and offbeat tours in different cities, seen through the eyes of a local (expert). This way, you get to see the side of a city that you may otherwise miss, or not even be aware of.
Right now, they have local “greeters” in 18 Indian cities. And I chose Agra during my December trip. In Agra, there is a choice of activities, from viewing the Taj Mahal along with a local, to exploring Agra on a bicycle, to food tours. We had the unique and extremely fun experience of exploring old Agra in a battery powered rickshaw. Our guide was Amit Sisodia, who came with years of experience in the travel trade in Agra.
And so we set off, on Sunday morning, in the super dense fog. We took the rickshaw to a main spot and then walked our way through the crowded markets and narrow lanes. Agra, to most travellers, is about the Taj Mahal. And to the more adventurous, or those with more time on their hands, it is also about the lesser monuments like Agra Fort and Itimad Ud Daula. But on this tour, I came to discover the rich multicultural history of Agra, starting with Dara Shikoh’s library from the mid 17th century. This red sandstone building used to be a centre for scholarship and studies during Shah Jahan’s time, under the patronage of Aurangzeb’s brother.
We then went on to wander through the old markets of Agra and had a pitstop at Jami Masjid. I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to interact with locals and find some great photo ops. We stopped to admire old, exquisite buildings all along the way, with interesting inputs from Amit.
We then found ourselves at some old churches – the most fascinating of them called Akbar’s Church. After that, a Roman Catholic Cemetery, filled with memories and whispers from centuries ago.
Amit then took us to a small eatery for a brunch of the Agra special bhedei aloo and jalebi, before dropping us back to the hotel. In all, it was a great morning, with an experience of Agra that my husband and I will cherish. Although I knew in a vague manner that there was a thriving old part of the city, I would have never been able to discover it on my own. So I am thankful to Padhaaro for helping me discover this.
The next time you are in any of these cities, go ahead and given yourself an unforgettable Padhaaro experience.