Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh approximately 200 km from Delhi. It has three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the Taj Mahal,  the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby.

Options For Traveling to Agra from Delhi

To reach Agra from Delhi there are three options:

  • Flight: It’s an hour flight from Delhi to Agra and the arrival airport is about 8 miles / 13km from the city
  • Train: It can take anywhere from 1.5-3.5 hours depending on the train. You can check schedules here. There are 5 stations in Agra. Agra Cantt is the station where most trains travel to and it’s in the heart of Agra near the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. A local friend reccomended that we take the Gatiman Express as their travel time is 1 hours and 40 minutes and they start at 7:00 am from Nizamuddin Station, Delhi. Unfortunately this train doesn’t run on a Friday when we were traveling.
  • Bus / Private Transfer: Per our research this seemed like the worst solution as the roads are congested and it could take anywhere from 3-4 hours.  Estimated cost for a private transfer is about 3,500 rupee / $53

We opted to take the train and the post below covers how we traveled from the Delhi Airport to Agra. Below is our journey from Patan outside of Kathmandu, Nepal to Agra, India. This took no less than several transfers of planes, trains, and tuk-tuk and included some watch outs for booking a train ticket in India.

Traveling to India From Nepal 

We originally had not planned to go to India but when we discussed our RTW itinerary with both of Jesse’s grandmothers they both told us that the Taj Mahal is a can’t miss even with all the trouble it takes to get there. Fortune was in our favor because a new e-visa process enabled us to very quickly add India to our itinerary after our time in Nepal. We worked with the folks at Sherpa to obtain our visa with whom we are affiliate partners. They pulled a rabbit out of a hat by securing our India visa for us within 24 hours!

Our lucky streak continued when we arrived to the airport and discovered that we were booked on business class tickets! We always look for the lowest cost option to conserve funds for our travels. We even opted to take a connection to Bombay to reach Delhi. Our booking confirmation even said economy. Imagine our excitement when we checked in and were told we were on business for both legs!

Clearing Customs in India

Due to our connection we actually cleared customs in Bombay. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they had a separate line for e-visa holders and it was actually much shorter than the regular customs lines!

Delhi to Hazarat Nizamuddin Train Station 

The Hazarat Nizamuddin Train station is about 12 miles / 20 km from the airport. We originally planned to take an Uber or prepaid taxi, but found upon arrival that we couldn’t get the Uber app to load and that there was a long wait for the pre paid cabs. We didn’t want to press our lucky with the many taxi drivers soliciting our business.

We were advised by a local to take the Airport Express metro into New Delhi. There is great signage from the airport and it’s a short 10 minute walk to the station. Two tickets were 120 rupees / $2. It was fast, efficient and we were in New Delhi in 25 minutes zipping above the congested highway of taxis leaving the airport.

We were able to get seats easily and the only time we felt crowded was exiting the metro.

New Delhi Train Station to Nizamuddin

The New Delhi Train Station is relatively well organized, to be honest we expected much worse. Upon exiting the train there is a long queue to get onto the escalator. With the exception of this, there isn’t much queuing or crowding.

The chaos comes immediately upon exiting the station. There is a cluster of traffic consisting of tuk tuks, buses, and cars. Eyeing the congestion we thought a tuk tuk was our best bet for exiting the congested area. We were able to quickly negotiate a fare of $3 / 200 rupees to the Hazarat Nizamuddin Train Station. Here is a video of our tuk tuk driver navigating his way out of the traffic around the train station. Within five minutes we were flying and on our way to the train.

Train to Agra

We did not have a confirmed train ticket to Agra as we were not sure how long it would take us to navigate from the airport to the train station. Our biggest advice to anyone else – have a confirmed train ticket. We had downloaded an app called Indian Train IRCTC that we thought would allow us to make a mobile purchase. Upon arriving to the station we selected several trains we wanted only to find out that all trains for the evening were sold out. Additionally this app doesn’t really allow you to purchase tickets it directs you to Indian Rail’s website and it’s only really good for checking train schedules.

The train for Agra pulled in as we arrived to the station and in the chaos of the train station we were also unable to find a ticket counter. We decided to get on board and try our luck at purchasing a ticket onboard. Lesson learned: you can not buy a ticket on board an Indian train.

We first entered the train in Non Air Conditioned (A/C) sleeper class (aka 4th class) but most of the seats were filled. We had a memorable experience navigating with our backpacks from sleeper class to 3rd class (which has A/C) where we found an empty berth. When the conductor came around to check tickets we were honest with our predicament and asked to pay for our seats. He was kind but gave us a lecture on taking trains in India and that riding without a ticket is a crime. In the end he sold us tickets along with a hefty fine. Class 3 seats are typically $11.50 / 750 rupees but he charged us $21.50 / 1400 rupees as a fine for coming on board without a ticket. He advised us to look for a ticket window and at least buy unreserved seat tickets. He did admit that the train was sold out and had we attempted we probably would not have been let on board.

Transportation to Agra Hotel

Once in Agra, transportation is relatively easy. There’s tuk tuks everywhere and usually cost between 100-150 rupees within Agra ($1.50-$2.25). We got in a tuk tuk outside the train station for the 3 mile/5 km ride to our hotel. He also said he had a cousin who could take us to the Taj Mahal and any other place we wanted to go the next day for $11 / 700 rupees. We met with his cousin named Pappu the next day and he turned out to be very nice and helpful and we used his tuk tuk and he even took us back to the train station when we left. We would highly recommend his services in Agra, you can reach him by messaging him on Facebook.

Transportation Back to Delhi

We tried to book a ticket online for the train back to Delhi at Indian Railways website, this time on our laptop. This system does work but you need to register on the website, get a login username and password and verify your phone number via text and as well as verify your email to use this service, so if you plan to use this we recommend doing this early especially if your phone doesn’t have data in India.

We booked two, 2nd class tickets for a 1:45 pm train the day we left (you can get your tickets via text and show to the conductor). Unfortunately after booking we didn’t get seats and the tickets said RLWL (Remote Location Wait List). So we went to the train station ticket window that morning and were told only non A/C sleeper class tickets were available so we bought sleeper class tickets for $2.50 / 180 rupees and cancelled our 2nd Class tickets that were not confirmed (its very easy to cancel tickets and get money refunded if it’s not within 3 hours of the train). The man at the ticket window said if we talk to the conductor after we board, we can buy into the upgraded classes if seats are available for the normal 1st, 2nd or 3rd class ticket prices.

The train back was a different experience. Our train was 90 minutes late, we hung around on the platform and saw some rats, monkies, and stray dogs with tumors roaming around. Trains being late is very common in India so bring a book, preferably a large one.

There were a few other western tourists traveling as well who had booked sleeper class on our train because it was the only one available. Unfortunately, the 2:05 pm train to Delhi came before our 1:45 pm train came. All of the western tourists boarded because we were tired of waiting although we went to separate places on the train.

When the conductor came we played dumb like we didn’t know we boarded the wrong train (we boarded in 2nd class). He said we could buy a ticket (he quoted the $21 / 1400 rupees price we paid on the way here) or we could get off the next stop in 45 minutes and wait for our train which he said was 15 minutes behind the one we were one. I checked the Indian Railways app and it was only 15 minutes behind. So we exited the train, boarded our scheduled train and upgraded to 2nd class by purchasing the ticket from the conductor for $11.50 / 750 rupees which is the normal ticket price.

The difficult part of our journey was done. Unfortunately the train stopped right outside of Delhi for an hour and took 4.5 hours instead of 3 hours (on top of being 1.5 hours late to begin with). But as we were told this is par for the course.

Lessons Learned

1) Book at least 2 days in Advance – Sometimes this is not possible, but trains sell out in India so if at all possible plan earlier. The earlier you book the more likely you will have a confirmed seat when you book.

2) If you don’t have a ticket don’t board – Indian rail conductors are strict about enforcing ticket rules. It’s very easy to upgrade when you board and have a train ticket, but if you don’t have one, you will pay an arm and a leg for your ticket.

3) Don’t cut anything close and prepare for long delays – There’s more than a good chance your train won’t arrive on time at its destination so don’t plan for it to. Also bring books, movie or a pen and paper for the novel you plan to work on and finish during your Indian train experience. The good news is once your on the train they are fairly comfortable so it’s not the worst place to be.