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Visiting the Taj Mahal is one thing and watching it gleam under the light of a full moon is another altogether. A night tour of the marble mausoleum is available on five nights every month, including the night on which the full moon appears and two nights before and after its appearance. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) sells tickets for these tours 24 hours before they commence, although a tentative list of dates is available on the official government website of the Taj Mahal. The viewing tour takes place between 8.30 pm and 12.30 am in a series of batches, each batch comprising about 50 people, who get to behold the monument in all its moonlit glory for about 30 minutes. The number of people allowed to visit within one night is around 400. Visitors are required to reach the assembling venue half an hour before their slot, at the Shilpgram complex. This is located near the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal. Entry inside the monument is not allowed at night, and visitors can view it only from a distance. Bags and mobile phones are not allowed on these night tours, albeit cameras are, but only for still photography. There are no night tours organised on Fridays or during the holy month of Ramadan. The calendars mentioning the full moon dates are released well in advance and since these follow astrological signs, it should be kept in mind that they may vary.
Agra is truly a shopper’s haven, whether it be simple, inexpensive souvenirs or luxurious testaments to the city’s artisanal heritage, there is plenty on offer at the budget of your choosing: from intricate marble and soft stone inlay work, leatherware and brassware to carpets, jewellery and embroidery work. There are several local markets that offer a variety of things you can take home as memorabilia. Some of the most popular among these are Sadar Bazaar, Subhash Bazaar, Kinari Bazaar, Raja-ki-Mandi, Sanjay Place, Fatehabad Road, Munro Road, Shilphaat, and the Taj Mahal Complex. Sadar Bazaar, located close to the Taj Mahal, features hundreds of small shops that sell ethnic accessories, clothes and local handicrafts. It is particularly renowned for its leather products, including excellent quality shoes at reasonable prices. Subhash Bazaar is known for silk products, especially sarees. Kinari Bazaar, a favourite with locals and tourists alike, is popularly believed to offer some of the best jewellery in Agra. From delicate trinkets to heavy silver earrings and neck-pieces, it offers you plenty of choices and styles. You’ll also find fabric, spices and marble work here, alongside a series of snack stalls to keep you going as you shop to your heart’s content.
For a slightly different experience, you can also head to the Shahganj Bazaar, which includes one of the best vegetable markets in the city, or Hing Ki Mandi, the city’s famous shoe market. Shopping at Government Emporia is recommended for authenticity and better prices. Shops to visit include U.P. Handloom at M.G. Road, Rajasthali at Taj Mahal Complex, UPICA at Sanjay Palace, and Gandhi Ashram Khadi Bhavan at the Raja-ki-Mandi.
The Taj Mahotsav is an annual 10-day-long celebration of art, craft, culture and cuisine at Shilpgram near the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal. It was started in 1992 with an aim to promote the local artisans and traditions of Agra. It also brings together artisans from other parts of the country and gives them a platform to showcase and sell their work to travellers from across India and the world. The Arts and Craft Mela sees 400 artists showcasing their work, including wood/stone carvings from Tamil Nadu, bamboo/cane work from Northeast India, papier mache work from South India and Kashmir, marble and zardozi work from Agra, wood carving from Saharanpur, hand-woven carpets from Bhadohi, brassware from Moradabad, pottery from Khurja, chikankari work from Lucknow, silk and zari work from Varanasi and more. Besides craftsmanship and food, the festival also offers travellers an experience of India’s many folk traditions. A series of folk music and dance performances from various regions across the country are a highlight of the Taj Mahotsav. There are performances by internationally-renowned artistes in various genres, ranging from classical to popular music. Another highlight is the Fun Fair, with a merry-go-round, train rides and a ferris wheel that can also be enjoyed here, making it a fun event to visit with the whole family. The Taj Mahotsav is usually organised in the month of February, and the entry fee is nominal, usually INR 50 for adults and INR 10 for children aged between 5 and 10 years.