In travel, as in life, not all things are created equal. We took two separate day trips from Agra and they couldn’t have been more different. The first, to Fatehpur Sikri, was a major letdown. The popular old Mughal city was disappointing in every sense, but the trip to Gwalior Fort, en route to Orchha, was a highlight of our time in North India.
We arrived in Gwalior on the train from Agra, a journey of around two hours. We wolfed down a dull train station thali and set about finding somewhere to leave our bags. That little adventure took around 30 minutes, but we eventually realised we could leave them in the coat check room at the station.
We negotiated with a rickshaw driver to take us to Urwahi Gate, which left us with a hot 15-20 minute walk uphill to the palaces. We were quite annoyed, but little did we know we were in for special surprise.
A series of massive figures carved into the rocks next to the road suddenly came into view. We were instantly glad that we were walking. These stone statues, which look a bit like the Buddhas in Sukhothai (Thailand), depict the 24 teachers of the Jain religion. I know very little about Jainism but it didn’t matter — these 500 year old statues were awe inspiring to stand under. The statues are spread out over a large area as you head up the hill.
Man Singh Palace (AKA Man Mandir Palace)
While I was planning my trip to India I saw a photo of the colourful Man Singh Palace and knew I had visit. Just like Hayley Joel Osmond in his acting prime (unfortunately for him that was when he was about 10), I’m going to pay it forward — surely after seeing these photos you’ll be adding it to your India itinerary just like I did.
The exterior of Man Singh Palace is decorated with lines of turquoise tiles. Look closely and you’ll see some strange details, including a long row of ducks. Was the original occupant (Man Singh) a duck hunter, duck lover or did his children have a say in his palace’s design? Who knows (I’m not usually one to hire a guide), but it does make for a fascinating sight. I visited many palaces in India but none were quite as strikingly colourful as this one. The fact that the tiles have remained for over 600 years makes it even more impressive.
The palace interior isn’t quite as grand but there are still some tiles in there and a couple of nice little courtyard areas. We spent around half an hour inside Man Singh Palace and only had to contend with a few other local tourists. I couldn’t believe this place was so quiet considering its proximity to Agra.
Various Palace Ruins
This group of palace ruins sits a short walk from Man Singh Palace and provides a far different experience. It’s an interesting place to explore but the buildings really are in ruins and don’t contain nearly the same level of detail as their more illustrious neighbour. Make sure you climb up the old fort walls for great views over Gwalior.
Gwalior Fort Day Trip Tips
- Getting to Gwalior Fort: We took the train from Agra Cantt station to Gwalior which took around two hours (trains run regularly). From Gwalior station we hired an auto rickshaw to take us to the Urwahi Gate (50-70 INR). From there it’s a short walk (which seems a lot longer in the summer heat) to the palaces inside the fort. To get back to the station keep walking down the steep path which runs below Man Singh Palace. You can obviously do this in reverse but make sure you go up one way and down the other. From the station you can either go back to Delhi if you’re on a day trip, or continue on to Orchha. It’s another 3 hours down the line and it’s worth staying there for a few days — it turned out to be one of my favourite towns in India.
FURTHER READING: Introducing Orchha, a Small Town Full of Ruins, Temples and Palaces
- Gwalior Fort Costs: The train from Delhi to Gwalior is really cheap (less than 100 INR for a general ticket). Man Singh Palace will set foreigners back 100 INR and the other ruins cost 200 INR. It’s a cheap day trip and there’s really no need to take a tour. You can of course spend a night or two in Gwalior. It’s a nice enough city (cleaner than most in India) and there seemed to be a few decent hotels near the train station. It’s very easy to make a stop there on the way to Orchha or as a day trip from Agra though, and I think it’s a great way to do it.
Are you planning on visiting Agra to see the Taj Mahal? Have I convinced you to take a day trip to Gwalior Fort? Let me know in the comments below!
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