Roughly 125 miles south of Delhi in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Agra is, like much of India, a study in contrasts—where the truly spectacular Taj Mahal and impressive Agra Fort loom large and grand over a dirty, congested city where bicycles and tuk-tuks compete for street space with wandering water buffalo, monkeys, goats, and donkey-pulled wagons. This was India’s capital for more than a century under the Mughal empire, whose most magnificent relic—the Taj Mahal—has proven both a blessing (huge amounts of tourism) and a thorn (nearby factories closing due to anti-pollution regulations) to the local population. The persistent touts and inflated souvenir prices, especially in the busy Taj Ganj hotel area, make it easy to write Agra off as another over-stimulating tourist city, existing to rip off visitors to India’s single biggest attraction. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover fascinating market lanes, terrific shopping, and excellent local food, from the ubiquitous petha sweets to streetside-fried parathas and other Mughlai specialties. Hey, you might be here for the Taj—but you gotta eat, too.

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