In case you haven’t picked up on it yet…I can be cranky and disagreeable. After a 5+ hour ride on the “highway” from Delhi to Agra, I was not in a great frame of mind. I use quotes because this “highway” is a heavily potholed 2-lane road for most of the way. However, as flight times between Delhi and Agra are not convenient and the train leaves at some ridiculous hour in the morning, it’s the only option.
I had heard amazing things about the Amarvilas. Every review was glowing and my expectations were sky high. As I pulled up to the property, it looked promising. Once inside reality again crashed down well short of expectations.
I will start by saying this, and excuse my profanity, but Agra is a total shithole. You come here because you have to see the Taj Mahal and a few of the lesser historical/cultural things. That being said, I had hoped that at least the hotel would be a pleasant refuge from the never ending stink of India and the pushy touts who won’t take no for an answer. It was a refuge of sorts, although that smell and the taste of burning permeate everything, even hotel walls.
The big feather in the Amarvilas cap is that the rooms all face the Taj and you can in fact see the Taj Mahal from your room. That’s great, but i’m not the kind of person who is going to spend six hours sitting on my deck staring at the Taj in the distance, enraptured. Plus, the mosquitos are so bad from dusk onwards that you need to abandon the deck anyway or risk getting malaria…right all of India is a malarial zone. I went to the Taj, I took some pictures, I checked it out. It was impressive, though not as impressive and life changing as so many people have told me.
Walking back from the Taj one day, an Indian guy sped by me on his bike, nearly running into me. I didn’t particularly care, but a nearby cop yelled at the guy and called him over. After loudly dressing this guy down for “speeding” he smacked him in the face (presumably for my benefit) then looked over at me expecting approval or something. While I appreciated the brief respite from being accosted by touts that this afforded, I turned away from this jerk and was disgusted with the sort of person he was. This was Agra for me summarized in a brief vignette. I can safely say I will never go back. If I have kids some day and they want to go see the Taj…their mother can take them.
Once you get past the imagined “wow” factor of being able to see the Taj, the hotel doesn’t have much to fall back on. The spa is fairly lousy and inconvenient to get to. The gym has outdated equipment. The hotel breakfast is paltry and lousy (surprising considering how many people rise early to eat before catching the Taj as sunrise), the other hotel restaurants are mediocre and most importantly, the rooms are dated and not particularly nice. The hotel can boast amenities and some grand common areas to hold on to 5-star status I guess, but the rooms felt distinctly 4-star.
I spent two nights at the Amarvilas, and this was too long to be in Agra. If I had it to do over again, I would have taken the train in from Delhi at the preposterously early morning hour it departed at, seen the Taj in the morning, had lunch and seen the other sights, gotten some shots of the Taj at sunset and then gotten a flight the hell out of Agra, or at worst spent a single night at the Amarvilas.
Still, despite the fact that I don’t care for this hotel, I have no choice but to recommend it because it’s really the only luxury option in this dump of a town. Beware though, one of my idiot friends who went “trekking” in India and Nepal and got Delhi belly later confided to me that he actually came down with his gastro-intestinal distress after drinking too many virgin pina coladas at the Amarvilas. So while he wins the award for “softest person ever,” try to avoid the ice.
Pros: Only “luxury” option in this dump of a town, views of the Taj Mahal.
Cons: Lousy rooms, lousy staff, lousy restaurants, lousy spa, lousy gym.
Verdict: If you want to see the Taj Mahal and you want to stay in a “luxury” property, open up wide and take a bite of this shit sandwich, you’ve got no choice.