In direct competition with Agra, Gwalior is an unimpressive attempt at coaxing tourists a few hours down the line to witness the splendor of its hilltop fort.
Rolling into Gwalior from Agra you will instantly notice less hassle, less dust and more horns.
International tourism, though firmly on the radar of local government hasn’t quite led to the numbers expected and as a result, rickshaw drivers are still their scam infancy, opting to add just a few rupees to journeys rather than all out kaboom a tourist with sky high prices. In fact, Gwalior is one of the places in India that I would advise not even bothering asking for a price. If your journey is around 10 minutes, pay 50 rupees (actual price is 40, but 10 adds a bit of cheese) if your journey is from one side of the city to the other, hand over a crisp 100 rupee note and smile.
Home to a 9th century fort built on a 3km long hilltop above the city, and reached by some short sharp switchbacks, Gwalior fort looks magical. It is, like most Indian forts filled with palaces, tombs, museums and structures. And that is where the comparison with anywhere else in India ends.
Gwalior, still in its foreigner infancy has imposed upon itself a fee structure that keeps foreigners in its cross hairs whilst attempting to rinse them of any spare money they have.
Let me explain. Gwalior runs a multi-fee system. This is completely normal in India and indeed throughout Asia. But Gwalior has gone one step further. It has imposed entrance fees for every single building of significance within the city, and removed child prices. Well, technically it hasn’t removed child prices and anyone 15 or under gains free entry, but I found it impossible to get a child price. Excuses such as “has to be an Indian student” etc were thrown about by men, who almost always spouted the line and then spat brown tobacco into the corner with absolute precision and skill.
The fees within the fort are 25 times higher for a foreigner than a local and this applies to every single building. Perhaps the biggest joke is Jai Villas, a run down looking ‘palace’ in the centre of the city that looks a few centuries past a paint job, a place no one on planet earth has likely heard of outside of Gwalior and clearly basking in its own sense of self significance, spanking tourists MORE to gain entry than the Taj Mahal, one of the worlds 7 wonders.
The zoo, a run down shit stain of epic proportions and legalised animal cruelty society follows suit with 10 ten times the local price for foreigners. The only saving grace is that it openly admits there are no child prices for foreigners, and everyone is skanked the same.
Gwalior is so insistent on fleecing tourists, that if any building even remotely looks interesting, or worth a photograph, it comes with a ticket booth and a charge.
Which always adds extra for cameras.
I was told that Gwalior is trying to attract day trippers down from Agra or those with a night to spare. What baffles me more, is that if you are in Agra and you want to see a spectacular fort, well Amber Fort in Jaipur not too far away. Not only is Amber fort bigger, more beautiful and better, it is fitted into stunning Indian scenery of rolling hill tops and ridges fringed with medieval walls, all of which can be explored.
Gwalior started at a disadvantage, Agra has been attracting tourists for centuries, Jaipur is the biggest hitter of the Indian fort department and Khajuraho is making a lot of sound, all of these places easily reached from Agra, or Delhi. Due to the greed of local government, Gwalior is an expensive destination (for India) that does not justify its cost, and, as a result I suggest you give the city a miss.
There are far better places in this part of the world, most of which either justify their cost, or are cheaper.
If you do head to Gwalior, Hotel Grace is a decent budget stay of a bad bunch, and the Indian Coffee House serves up the best food in the city.