The Taj Mahal sits on the banks of the Yamuna River in the city of Agra. It stands as a testament to true love and the potential awe-inspiring beauty of architecture. The Taj is an iconic building and a ‘must see’ when a traveller visits India. To appreciate the Taj, a hugely busy and slightly chaotic monument, a plan is needed. So, here are my top tips for visiting the Taj Mahal.
WHAT IS THE TAJ MAHAL?
History of Taj Mahal
Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 after the untimely death of Mumtaz Mahal, the most beloved wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. She died giving birth to their 14th child and it is fabled that her heartbroken husband went grey haired over night such was the strength of his grief.
The Taj is effectively a mausoleum, a sacred place where Mumtaz Mahal’s body was entombed. It is a monument that was created with love, grief and the remembrance of beauty at its heart.
The awe-inspiring main building and huge garden were completed in 1648 and the guest house, southern guest house, courtyards and mosque added later and finished by 1653.
The bereaved Emperor searched the entire Mughal empire, Iran and Central Asia to find the finest craftsmen, artisans and builders for his project and an architect called Ustad-Ahmad Lahori was in charge.
Lahori’s brief was to reflect Mumtaz Mahal’s beauty with opulence, a grand design and the Emperor needed to see the Mausoleum from his Palace. The Taj Mahal is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World so a much-loved wife, whose name meant ‘Jewel of the Palace, has truly been remembered.
Taj Mahal: An architectural masterpiece
A visit to the Taj Mahal will be busy, filled with other people and a moment to cherish forever. Remember, once you have an Insta ready selfie and gawped your fill at the colourful and bold crowds who hail from all corners of the world, take a deep breath and really look at the Taj.
The building before you is one of the finest examples of design, detail and symmetry. As a whole, it’s a joy to behold! White marble that glows in the sunlight and an outline that flows beautifully. The glorious gardens were covered with a light mist when I visited. It added an ethereal beauty.
It’s the detail that captivated me. Mother of Pearl studded creamy marble, precious jewels embedded in the fabric of the walls and an intricate, ornate etched design. Take the time to really ‘see’ what you’re witnessing.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING TAJ MAHAL
When is the best time to visit the Taj Mahal
- The best months to visit the Taj Mahal are November to February. You will miss the monsoon and the heat of the summer.
- Opening times are from sunrise to sunset. Aim for sunrise before the crowds arrive.
- The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays.
Know the opening hours and be the first in the queue
- The ticket office opens at around 6am but set your alarm super early to be in the queue by 5.30am. I promise you, it’s worth it to witness the stunning beauty of the early morning sun illuminating the iridescent mother and pearl inlaid marble walls.
- The ticket office will close around 45 minutes before sunset.
- Cars aren’t allowed near to the Taj due to the damaging effects of pollution on the building. It’s a half a mile walk from the ticket office to the East Gate.
- There are bikes and ‘Tuk Tuks’ for hire and a golf buggy ride or battery fuelled bus journey are included in the ticket price. Be prepared for the catching of these buggies to be chaotic. The guides are competitive and underhand when it comes to getting ‘their’ group to the gate first!
Plan the gate through which you will enter and consider the entrance protocols
There are three gates into the Taj Mahal East, West and South. We used the East Gate which was the closest to our hotel and the rest of the ‘better’ hotels.
- The East Gate – close to hotels, popular with foreigners, less crowded throughout the day but busier at sunrise due to the large groups of tourists arriving, separate queues for foreigners and tourists.
- The West Gate – the gate of choice for locals, further from the hotels, busy during the day but a good option at sunrise, separate queues for foreigners and tourists.
- The South Gate – this gate opens later at 8am, it’s close to a market with lots of pushy sellers, great for people watching.
What are the fees to enter Taj Mahal
- Foreigner/Tourist tickets –1100 rupees with an extra 200 rupees for entrance to the main mausoleum.
- Local tickets – 50 rupees with an extra 200 rupees for entrance to the main mausoleum.
- Child price – under 15’s free.
- What’s included? – The cost of a foreigner’s ticket includes a bottle of water, shoe covers (very important!) and bus or golf cart service to the entrance gate. Visitors are only permitted to stay for three hours, should the turnstiles register a longer time you will be expected to pay again.
Security is tight at the Taj Mahal
Treating the Taj Mahal with respect and acting in a polite and kind way shouldn’t need explaining but here are the rules you must abide by:
- Keep the Taj clean and free of rubbish.
- Shoe covers must be worn.
- Guides hired by tourists must be approved by the authorities.
- Many tourists enjoy a photo shoot in the grounds of the Taj. It’s very entertaining to watch! If this appeals to you, make sure your photographer is licensed and carries an identity card.
- No vehicles capable of creating the pollution that will damage the Taj are allowed within 500 metres of any of the buildings.
- Tourists who don’t want to walk from the ticket office or car park can use the battery fuelled buses and golf carts.
- Visitors must not carry food, cigarettes, lighters, weapons, drones, wires such a phone-chargers and any electrical equipment other than cameras.
- Mobile phones must be kept on silent.
- No photography or voices above a whisper are allowed in the mausoleum.
- Avoid touching the building walls, no matter how gentle and well intentioned, it can cause damage.
There is no official dress code at the Taj Mahal but there are expectations. On the day we visited I saw all different types of clothing styles from burkas, to camisole dresses and tummy bearing saris. My advice to women would be to dress modestly with legs and shoulders covered… and yes, I did have a long-sleeved top on before the photo was taken! Waiting in the queue at sunrise was a bit on the cold side, take a jacket to keep you warm until the sun comes out!
Say no to selfies
It’s pretty common for Indians to take selfies with Westerners and quite often do so with your permission. It can be quite uncomfortable and disturbs your appreciation for taking in the beauty of the Taj Mahal. If you say yes to one then you will be bombarded so I’d avoid if at all possible.
TOURS & GUIDES TO SEE THE TAJ MAHAL
Getting a reputable and licensed guide
A great guide, such as the one we had, will make your visit much better. The history, stories and insider tips that a professional guide will provide are invaluable. Ours cheekily ‘stole’ the first bus to the gate to get us in first, showed us how to get the very best selfies (bold coloured clothes look fab against the marble!) and made sure we got pictures without any other visitors in the background and that’s rare!
- There are only 50-60 official guides that can be hired individually. However, with thousands of unapproved guides waiting for unsuspecting tourists, this is a hard task. These ‘touts’ will harass you for money and tips in exchange for a badly delivered and inaccurate ‘tour’.
- Official tours are excellent and a good idea if you want to save a bit of money in comparison to a one-to-one guide. ‘Get Your Guide tours’ are highly recommended. They are well priced and employ knowledgeable and fun guides.
Audio tours of the Taj Mahal
If you’re an independent spirit and the thought of being herded round the Taj Mahal is a turn off, have a look at ‘Audio Compass’ and ‘Captiva Tours’. Both are downloadable as apps that contain 90 minutes of information about the Taj, the best spots for photos, an interactive map and photos.
VIEW THE TAJ MAHAL FROM AFAR
See the Taj Mahal from Yamuna River
The Taj Mahal sits on the banks of the Yamuna River in Agra. You can get views of this stunning architectural masterpiece from the opposite bank. Seeing the intricate beauty of the Taj up close is unmissable but getting a different perspective and an uninterrupted view is wonderful.
Sunset tours are bookable through trusted companies such as Viator. Imagine a thrilling cycle ride from Agra, a fantastic guide and the perfect spot to watch the jaw-dropping sun set behind a glowing Taj Mahal from an abandoned watchtower.
Taj Mahal views from the countryside
For a more unique experience, I’d head out on bikes, visit the local villages and see rural farmland first hand. As we listened to the families about their life, drank chai and we watched the sunset reward us with the most glorious vista of the Taj Mahal from the farm.
WHERE TO STAY IN AGRA
Agra is a city of contrasts. From elegant hotels full of delicious food and wine to ragged toddlers playing in dusty, dirty roadside ditches. The reality of this exhilarating city is sobering and worth experiencing. I’d stay for a few days to enjoy the Taj, the Red Agra Fort and some of the most mouth-watering street food you have ever had.
So, where to stay? There are numerous hotel options to suit every taste, budget and sensibility.
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