Shah Jahan’s mausoleum (and architectural love letter) to his wife Mumtaz Mahal is surely at the top of most people’s must-see list in India. One of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World, it has quite the reputation to live up to! But what do you need to know for your Taj Mahal visit?
Where is the Taj Mahal located?
The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, a city some 3 hours’ drive to the southeast of Delhi. Approached by train or via a modern, fast motorway, it is a best visited as an overnight stay to enjoy the monument at its finest.
As a busy tourist area, don’t underestimate the number of touts and street sellers in Agra. Unwanted attention is best avoided by keeping your eyes forward and carrying on walking. Don’t engage, even to say no, or you will find the vendors hard to shake off – but as a blonde female, I never felt threatened.
What is the best time of day to visit the Taj?
I would recommend visiting when the monument opens at 6am. Not only is the light beautiful and the weather cool, but you will (briefly) have the place to yourself. Arrive around 05:30 and queue outside the gate to be first through; note that mosquitos can be active at this time, though, so long sleeves/trousers and insect repellent are recommended.
NB: On Fridays the entire site is closed, except for Muslims to attend prayers at the mosque in the afternoon. Make sure you plan your trip between Saturday and Thursday to avoid disappointment!
What is there to see once I get there?
The Taj Mahal itself is, of course, the main draw. Enormous up close, and made of marble inlaid with precious stone, it is breathtaking. You can enter the Taj, which is made up of a number of anterooms, with replicas of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s tombs at its heart. The real tombs are not publicly accessible and are located on the floor below.
To either side of the Taj are two buildings of red stone, one of which is a mosque while the other, mirroring it, was thought to be a guest house. There are also formal gardens to explore, as well as a museum.
Will it be busy?
In a word, yes! But Indian tourists outnumber foreigners by some margin, and it’s a great place to watch local life. Touts are not officially allowed on the site, although cheap entry prices for locals mean a few slip through. As a general rule, though, you will be left alone to appreciate the monument.
How long do I need to allow?
It depends on how much of a dreamer you are! Not including queuing to get in, you could see most of the site in an hour, but allow up to 2 hours for photography and general awe-inspired wonderment!
Where can I get the best photos?
There are several classic shots of the Taj Mahal. The most unmissable is the long shot over the reflection pools with the “Princess Diana” bench at its centre. To get a shot on the bench itself, prepare for a long queue or get there early! However, beautifully framed shots can also be taken from under the arches at the back of the site, or try some quirky angles up close to really show the detail of the towering minarets and inlaid marble. Low light at sunrise and sunset can also give some nice effects with the Taj in silhouette.
Where’s the best place to view the sunset?
Across the Yamuna river from the Taj Mahal are the gardens of Mehtab Bagh, which make a great spot to watch the sun set over the monument, whilst enjoying local life as it passes by along the river bank.
Are there any other sights to see in the area?
Agra is a busy modern city with some other fine monuments such as the “Baby Taj” (Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah), and Agra Fort which is well worth a visit in itself. The World Heritage site of Fatehpur Sikri is also just outside Agra, so plan to spend a couple of days here to make the most of the area.
Is the Taj Mahal really worth the hype?
Unequivocally. I went there fully expecting to be disappointed, and assuming it wouldn’t live up to its reputation. But the opposite was true – my jaded eyes which had seen a million photos of the Taj Mahal were still transfixed by the real thing. Definitely not to be missed!
For more information and visitor details, see the official website: www.tajmahal.gov.in
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