To be honest, the only reason I visited the Taj Mahal was to earn bragging rights. After all, it is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World (which increases its bragworthiness by at least tenfold).
When I travel, I’m most interested in nature, food, and local experiences. Buildings don’t hold that much appeal for me. But you can’t really say you’ve been to India if you don’t have a picture in front of the Taj Mahal, can you?
What is the Taj Mahal?
So, what is the Taj Mahal, and what’s so special about it?
Arguably the most beautiful building in the world, the Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum comprising a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, surrounded by gardens. It was built in the 17th century by a Mughal emperor called Shah Jahan to honor his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. Because of this backstory, the Taj Mahal is often considered a monument of love.
An Architectural Wonder
The Taj Mahal took 20 years to complete, with the help of 20,000 workers, artisans, and stonemasons, as well as 1,000 elephants to help carry materials. Shah Jahan spent 32 million rupees on the project. Today, that amount would be close to USD 1,000,000,000.
Apart from being made of pristine white marble, there are several other reasons why the Taj Mahal is acknowledged as the “jewel of Muslim art” by UNESCO:
1. The Taj Mahal has near-perfect symmetry, from the main dome and surrounding minarets, to the gardens and canals.
2. The minarets are placed in a specific way to create an optical illusion, so that when you enter the gate, the monument appears close and large, but as you approach it, it shrinks in size. The minarets appear to be perfectly upright but actually lean outward.
3. The walls of Taj Mahal are covered with beautiful engravings and pietra dura, which is a method of inlaying marble with precious stones, such as amber, coral, and jade.
4. The white marble also serves as a canvas that changes color depending on the light of the day.
5. The reflecting pool in front of the Taj Mahal creates the illusion of the whole structure being suspended in the air.
The Ugly Secrets of the Taj Mahal
Romantic though it may have sounded, the love story between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal was not all sunshine and roses. The construction of Taj Mahal also harbored some dark secrets that are rarely mentioned:
- Shah Jahan was married 7 times. Mumtaz was his 4th (and favorite) wife.
- Mumtaz Mahal was initially married to another man. Shah Jahan killed the husband so that he could marry her.
- Mumtaz Mahal died at the age of 39, while delivering her 14th child.
- After Mumtaz’s death, Shah Jahan proceeded to marry her sister.
- It was rumored that after the completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan had chopped off the hands of all 20,000 workers, so that they would never be able to replicate the building.
- There is a small hole on the ceiling of the main hall of Taj Mahal — an act of sabotage by an artisan who found out about Shah Jahan’s plan to amputate the artisans’ arms.
- Five years after the completion, Shah Jahan’s third son overthrew him and locked him up in a tower cell at the Red Fort, overlooking the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan spent the rest of his life looking from afar the monument he worked so hard to build.
Getting to the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is located on the bank of the Yamuna river in Agra, some 230 kilometers away from Delhi. This can take anywhere from 3 to 7 hours by road (if you have seen the traffic in India, you’d understand the disparity).
You can take a bus from Anand Vihar terminal in New Delhi. Buses depart every hour during the day and cost about 700 rupees per person.
Alternatively, you can take the train. The main railway station in Agra is Agra Cantt. High-speed Shatabdi Express services operate from Delhi, Varanasi, and cities in Rajasthan. Or you can fly from major Indian cities.
The easiest way is by hiring a private guide and driver. It is possible to make a day trip from Delhi. In fact, a lot of tourists do this instead of staying in Agra. The only downside is that you will arrive at almost the same time as the other tourists. Have fun queuing!
What to Expect
|Taj Mahal Entry Gates||Taj Mahal Opening Hours|
|Western Gate (Main Gate)||An hour before sunrise and about 45 minutes prior to sunset|
|Eastern Gate||An hour before sunrise, and 45 minutes before sunset|
|Southern Gate||Only Exit|
The Taj Mahal is open to the general public on all days of the week except Fridays.
|Entry Fee (Indian)||INR 45 ( Additional INR 200 to see the main mausoleum)|
|Entry Fee (SAARC and BIMSTEC)||INR 540 ( Additional INR 200 to see the main mausoleum)|
|Entry Fee (Foreigner )||INR 1100 (Additional NR 200 to see the main mausoleum)|
|Entry Below (Children Below Age 15)||Free|
I traveled to Agra from Delhi by bus and arrived in the late afternoon. On the tuktuk to my hostel, I could already get a glimpse of the gleaming white marble in the distance. But I didn’t want to look for too long, for fear of spoiling the surprise.
Big Brother Hostel is only a 10-minute walk away from the Taj Mahal, and was one of the cheapest hostels I could find in the area (I paid only Rs 130 for one night with breakfast). If you’re not too fussy about cleanliness, I would recommend definitely recommend it.
Early the next morning, right after breakfast at around 6 a.m., my roommates and I set out towards the revered building. We thought we were early.
Quite the contrary — when we got there, there were already hundreds of visitors inside. They had probably arrived long before the gate opened.
Fortunately, the queue didn’t take very long, but do be aware that you will have to go through bag checks and metal detectors. A seemingly innocent item might be deemed offensive or dangerous, and will be confiscated if they see fit. I had stupidly brought a book with me, which was taken away at the security, presumably because it had the word “God” in the title.
My roommates and I didn’t hire a guide, so we just wandered around aimlessly, taking pictures. The front of the Taj Mahal was too crowded, so we went round the back, and discovered that it looked almost identical to the front view, albeit without the reflection pool and the garden. That was good enough for us. The reflection pool had no water that day anyway.
I noticed that a lot of visitors — locals and foreigners alike — had really dressed up for the occasion, donning colorful saris and shawls, and twirling for the gram. I was wearing the same clothes I had slept in the night before, and hadn’t even bothered to shower. In hindsight, I wish I had made more effort.
Next, we went inside to see the main mausoleum, where the Mughal and his beloved wife were buried. Here, you’ll have to wear protective foot covers (provided for free with your ticket), so as not to damage the marble floors.
The mausoleum doesn’t have any light on — you’ll be relying on the light coming from outside. In the mausoleum, which is quite small, there isn’t much to see other than two tombs placed side by side. After a quick look around, we walked back to our hostel to have another breakfast.
Is the Taj Mahal worth visiting?
Personally, I found the fee very expensive, especially when compared to everything else in India. So, that was a bit of a turnoff. But taking into account its status as one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, I was willing to part with my money.
Fees aside, the Taj Mahal is indeed a majestic building. To see something in real life, after having seen it in pictures so many times, is always a surreal feeling — the same feeling you get when you see other iconic landmarks for the first time, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, or the Great Wall of China.
Nevertheless, I would highly suggest renting the audio guide (which I didn’t) or doing some research beforehand (which I also didn’t), in order to fully appreciate the greatness of the monument — in terms of its architecture and history. Otherwise, the Taj Mahal will be just another beautiful building, as it was for me.
Tips for Visiting the Taj Mahal
- Spend a night in Agra and visit Taj Mahal in the early morning. This way, you will avoid the heat and the crowd, as well as get better photos. There are a lot of hotel options in Agra to suit travelers of all budgets.
- Hire a guide or do your own research before visiting. There are also audio guides available on site.
- Night viewing of the Taj Mahal is available on five nights in a month, i.e. on the full-moon night, and two night before and two nights after. Tickets are available at the office of Archaeological Survey of India one day before the scheduled viewing.
- If the front of the Taj Mahal is too crowded for a good picture, try going round the back — you’ll still get a decent view of the building.
- Taj Mahal is closed on every Friday.
- Ticket counters are open one hour before Sunrise & close 45 minutes before Sunset. Tickets can also be bought online through www.asiagracircle.in & www.tajmahal.gov.in
- Drone camera is strictly prohibited inside the Taj Mahal.
- Tourists are advised to stay inside the monument as per the directions mentioned on tickets or issued by ASI authorities
- Tourist must carry his/her Identity Proof issued by Govt. Authorities.
- Water bottle is allowed inside the monument. Shoe cover, water bottle, tourist guide map of Agra, battery bus and golf cart services are provided free of cost with the foreigner’s entry ticket of the Taj.
- Shoe racks are available just below the main mausoleum free of cost.
- Ticket window and cloak rooms are available at both gates of the Taj Mahal.
- For visiting main mausoleum of the Taj Mahal one has to buy additional ticket of Rs.200/- along with regular ticket.