Visiting the Taj Mahal was always on our bucket list. When we were putting together an outline of our travel plans earlier this year and decided on a few months in India, a visit to Agra to see the Taj Mahal was the first activity we locked in – and something we’ve been looking forward to since we set off.
We woke up early on a chilly Sunday morning; our clothes, tickets and camera gear laid out from the night before. Awake, dressed and out the door in fifteen minutes, we began the short walk to the gates of the Taj Mahal. Our accommodation was perfectly located on Taj East Gate Road, just a short 650m walk to the complex.
Scooters and rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages sped by, full of rugged up tourists, shivering from the cold morning air. Whilst it was a little on the frosty side – we were only wearing t-shirts – we welcomed the cool change, having spent the last several months in the humidity of Asia.
Queuing up behind around 100 other visitors, we waited in line for the official opening time – sunrise. This changes throughout the year. The standard opening time used to be 6.00 AM, but is now seasonal – the gates opened at 6.50 AM the day we visited. Whilst there is security in place at all monuments in India, the process at the Taj Mahal is much more thorough. Men and women form separate queues, are patted down and then are required to have their bags checked before being permitted to enter the complex. We’d been advised by a friend to take as little as possible, so armed with just a camera and GoPro we were ushered through – skipping the bag check line.
As we entered the complex, we grabbed each others hand and grinned, making our way quickly towards the main gate to the Taj. We were by no means the first ones in, as other visitors poured in through the west and south gates, but we hoped that being one of the first few in we’d be able to get ourselves a prime position to capture some photos with the grounds practically empty. Cameras at the ready, we walked through the ‘darwaza-i-rauza’ (the great gate of the mausoleum) with bated breath to see….
Nothing. As we stood on the edge of the main entry, looking out towards the gardens and the reflection pool running down the centre and straight ahead to where the Taj Mahal was situated – we saw nothing. The early morning fog had completely obscured the view of the monument, with just the very top of the decorative finial of the central dome to be seen.
Rather than be disappointed, the fog added a completely magical, mystical element to our experience. We stood for an hour, watching intently as the sun began to rise and slowly but surely, the thick fog began to disperse, revealing the Taj Mahal from east to west. Standing there, looking towards one of the New 7 Wonders of the World yet not being able to see it instantly but having to be patient and wait for time to pass only added to the suspense – and to the moment when it finally revealed itself.
We’d seen countless images of the Taj Mahal, but nothing compared to being there in it’s presence. It really is a spectacular work of art – its bigger and more beautiful than you can even begin to imagine.
As the sun rose higher in the sky and the crowds grew thicker, we made our way towards the Taj, climbing up to the tomb level. It was even more exquisite up close – the exterior featuring marble lattice, stone inlays and calligraphy. On the east and west side of the complex facing the Taj Mahal are two grand sandstone buildings, with one serving as a mosque. Four minarets standing over 40 metres high flank the four corners of the tomb.
We were permitted to enter the main tomb of the Taj Mahal, the location of the final resting place of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. We don’t have any photos of this – photography is strictly prohibited inside the tomb – but that didn’t stop countless other people pulling out their iPads, cameras and phones to snap photos. Whilst the sarcophagi on display were not the real tombs of the couple (they are located on the lower level, not open to the public), the Taj Mahal at the end of the day is still a mausoleum and should be respected as such. Mike and I played police, telling off other visitors (both foreigners and Indian locals) for taking photos – we’re sticklers for the rules and if it says no photography – then it’s no photography. It was a little disheartening to see to be completely honest – we couldn’t believe the audacity of some people, posing in front of the tombs and then even asking us for selfies with them!
Back out in the complex of the Taj Mahal, the grounds were bustling with thousands of people – yet it didn’t feel ‘busy’ – the gardens surrounding the monument span 300m square. With beautiful views from every where in the gardens, visitors had spread out to have their own quiet moment to enjoy the Taj Mahal.
It was hard to find the will to leave – after all, when would we ever visit the Taj Mahal again? It was so incredibly moving to be there in its presence – you could look at it all day and never tire of the view – but our grumbling tummies reminded us that it had been hours since we’d woken and we were yet to eat (food is not permitted in the grounds).
After taking a few more snaps to add to our collection, we said goodbye, exiting through the darwaza to turn around again and have another look – the Taj perfectly framed through the main archway.
It was absolutely magical to visit the Taj Mahal, to experience in the flesh such a wonder – it’s an absolute must visit if you ever venture to India, and is one of the highlights of our travels so far.
- How to get there?
The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra, India. You can fly to the nearest airport in Agra from Delhi or Mumbai, but traveling by train from Delhi is probably the quickest and cheapest way to reach the city.
- When to visit?
The Taj is open to visitors every day except Friday, so ensure you keep this in mind when planning your visit to Agra, especially as the weekend is even busier. It is open from sunrise to sunset – this time will vary throughout the year so be sure to check the opening time when purchasing your tickets.
- How much is it?
At 750 Rp per person (approx $15.50 AUD) the Taj Mahal is one of India’s more expensive sights to visit but absolutely well worth it. Shoe covers (to be worn in the mausoleum) and a bottle of water is included with your ticket. They can be purchased from ticket offices located near all three gates – East, West and South. Purchase these the day before if you plan on a sunrise visit to save time.
- Top tips for visiting
If you’re visiting for sunrise, you’ll be wanting to get in the gates as quick as possible. Take nothing but the bare essentials with you – your camera and a bottle of water. Don’t take a bag full of useless items as this will only delay the security check even more.
- Where to stay?
Accommodation options abound in Agra, but we stayed at the Hotel Taj Plaza – located on Taj East Gate Road, just 650 metres from the Taj Mahal itself. The rooms were large, comfortable and clean – and the best part – the rooftop restaurant, with magnificent views of the Taj Mahal. For more information check here.
- Alternative views
Another viewpoint of the Taj Mahal is from the Yamuna River. Not so many people know about this option for viewing the Taj, so its well worth it for having a peaceful, uninterrupted experience. Turn right when you get to the East Gate, and take the path all the way down to the river. You’ll likely be approached by a local boat owner who will offer to take you out onto the river – negotiate a price and a length of time. We paid 200 Rp for ’15-20 minutes’ but only got about 10 on the river – so make sure you insist on your full allotment of time! You can do this any time of the day, but sunset is the best time to capture the beautiful hues in the sky over the Taj Mahal.