Ever since I started travelling in my late 20s, I have always wanted to visit all the New Wonders of the World and so far I have only covered 4 places and Taj Mahal was one of the places that I wished to cover first since it was located within Asia. Finally last year I had the chance to tick it off my bucket list as my first visit to India.
We started driving from New Delhi around 12pm and arrived at Agra around 5 pm. Our initial plan was to go straight to Agra Fort and we actually bought online tickets for it. However, when we met our guide, he explained that the best time to see the Taj was now and that during sunrise it was too foggy to even see the structure itself. Since we were going to Amber Fort 2 days later, he feels we should give up the tickets to Agra Fort and buy new tickets to the Taj today.
When we arrived at the ticket office, we tried to get our online tickets for tomorrow morning changed today but the office strictly did not allow and we had to purchase new tickets again. Note that as with all Indian tourist sites, there is a queue for foreigners as well as locals. The queue is usually shorter for foreigners but over at Taj, it was crazy queues all over and everyone was fighting to get tickets since the Taj close 30mins before sunset which is around 7pm. One tip is that it is much faster to get the tickets in cash versus the credit cards as there is limited card machine and the data connection of the machines are often slow or lost so one card transaction can take up to 15 – 20 mins. The tickets cost 1,100 rupees for foreigners and only 50 rupees for locals. Another 200 rupees for entrance to the mausoleum.
When we finally got hold of our new tickets, our guide ushered us to the security checks area which is split between genders. It was again another long queue but we managed to queue through the crowd to get into the Taj Mahal complex itself.
The first thing you will see on the compound is the main gate which is a monumental structure built primarily of marble and its archways mirror the shape of the tomb’s archways, and its pishtaq arches incorporate the calligraphy that decorates the tomb.
One interesting thing to note is the white colour bells on the top of the gate. Our guide pointed out that 1 bell equals to 1 year and there is a total of 21 bells which signifies the number of years the Taj Mahal took to complete construction.
Once you pass the main gate, you will see this glorious view and the equally majestic gardens. You will also be greeted by tonnes of tourists who are fighting to get the best picture of the Taj Mahal together with the gardens. You can already see the fog and air pollution around the Taj Mahal which is why it looks greyish
You will find many such benches around the whole garden and at the same time, many paid photographers and tourists queueing up to take a picture on them. You will see many guides bringing their tourist to these benches and getting them to do all sorts of crazy poses. One of the most famous bench with the best frame of the Taj Mahal at the back is the one at the front of the platform.
You can see from above which is the real bench. From my photos above you realise that the real bench is abandoned as many people are standing around it to take pictures of Taj Mahal and as there is a pool in front of the bench, it is quite difficult to take a proper picture. Instead, guides start telling people that the bench before the pool is Diana’s bench which is not accurate. Tip: In order to get a picture on the real Diana’s bench, you need to be one of the first people in Taj and while people start taking pictures at the gate, rush directly to the bench and with a good camera, take the picture from the other end of the pool before the platform gets crowded with people.
Just below the platform, I managed to get a much more symmetry picture of the Taj with fewer people in the picture. Managed to get the beautiful reflection of the building. The Taj is an ivory-white marble mausoleum commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife. His initial plan was to build another identical tomb but in black marble for his own tomb. However, plans fell through due to money and he was buried inside the Taj together with his wife.
As we crossed the huge gardens to the main mausoleum itself, you can start to see the intricacy that went into the construction of the building. The mausoleum is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an arch-shaped doorway topped by a large dome and finial. The design is completely symmetrical on all sides of the building.
The exterior decorations of the Taj Mahal are among the finest in Mughal architecture. The decorative elements were created by applying paint, stucco, stone inlays or carvings. As his wife loved flowers, you can see many motifs of flowers being used throughout the building with some craved out of a single slate of marble. The inlay work is not pietra dura, but a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones. The inner chamber is an octagon with the design allowing for entry from each face and today you are not able to clearly see the actual tombs as entry and photography is not allowed within the mausoleum. The walk inside the mausoleum took only about 10 to 15 mins as it is not huge but you can spend any amount of time at the outside complex around it
By the time we left the mausoleum, it was sunset and time for beautiful pictures but unfortunately due to the fog, we hardly got any decent pictures. While exiting, I manage to return to the platform for this picture of the Taj in the blush of sunset without any tourist. The guards were chasing people out of the compound but agreed to give me 1 min for this photo.
Spotted the map of the entire compound while exiting the Taj Mahal. By now, it was quite pitch dark as there were not many lights within the compound so you will need to watch your way while exiting.
One more thing to note is that once you get out of the exit from the Taj, there will be tonnes of locals and children trying to sell you souvenirs of the Taj Mahal. Our guide actually told us to ignore these pedalers as many of the items are of inferior quality and also some are scammers. Once you talk to one of them, you will get hassled by the whole group. So listening to our guide, we walked our way back out to the carpark without eye contact with any of the pedalers.
Another thing to note is that there isn’t many toilets within the compound so the advice is to go to the public toilet located nearer to the entrance gates. From the entrance gates from the main roads, it takes a 10 to 15 mins walk by foot to reach the ticket office so do come in comfortable clothing and shoes. There are also battery cars and golf carts for those who do not wish to walk. All visitors are required to wear shoe covers when entering the mausoleum. All foreigner’s tickets cover a bottle of water, shoe covers and a map but do note that smoking, eating and drone are not allowed. ( Not event sweets)
Before we ended our tour, our guide brought us to one of the local factories making souvenirs from the same marble used to build the Taj Mahal. The person in charge will explain each different gems and stones used in the intricate designs of the interior of the Taj Mahal. You can also witness the actual production of these pieces. Connected to this small workshop is the main showroom where we were shown the finished marble in all kinds of shapes and items. The most popular ones are the coasters and pot bases where you can use it for your pots and not burn the table. As these are pure marble, they will cool down pretty fast. Everything is very pretty but the price is quite expensive but I did buy 1 piece of the coaster to keep as a souvenir.
Overall, the visit did not disappoint but there were just too many people. I would have loved to spend more time there to fully take in the beauty of this wonder which is one of the most visited wonder of the world. It was just a pity that during December it always gets foggy and we missed out on pictures with nice blue skies.
Address: Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001, India
Opening times: 6am to 7pm
Taj Mahal main site for tickets and information.