The Taj Mahal is India’s most famous sight and tourist attraction, known around the world, and one of the New World Wonders and a UNESCO heritage site. Of course, visiting a site of this significance, you want to make the most of it. I have put together a whole bunch of top tips for your visit to the Taj Mahal. It is as magnificent as one expects it to be. The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s most populous states with 200 million inhabitants. Visited by millions of people from India and the rest of the world, the Taj Mahal can be an incredible experience, or one that disappoints you. In this post, I will provide you with a comprehensive guide to the Taj Mahal, along with tips and tricks to visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, so that you will walk away enjoying it as much as I did.
History of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is one of the most impressive buildings in the entire world. It was built between 1631 and 1648 by over 20 thousand workers, under the instruction of the Emperor Shah Jahan, for the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were married for over 19 years and bore 13 children. History says that they had a deep and everlasting love, and were best friends. In fact, Mumtaz Mahal was one of his closest advisors in all of his royal affairs, and even traveled with him to all of his military campaigns. When Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth, Shah Jahan was completely devastated. The Taj Mahal was built in her honor.
The Taj Mahal is a crowning stone in the Mughal architecture period. It is built from white marble which was brought to the site from Makrana over 300 km away in Rajasthan. Throughout one can see floral decorations and bands of black marble Arabic calligraphy. Many precious stones and gems are used to decorate the tomb. Artists and calligraphers as far as Syria and Iran were brought to work on the Taj Mahal. It is a truly architectural splendor to behold.
In Shah Jahan’s despair, he was not living up to his duties as an Emperor. One of his own relatives, Aurangzeb, imprisoned him in the Agra Fort, within site of the Taj Mahal. It is said that Shah Jahan spent the rest of his life imprisoned in the Agra Fort, looking out towards the Taj Mahal where his beloved wife was buried. Later, Shah Jahan was buried here with his wife in the mausoleum.
How to get to the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is easily accessible by car, bus, train or airplane. A pre-packaged trip (usually called the Golden Triangle of India’s tourism hotspots) will arrange transportation for you. Trains run regularly from Delhi and Jaipur, to Agra. It is recommended to book in advance. Agra also has regular flights to and from Delhi and other major cities in India. Traveling in the winter months can, at times, be tricky, as the thick smog can disrupt flight schedules. There are also plenty of hotels in the area, of course, and many recommend living it up and staying at one of the posh fancy hotels that have a view of the Taj. If you can't afford something like that (like me), you may consider more budget friendly options like the Retreat Hotel, where I stayed. It wasn't anything special, but the room was clean and lovely.
When to visit the Taj Mahal
Most visitors recommend visiting the Taj Mahal from October to March. This is to avoid the unbearable heat of the summer and the downpour of Monsoon season. While the winter months are cooler and more tolerable for sight seeing, there is often smog that hides the Taj Mahal. I visited the Taj Mahal in March (two days after Holi) and did not experience this problem. Spring is definitely a great time to visit, as it is not too hot yet, and the problems with smog are not as severe. However this is also peak tourism season – both domestically and internationally.
What time of day to visit the Taj Mahal
There are three key times that most travelers recommend for visiting the Taj Mahal. This is at sunrise, sunset, and at the full moon. Sunrise beats the crowds, and you have a better chance of taking a photo without people (crowds) in it, but you may experience some fog/smog. The draw for sunset is that it is cooler and beautiful, but it is also crowded. Whatever time you visit the Taj Mahal you will see tons of people, and it will be choatic. Tens of thousands of people visit the Taj Mahal DAILY. It will not be the peaceful, serene spot that you imagine it to be. This tends to be the case for most major tourist spots in India.
Visitors to the Taj Mahal are also allowed to visit on the full moon night, two days before and two days after it. You need to book tickets a day in advance. I have not done this, but apparently, you have to reserve a time slot to do this. I would recommend speaking to a good guide or doing an Internet search for the best time slot for your photography. Regardless, I think the Taj Mahal at night is probably a spectacular site. The Taj Mahal also changes with the passing of the day and time of year, thanks to the reflection of the light and different angels, so it is a beauty to see and dazzling at any time of day.
Opening times and charge for the taj mahal
The Taj Mahal is open year round from sunrise to sunset, except for Fridays. I’m not sure if it is open on all holidays and celebrations – I honestly couldn’t find a concrete answer about this. I would avoid traveling to the Taj Mahal on a celebration or festival day just in case.
Foreigners: 1000 rupees
Foreigners from SAARC and BIMSTEC Countries: 530 rupees
Domestic/Indians: 40 rupees
A foreign tourist ticket means that you can enter in the foreigner lines, which move much faster than the local’s line. It also guarantees you some booties to put on your feet to enter the Taj Mahal mausoleum (instead of hoping your shoes will make the stay outside), a water bottle, and access to bathrooms without paying more.
What to wear at the taj mahal
There is no strict dress code for the Taj Mahal. However, it is India, which is a deeply religious country, both Hindu, Muslim and Sihk. It is advisable to dress appropriately regardless of wherever you are in India. For women, that means it is advisable to keep your shoulders covered, and wear clothing that goes past your knee. You can have a browse through my guide to what to wear for women travelers in India or my packing list for India. The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Its white marble facades make for beautiful pictures, so unlike what I did, I would recommend wearing something bright and colorful to make a beautiful contrast. This is also where no one will blink twice if you dress to the nines for this day. Many Western travelers also buy and wear Sari’s when they visit the Taj Mahal. Many women like to wear saris to the Taj Mahal. While I don't blame them (they are stunningly beautiful), I have my own mixed feelings towards wearing a sari, and personally wouldn't do it myself. Those are my personal feelings however! The only thing I would be prepared for, if you do chose to wear a sari, is that you will gather a lot of attention from local tourists who want pictures of you, with their entire families, you holding their babies and children, and a line will quickly form. As a westerner you will get this kind of attention regardless, but it will be more so if you are wearing a sari. Just a heads up! A lot of the girls I know who have done this were quite exhuasted by this happening. I regret wearing a simple t-shirt and loose fitting cropped pants, but I'm not the biggest girly girl anyway. Do as I say, and not as I do!
What to bring to the Taj Mahal
Don’t bring much. Seriously. You really cannot take a lot into the Taj Mahal. That includes things like selfie sticks, tripods, stuffed animals, headphones, books etc. Granted, a lot of this is at securities’ discretion. While ALL of these items, and more, are banned from entering the Taj Mahal, I saw many individuals with selfie-sticks. It genuinely depends on the day and security officer, but I wouldn’t risk it. Your options are either to surrender it entirely, or go all the way back to the lockers. You also cannot take in any snacks or food. Bring some money, your camera, your booties and a bottle of water. You don’t need anything else really.
Read my tips to Photographing/Instagramming the Taj Mahal.
Tips for visiting the Taj Mahal
1. It’s crowded. Even if you get there early in the morning, there’s going to be tons of people eventually. It is unavoidable, and if you have spent any time in India already, you will probably have gotten used to this by now.
2. If you are a Westerner, in particular a fair skinned blonde one, you will be asked (sometimes harassed), for a photo. By men, by women, by families, by children. I was so busy taking photos and enjoying myself that I think most people kept at bay but many of the women in my group complained about this. It could also be that I have a very strong RBF. If you say yes, a line will quickly form. I tended to say yes to children and women, but very loudly and strongly said NO to any men who asked. I was not impressed with men who tried to take my picture without asking either, as well as the Japanese lady who came over to interrupt my exploring and pose me so she could take photos of me… not cool! I should have told her it was $20 US! Side note: we did meet two blonde European girls who started CHARGING families 10 rupees to take photos with them… they boasted about making 250 rupees. Don’t do this! Its kind of messed up in my opinion.
3. Men and women queue up in different lines to be searched differently – standard at all large attractions in India, including for transport systems like the metro and airplane. Make sure you are joining the right line ahead of time, and the foreigner’s line. Try not to be upset about all the perks you are given as a foreigner, it seems a little fairer when you think you are paying a much higher price to visit, and this is pretty much standard when it comes to many countries.
4. You need to wear booties or go barefoot to reach the top of the Taj Mahal in order to protect it from damage. With the foreigner ticket you get complimentary booties. You can go bare foot and leave your shoes behind, but I have a feeling that it might get pretty hot on your feet in the summer months.
5. The line to get inside the mausoleum is not as long as you think. Especially as a foreigner. Just head to the front and the security guards will wave you right in, no questions asked.
6. Agra itself is not the nicest of cities. There is not a lot to do there other than the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and a few other sights close to the Taj. Many people suggest you getting in and getting out. But if you are someone who likes to take their time at an iconic site and world wonder, then it may be necessary to spend a night or more in Agra. Preferably at a hotel closer to the Taj Mahal, and at a nice one too. You will pay more, but your experience may also be better.
7. Visit the Mehtab Bagh and the Mughal Gardens. It is supposed to be very pretty and offers a different vantage point of the Taj Mahal. It is also not as busy.
8. Visit the Agra Fort too! It is also beautiful and surprising in its own way. You can also see the Taj Mahal from here in the distance.
Do you need a guide for inside the Taj Mahal?
There is no simple answer to this question, and for the most past it should be up to your discretion. Tour guides will usually arrange to have purchased tickets for you in advance and have the benefit of getting you to the best place at the best time for your needs. An advantage of having a guide is that he knows all the history, can afford you with more intimate knowledge that you may seek, can tell you the best spots to take photographs, get other visitors to move out of your shot when you’re taking photos, and generally stop you from being harassed by local photographer and other opportunists trying to make a living from you. However, many of the tour guides also get compensation for taking you to various marble factories, jewelry stores and markets. To be polite and helpful to your guide, go to them but don’t stay long unless you really want to and make sure he knows to do it AFTER your time at the Taj Mahal so that it doesn’t interrupt with your timing. Make sure you tip your guide afterwards!
However, you don’t NEED a guide to see the Taj Mahal. If you read up on it ahead of time, and plan, you could just wonder around the Taj Mahal and take in its beauty on your own.
Its up to you! That being said, I would like to give you the opportunity to use my guide for my trip around Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Udaipur. I’ve had so many people contact me for his information so here it is:
What do you think of these tips for the Taj Mahal? Have you been to the Taj Mahal? What did you think? Do you have any other insider tips that you found useful for yourself when you visited? What other UNESCO or World Wonders have you traveled to? Let me know in the comments.
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