Considered an architectural masterpiece and a modern-day ‘wonder of the world’, there is a lot of hype around the Taj Mahal. And it SO lives up to the hype!
I’ve been to the Taj Mahal twice and felt the same excitement and anticipation both times! Here’s a quick break-down on what you need to know to visit the monument:
The mausoleum was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal, with the help of 20,000 artisans over a period of 20+ years. It is one of the most famous stories in India and one of the most famous monuments in the world. The structure is much bigger than what I expected, and all made of bright white marble.
The actual chamber at the heart of the building can be entered as well. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are said to the buried in here although the tombs seen right as you enter the main chamber are just models. The real tombs are built deep down and are inaccessible.
When to go?
I have visited the monument once in July, which is India’s peak summer and in November, the beginning of Winter. The summer has relatively lower chances of fog and tons of natural light, but the temperatures are really high (95 F / 35 C or more). All that marble does not help either! I was very burnt and dehydrated half-way through. The winter on the other hand is a lot cooler and gives an opportunity to really relax and enjoy. The Taj Mahal website itself recommends people to visit between October – Feb, during the cooler months.
It’s crowded all year round, regardless of when you end up going!
What time to visit?
It is open Saturday – Thursday and remains closed on Fridays. The timings are from 30 mins before sunrise and 30 mins before sunset on any given day. Any updated information should be available on the official site here.
There are several recommendations on when to visit the Taj Mahal but there are pros and cons to everything. I visited it first thing in the morning because that’s what worked best for my schedule. There will be some fog to deal with in the mornings, but the crowd is generally lower too. I entered around 9 AM and it was easy to get it, but I saw a huge line on my way out a few hours later. I ended up spending 2-3 hours inside just walking around and taking pictures. If you’re just looking for some good pictures, going much later in the afternoon might do the trick as well.
What to take?
All you need is a bottle of water, a camera, some shades and an ID (this is a must to be let in)! There is a security check at the entrance and the rules are very similar to an Airport security check. So nothing sharp, no food, not even chewing gum (they’re surprisingly strict about that) and you should be good.
In recent years, the pollution has caused some darkening of the Marble and the Indian government along with UNESCO is working on an organic process to clean it out. So, you might see some scaffolding one of the sides of the building, but there should still be tons of angles to take gorgeous pictures from. Inside the main building itself photography or artificial lights are allowed, to protect the paintings and the marble.
Do I need a guide?
You don’t have to if you don’t want to, it is not necessary. Getting in and out and walking around inside is all pretty straight-forward. I had a guide with me both times that I went, as I personally really like having someone give me the history and context of heritage sites. Not that this is some sort of a crash course into Mughal history, but there’s so much to know just about the Taj itself. I had so many questions too just walking around.
The first time I went, I just signed up with one of the certified English-speaking guides at the gate itself and the second time I pre-booked via Indian Holiday. I had a good experience both times! The guides are pretty courteous too and will usually always let you be on your own the second half, so you have some time to yourself.
How much do tickets cost?
For foreign tourists it costs Rs 1000 (~ $15). I didn’t think it was necessary to pre-book tickets. But if you have 0 flexibility and want to be on the safe side, you can purchase tickets online here.
There are whole markets of souvenirs around the Taj Mahal and pretty much everywhere in Agra! For all the people who have a sweet tooth, there’s a really sugary dessert called ‘Petha’ which is a specialty of Agra that might be worth a try.