We arrived in Agra at almost 11PM. Coming from my very first train ride on a sleeper car, I just wanted to get to our hotel. But there was one final hurdle.
the taj… a lot more atmospheric early in the day
After leaving the train station, I was immediately accosted by one of the city’s notorious touts. Did I want a taxi? Where was I going to stay? Oh, that hotel is already closed! No, no and no. We just walked on despite his useless inquiries as he tried to impose his choice of accommodation upon us.
We eventually got to our hotel – a relatively simple, if not overrated lodging mere minutes away from the Taj Mahal. This was after all what we came to see. This was why we’re in Agra, to lay our eyes on this gem in the middle of all the mess. A famous Indian poet once called it a “teardrop in the face of eternity” and experts rate it as one of the most beautiful buildings in history. We were about to find out if this white tomb is worth all the hype.
the gate leading up to the taj
We left to see the Taj early the next day. We were already at the west gate before 7am, with what must have been hundreds of eager tourists ahead of us in the queue. The admission was pretty steep by Indian standards at Rs 750 or roughly US$ 15 to 16, though buying this gives one an automatic discount to other Agra attractions such as the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
They say that the best time to visit the Taj Mahal is at sunrise when there’d be less people and the colors would be more purplish than at other times (sunset is another good option). After another round of body inspections, we ended up right in front of the magnificent white building, and indeed, it didn’t disappoint.
on the taj
The Taj is probably one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Many a disaster films have included at least a scene of the Taj getting destroyed by a great flood, invaded by aliens and other apocalyptic scenarios. It is so recognizable that millions of people come to India each year primarily just to see this. Though seeing the Taj was not the main reason I came to India, I was still impressed by this domed marble structure – an enduring testament to love and what it can make people do.
it is easy to think of the taj as a palace… it has all the trappings of one
Although many people can easily recognize the Taj Mahal, most think of it as a palace (it certainly looks like one!). It is actually a tomb built by the Shah to commemorate his wife who died in childbirth.
what it looks like up close
This UNESCO World Heritage Site took a good 3 hours of our time. We all knew it was going to be our only chance to see it up close. Like other structures built during the Mughal era, the architecture is a mix of Indian and Persian design. Going nearer to the main building, one realizes it’s not actually as white as it seemed from afar. The marble turns a bit yellowish, with detailed bas reliefs and decorative paintings becoming more evident and striking. It is also forbidden to wear shoes while on the building itself, and this is where the shoe protectors (comes with the ticket) come in handy.
entering the taj is possible (and I highly encourage it), but photography is not allowed
Inside, one sees the cenotaphs of the shah and his wife. In keeping with Muslim tradition, it is relatively simple but the octagonal screen surrounding the tombs show very intricate carvings. It’s worth checking out for the details.
the persian-styled garden
Like Delhi’s Humayun’s Tomb, the Taj Mahal is actually on the UNESCO World Heritage list on two counts – first for the monument itself and second as a Persian garden. The garden here is one of the most elaborate examples of a Persian garden, even beating those gardens from Persia (Iran) itself. The sheer scale of the monument alone means that it requires a garden that is several times its size and it surely does not disappoint on this aspect. Make sure to check out this out while on the Taj itself to get a higher survey of the expanse.
Tips for seeing the Taj Mahal:
- Arrive either early in the day (at sunrise) or near closing (at sunset). You’ll get nicer photos during these times and you avoid the daytrippers coming from Delhi (these people usually arrive in the Taj Mahal near noon).
- There’s no need to bring bottled water. You get a free bottle of water as part of admissions into the Taj Mahal.
- If you’re touring around Agra, it’s best to visit Taj Mahal first so that you can get a discount (Rs50) for the other sights nearby like Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and the Tomb of Akbar in Sikandra
- We noticed that many people tend to follow the crowds and get preoccupied with photo taking as soon as they enter the complex. Don’t. Snap one or two pictures per spot if you wish. But if you prefer to lose the crowds, it’s better to go ahead of them — don’t worry as there are like dozens of possible spots from which to snap great pictures of the Taj, and you’ll get to avoid having unnecessary extras on your photo as well.
- Avoid going to the Taj Mahal on Fridays. It will be closed as there’s a mosque inside.
- Do you need a guide or not? There will be a lot of people offering their services to you. But unless you’re interested to know about the detailed history of the Taj Mahal, it’s not necessary. I found my guidebook and its 2-page writeup to be more than adequate.
Check out my previous post about Delhi, my chaotic introduction to India.