No trip to India is complete without a trip to the Taj Mahal. Known globally as an act of love as well as a wonder of the world, people venture from all over the globe to witness the mausoleum that stands majestically over the River Yamuna in Agra, North India. Millions of people visit every single year, so here at my tips for making your visit as memorable as possible.
The Story of the Taj Mahal
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 travelled 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 honour.
1. Book a tour
Whether it is a tour just for the day or it is part of your Golden Triangle tour. I thoroughly recommend having a guide with you, not only was our guide on hand to answer all of our questions, he took photos of us together so we did not have to pay a photographer and most importantly he knew his way around – which was especially important for helping to get us into the Taj Mahal within the first thirty people of the day.
Which leads me to…
2. Arrive early
The Taj Mahal opens from sunrise to sunset every day, apart from Fridays when it is closed. Find out the time of sunrise for your visit and aim to arrive at the site at least one hour before, this will allow enough time to buy your entrance ticket (1000 Rupees) as soon as the office opens and then jump in one of the electric vehicles which will take you up to the queue line.
We may have been extremely lucky on our visit, but everyone has commented on the lack of people in the background our photos. Below is a photo of two hours after opening and as you can see there are a lot more people around.
3. Bring minimal items
Before you enter, yourself and your bag will be searched, there is a whole host of items which you cannot bring in with you, this includes food, selfie sticks, camera tripods and drones. Save yourself the hassle by only bringing in the things you need – a camera, a small amount of money and some water (all foreign visitors receive a free bottle of water with their entrance ticket.).
4. You need to wear shoe covers or go barefoot to reach the top of the Taj Mahal
This is simply to protect the building, shoe covers are provided for free so please be respectful and wear them. We were told that the guards are also not too forgiving of people who do not play by the rules.
5. Take in as much information as possible before you visit
Read all the books and learn all about the history, because it is fascinating, it will also help you to understand everything while you are there. For example, did you know the palace was designed so that everything would fall away from the mausoleum in the event of a collapse? or everything in the Taj Mahal is in perfect symmetry apart from Shah Jahan’s cenotaph which is positioned west of the central axis.
6. You cannot take photos inside of the mausoleum
Photos are allowed everywhere in the grounds apart from the inside the mausoleum, guards are also around to ensure this does not happen. I have also heard many people skip this part due to the queues, but I found they moved very quickly and I thought it was worth visiting inside as well.
7. Be prepared to queue for the ‘Diana Bench’
Surprisingly the biggest queue I saw was the bench where Princess Diana sat for the iconic photo, so if you would like to replicate that photo be prepared to wait. If not there are plenty of other benches around for posing.
8. Dress respectfully
There is not actually a dress code for the Taj Mahal but with everywhere else in India it is advised to dress respectfully – covering your legs and shoulders. From a fashion point of view, remember these will be photos you will want to share for the rest of your life, therefore I opted for a black maxi dress and added in some colour with a bright shawl which I used to cover my shoulders.
9. Do not spend too much time in Agra
Aside from the Taj Mahal the only other thing really to do in Agra is visiting the Agra Fort – which I recommend. Most people only spend one night in Agra so do not worry about allocating too much there, the most popular route from here tends to be Jaipur or Delhi. We stayed in the Hotel Parador which also has a fabulous restaurant called Bon Barbecue attached.
10. Spend sunset on the opposite side of the River Yamuna
Across the water is the Mehtab Bagh and Mughal Gardens, for just 100 Rupees you can sit on a wall while the sun goes down alongside the Taj Mahal. It can be busy but nowhere near as busy as inside the grounds and I thoroughly recommend taking in this view from this vantage point as well. On this side, we were told to watch our bags extremely closely for pickpockets.
11. Be amazed
I will not lie, I was slightly worried the Taj Mahal would not live up to the hype but for me it really did. There are not many places I have visited where I have actually gasped on arrival, the Taj Mahal is every bit as beautiful as it is in photos, take your time and take in every little detail and try to keep in mind the story of why this wonder of the world was built in the first place.