The Taj Mahal is without a doubt one of the most beautiful monuments ever built. We have all seen it a thousand times in photos: the white marble dome and minarets reflected in the pool or shining brightly against the night sky. And yet…only when you see it with your own eyes you will truly appreciate this wonder of the world. Here are my top tips for visiting the Taj Mahal and making your experience even more memorable.
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Construction of the Taj Mahal began the following year and it is believed that the main building was completed in just eight years. Following the death of Shah Jahan in 1666, he was buried alongside Mumtaz.
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most-visited tourist attractions (7 to 8 million annual visitors), so expect large crowds all year round, and strict security. Plan your visit in advance, book a private guide or ask your hotel to arrange a tour for you.
Plan Your Visit to Agra
Sitting at the edge of the Yamuna River, Agra was once the glorious capital of the Mughal Empire at the peak of its power. Today Agra is synonymous with the Taj Mahal and other splendid Mughal-era buildings, such as the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri, all three listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I recommend allowing at least two days in your travel itinerary to visit Agra.
How to get to Agra from Delhi
The easiest way to see the Taj Mahal is to fly to New Delhi and from there travel to Agra by car. You can fly to Delhi from any main city in India with Air India, Jet Airways or low cost airlines such as GoAir, IndiGo or SpiceJet. I flew from Mumbai to Delhi with Jet Airways and back with Go Air (I booked two months in advance and paid around £55).
We had originally planned to take a fast train (2h30′) from Delhi to Agra (£5 per person), but when we arrived at the train station we discovered that our train was 7 hours late! We decided to cancel our train tickets immediately to get a full refund and arrange for a private car to get us to Agra. I usually rely on Indian railways, but in this case my tip would be to skip the train and go to Agra by car.
You can arrange a taxi to Agra directly through your hotel in Delhi or directly from New Delhi International airport (there are official kiosks in the arrival terminal). We paid approximately £60 for a one way trip (we split it between four passengers, so it turned out to be very convenient, if not very comfortable).
Ask your driver to take the new Yamuna Expressway from Noida (a suburb of Delhi) to Agra. It might still take some time to get out of Delhi’s crazy traffic, but at least once you are on the Expressway you will get to Agra in just 3 hours.
Where to Stay in Agra
I highly recommend ITC Mughal where I stayed, a Luxury Collection hotel sprawled over 35 acres of luxurious gardens and in close proximity to the Taj Mahal. From the moment I arrived at ITC Mughal I didn’t have to worry about a thing as the hotel concierge arranged our visit to the Taj Mahal and to Mehtab Bagh Gardens with a private car and an official guide. I will share a full review of ITC Mughal soon.
The weather in Agra can get very hot and humid in summer (April to June). Travelling with a backpack on your shoulders isn’t comfortable and the city’s busy roads aren’t ideal for large suitcases either. Carry a travel backpack with wheels to get the best of both worlds.
Entry To The Taj Mahal
There are three entry gates: the West, East and South Gates. Allow around 30 minutes to get a ticket, walk (or take an electric car) to the gate and go through security. Don’t forget to bring your ID. Entry fees differ for foreign tourists (1000 rupees) and Indian tourists (40 rupees). If you don’t already have a guide, go to the Approved Guides Office to book one.
There is a long list of items that you are not allowed to take inside the Taj Mahal complex, including food, mobile chargers, camera tripods, anything sharp and flammable. You are allowed to bring in one camera and one mobile phone per person. Check the list of banned items in advance, so you can directly leave these at the hotel or with your driver.
Don’t forget that the Taj Mahal is a religious site. Dress appropriately, and if you are a woman cover your legs, midriff and shoulders.
The Best Time to See the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset every day except on Fridays. Night viewing is allowed five nights a month: on a full moon night, two days before it and two days after it.
The best time to see the Taj Mahal is soon after dawn to avoid the crowds (aim to arrive half-hour before the gates open). There is no limit to how long tourists can stay inside the monument complex. You can enter at dawn to take those magical shots of the Taj Mahal and the pink sky, then wait around until the sky turns blue, to see the intricately decorated white marble in full day light.
Winter mornings in Agra can be very foggy and hazy (November to February), so you might not be able to see the Taj Mahal until midday when the sky starts to clear a bit. Make sure to check the weather forecast before you set your alarm. No point waking up early if there is not much to see.
The Best Spots To Get Photos
Some of the best photos of the Taj Mahal are taken from the South Gate. Stand outside or underneath the gate, looking directly at the Taj Mahal, play with you shutter and speed to capture great silhouette shots.
As you walk through the South Gate you will find yourself on an elevated platform. Keep walking closer to the Taj Mahal, until you are on the ground level in front of the pool. Stand by the centre of the pool to get the perfect shot of the Taj Mahal reflected in the water.
Don’t forget to take close-up shots of the Taj Mahal. The intricate designs of marble and semi-precious gemstones are among the finest in Mughal architecture. They are absolutely stunning and make for a beautiful background to portraits.
The Ultimate Taj Mahal Viewing Spot: Mehtab Bagh
As you walk around the Taj Mahal you will see the Yamuna River flowing at the back of the building. Across the river lays a public garden, Mehtab Bagh, literally meaning moonlight garden, which has been recently restored. It is one of the best viewing spots of the Taj Mahal, particularly at sunset.
Mehtab Bagh was built to the identical width of the Taj Mahal complex and is exactly aligned with the mausoleum. It’s a great spot to see the Taj Mahal in all its splendour and take amazing photos. It’s also very peaceful, so it gives you the chance to fully appreciate the beauty of the Taj Mahal without getting distracted by hordes of tourists.
We visited Mehtab Bagh at dawn and, while the sun was too far away to capture it with the Taj Mahal, we still got some beautiful photos of the pink sky reflected on the marble building.
For about twenty minutes my husband and I were the only two people in the garden. It was an incredible experience that made me feel a deep connection to the place.
Mehtab Bagh is open from sunrise to sunset. It takes around 20-30 minutes to get there by car or rickshaw from the Taj Mahal main site. Tickets cost 5 rupees for Indian visitors and 100 rupees for foreigners.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Here’s a short video I took of the Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bagh garden. I hope it conveys a bit of the magic of that place!