“Oh India! Have you been to the Taj Mahal?”
“Not yet” was my answer.
I never quite understood the flimflam around the Taj Mahal! I mean I’ve known about it all my life, seen umpteen number of pictures, it’s one of those iconic monuments whose form is etched into your world imagery since childhood. But yet, I somehow never really considered visiting the Taj Mahal until I planned this trip to North India. I frequent Delhi for work very often and this time made up my mind to actually visit Agra and decide for myself if all the hype around the Taj Mahal was worth it or not!
A road trip from Delhi Airport for around 4.5 hours and we arrived at Agra. Checked into our hotel and headed straight to see the Taj. There were security checks at the entrance and already a long queue of tourists by the time we got there. The ticket for the Taj Mahal is INR 20 for Indians and a whopping INR 750 for foreigners (I wonder why there is such a huge difference in the pricing!)
Once we got past the gates, entry to the grounds was easy and it was like being transported into a different era. Within a few minutes we were walking through the red sandstone outer walls of the compound, with the Taj still out of site. We were surrounded by lush green gardens and magnificent Mughal architecture. Even the air seemed majestic. Walking further, we arrived at The Great Gate (Darwaza-i rauza) that leads to the gardens surrounding the Taj Mahal. This gate is striking in itself, made of red sandstone with intricate marble work and imposing archways. It would make an impressive monument by itself in most other countries.
Suddenly, first viewed through an archway, there it was bathed in white sunlight – the Taj Mahal. I was honestly a bit choked up when I saw it! I was swooned in awe to a point where it actually took my breath away. In that moment, from a few hundred meters away, the previous hours fade away and my answer is clear…“Damn. I get it. It IS worth it. I’m really glad I didn’t miss this.”
The sheer size, simplistic beauty, perfect symmetry and sprawling garden grounds was mesmeric. Take a note all you husbands! This is how you pay tribute to your wife! I was so moved by the gesture of building such an indescribable structure solely to honor a deceased loved one. How could any person possibly have been loved this much? Slowly, as if waking up from a slumber shock, we began the touristy ritual of taking photographs from all angles.
The gardens were bustling with tourists, but it’s such an expansive space that it didn’t feel over-crowded. The ten-minute stroll from the gate to the Taj, through Persian-inspired gardens, lined with trees, fountains, and a reflecting pool running down the center, seemed pleasantly designed to give the viewer more time to take in the gorgeous building from a distance. When I got up close and personal with the monument my jaw was left open in admiration. The entire building is made out of white marble and the way it’s intricately put to use is just stunning. Standing below that enormous dome with its four minaret towers is simply a dwarfing experience. Photos really can’t do justice to this incredible building.
For a brief history of the Taj, it is a mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his fourth wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died after giving birth to their 14th child. The Emperor wanted the Taj Mahal to be 100% marble but due to the weight it had to be made from brick and clad in the stunning white marble. It took 22 years to build it, which began in 1632. Soon after the mausoleum was completed, Shah Jahan’s son had his father imprisoned, presumably because he spent so much of their money building the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan was placed in the Red Fort where he had a view over the Taj Mahal and stared at it for the rest of his days as he mourned for his wife. The tombs of the Emperor and his wife are in an underground crypt but replica tombs can be visited inside the monument.
Very essential tips for visiting the Taj
Visiting North India during December to February, you must be prepared to brave the cold. The winters can get very intense and the wind chills can almost freeze your bones! But luckily I didn’t face any problem (though I visited the Taj Mahal in February) The weather was extremely pleasant (not what I expected when visiting North India!)
Also it’s very important to remember that you are in a conservative country and should dress appropriately by trying to cover up as much as possible while visiting national and religious monuments. Not that there is any restriction on dress code at the Taj Mahal but out of respect for the culture and tradition I would just covering your knees.
If you go during the winter season, beware! There tends to be way too much fog which doesn’t exactly help in getting the best views and pictures of the Taj Mahal.
There are approximately 50000-60000 people visiting the Taj Mahal every single day! Early mornings are the best time to visit as soon as the gates open which is at 6:30am. The tourist buses start pouring in by 9am so make sure you go early to avoid the crowd! By the afternoon, there are thousands of people inside the monument area, which makes it difficult to explore, click pictures and enjoy the beauty of the place.
Yup, it’s true. There are no tripods allowed in the Taj Mahal or most public monuments in India. I’m not really sure of the reasoning behind it but it’s better to just leave it in the hotel room.
So, I guess millions of tourists aren’t wrong after all. The Taj Mahal is one of those works of genius that when you actually experience it in person you finally get it. You get why you’ve seen pictures of this place since you were a kid, you get why millions of people come here every year, you get why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and on the New Seven Wonders of the World list. It definitely is the world’s most OTT tomb and most certainly worth the journey!
Until Next Time