Taj Mahal in photos is very impressive. Be it in the early morning when the sun begins to rise and its rays make the marbles glittery, or at dusk when the sky turns orange-pink, and oh, on a full moon night where it stands proud on a stark black/midnight blue and white.
Yes, in reality and non-professional photos, it looks tourist-studded, but I’m not disappointed, as it should rightfully be.
I got the chance to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site through the generosity of my employer while on a project in New Delhi. So while I will post some recommendations as to what sites to visit next after Taj Mahal, please know that with American clients with a scorching temperature of 41 degrees Celsius, it would have been highly unlikely. My recommendations below would be based on my research and asking locals about their own insights as well.
Taj Mahal is about 3 hours’ drive from New Delhi at 100 kph, depending on traffic conditions. We left the office at 530am, straight from a shift. We got there at 930 because we had a stop over somewhere to eat. If you are bringing your own car, start earlier than 530 because I heard sunrise photos at Taj Mahal are just as majestic.
Taj Mahal is really but a huge mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s favorite wife. She died at age 38 while giving birth to their 14th child.
What’s captivating about Taj Mahal is the perfect symmetry, it would look the same from all sides. There are four minarets, each standing at 130 feet, in each corner that are tilted 2.5 degrees, designed in a way that if they were to fall, they would fall away from, and not onto, the Taj Mahal’s main tomb.
It is perfectly mathematical and carefully laid-out, intricately designed I could sit and look at it the whole day if it hadn’t been 41 degrees Celsius yesterday. I could envision myself sitting under a tree writing poems and pondering on life and man’s successes.
The marbles are white and translucent, designed and carved with symmetry and optical illusions for the spectator. Even the floor is designed with a four-starred tile, that many visitors miss to appreciate.
It is also said that Shah Jahan commissioned a Black Taj Mahal across the river, exactly opposite the Taj Mahal. But before he could have this built, his son had banished him to the Agra Fort nearby to avoid spending so much money for lavish structures such as the Taj Mahal, which cost an equivalent of about US$500 million (this amount varies by the way).
While the marbles came from the desert-state of Rajasthan (where Jaipur is), and the jasper is from Punjab (another state), it can be noted that everything else were from different countries: The jade and crystal came from China (which Mary and I saw a lot of, when we were in Beijing last year), the turquoise was from Tibet, lapiz lasuli from Afghanistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka and carnelian from Arabia.
Because it is Islamic-Persian, a Koran passage has been inscribed on the great gate: “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”
HOW TO GET THERE: I would suggest hiring a cab if you’re a group of 5, but DIY trips can be made by taking the bus or train from Delhi to Agra. However, upon reaching Agra, you’d need to take an auto rickshaw or cab to reach the ticket gate of Taj Mahal. You can also check out the suggestions here as per Tripadvisor.
The entrance to Taj Mahal is about one more kilometer from the drop off / parking lot. It’s best to rent a golf car or a horse-drawn carriage to get you to the gate. We took a horse-drawn carriage and it waited for us till we’re done so we didn’t have to hire another one. Haggle hard to get a better price, especially if you don’t speak the local language.
If you get a guide, he will find ways to get you through the queue faster. Ours did and we saw some disapproving stares and pushing around from those who lined up first. The queue can take 30 minutes under the sun if not for him. My colleague paid 1,ooo Rupees for his services of less than 3 hours. You can maximize that time if you have more time.
COST: Group of 5: $70 per person for a day tour in Taj Mahal from Delhi. Click the link to see the inclusions. I am not affiliated with this company, but based on reviews, they’re pretty good. This is also a very relaxed tour. DIY is recommended only during the colder months starting September to February.
WHAT TO BUY: Outside the gate, you would see marble vendors, the bigger stores accept credit cards, but the smaller ones won’t. Haggle at 50% – If the price is 200 rupees per shirt say you can only buy at 100. I finally got 4 of mine for 125 each. They also have miniature Taj Mahal in marble 400 , marble elephants 250 , Taj Mahal snowballs at 30 rupees. The price can be lower depending on your ability to bargain.
Don’t miss the greatest Islamic-Persian architecture in all of India when you visit the subcontinent. Together with Jaipur and Delhi, these three places make up the Golden Triangle of India.
When you’re done with Taj Mahal and you still have some saved energy, drop by Agra Fort and take a photo of Taj Mahal from there.
And don’t forget to have some fun when you’re there. Drink plenty of water, respect the place, prepare yourself for some pushing, but make the trip worth it. Watch out for my Jaipur and Delhi blogs to complete your ultimate Golden Triangle adventure!