So, funny story…in high school, I was given the name Tosh Mahal, but never in my life, especially back then, would I have imagined that one day I’d be standing in Agra, staring in awe at one of the greatest man made Wonders of the World.
The Taj Mahal dates back to 1630 and is actually a tomb, or mausoleum, which was built by Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, to showcase his everlasting love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal after her death.
Darwaza-i-rauza is one of the components of the Taj Mahal complex. It is the gateway to the gardens, which symbolically represents Paradise. It is also called the “Great Gate” and makes an everlasting impression before even seeing the Taj Mahal. The impressive structure and less talked about Great Gate of the Taj Mahal is a work of art. When you’re walking through the gate, the Taj Mahal seems to get further and further away from sight as you walk through, almost creating an optical illusion. Definitely a must see because I probably sound crazy explaining it as I just did! Another cool feature would be the identical gates on both sides with 11 identical guldastas, which apparently symbolizes each year that the Taj Complex took to make, so basic math…11 on each side Xs 2 = 22 years to make.😲
Without a doubt, a visit to India is not fully complete without visiting the majestic Taj Mahal. Located 200 kilometres from Delhi in Agra, which is situated in the state of Upper Pradesh and part of the famous Golden Triangle Route, the Taj Mahal is a structure unlike any that you’ve ever seen.
Rising high in the sky from the banks of the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal immediately demands the attention of its onlookers. Its grandiose structure took 22 years to build and 20,000 labourers to finish it. Built entirely in glistening white marble and adorned with semi-precious gemstone details and intricate carvings, the Taj Mahal is a place one must see in person to fully appreciate.
Read more: How I Spent Two Weeks Travelling In India
The Taj Mahal is on many traveller’s bucket lists and with good reason; it’s absolutely breathtaking. If you are visiting India and the Taj Mahal for the first time, there are some things you should know to prepare you for your visit. I’ve listed a few helpful tips and some photo tricks to make the most of your visit to India’s picturesque symbol of love.
Here’s all you need to know before visiting the Taj Mahal.
When To Go
Whether you go in the early morning, or late afternoon, you’ll be surrounded by people, which I found were mostly Indian tourists travelling within their own country. That being said, we visited once at sunset and again in the early morning hours at sunrise and both times were beautiful for great lighting and temperatures (I visited at the end of March). Arriving early in the morning for sunrise had a significant less amount of people for sure, so if you want less crowds I’d say go at sunrise. I can honestly say that seeing the Taj Mahal for a second time in less than 24 hours was just as magical as the first visit. We were fortunate enough to visit when we did because the Taj Mahal was scheduled for cleaning of the outside dome in the upcoming weeks (the dome would’ve been covered in scaffolding) due to discoloured from air pollution, hence why vehicles are not allowed within 500 metres of the structure. Phew!
Where To Stay
There are numerous hotels and hostels within the city of Agra, so you have a lot to choose from. Our hotel was literally a ten minute drive to the main parking lot of the Taj Mahal. We stayed at a luxury boutique style hotel called The Trident Agra, which boasted incredibly beautiful grounds complete with a large pool and hot pink bougainvillea flowers.
Guide Or No Guide
Although I travelled with a group, our guide for the Taj Mahal wasn’t the greatest. He was informative, but what he knew in facts, he lacked in personality. In my opinion, if you are going to get a guide with your tour group, make sure to get reputable one from a well known company. Your tour company will arrange that though. If you are visiting on your own accord, I’d skip the guide altogether and just do your own research. You also won’t be on a schedule, so you can meander around the grounds as long as you’d like.
Cost Of Admission
At the time of my visit, the cost to enter the 1250 rupees (about $23 CAD) for foreigners and the cost includes a map of Agra (maybe groups don’t receive one because we didn’t), access to the mausoleum, cloth shoe coverings to cover your feet when walking on the marble and bottle of water. You must keep your stamped ticket on you and make sure you don’t lose it. Stamped tickets will need to be shown to enter the mausoleum and to be allowed access to the upper platform.
The Taj Mahal is open from 6am to 7pm daily except on Fridays, which is closed for Muslim prayer only. If arriving for sunrise, the gates don’t actually open until the sun has already risen, but you’ll still get that great morning glow, so keep that in mind when arriving for sunrise.
Security at the Taj Mahal is no joke. There are armed militia throughout the grounds dressed in full army fatigues as well at the three entry gates, which are the East, West and South gates. All bags are scanned upon entry, which takes forever when the lineups are long (and they will be long), so save yourself the time and hassle and just bring nothing except maybe a small clutch, or wallet. Men and women must enter through separate lineups to be searched, so if you’re with a group, or significant other, you might want to have a meeting point after the security check.
What You Cannot Bring Inside
There is an extensive list of no-no items that cannot be brought into the Taj Mahal grounds. No gum, no food, no drink, no lighters, no tobacco, no tripods, no drones, no chargers, or electronic items other than a camera and cell phone. There is also no photography allowed inside the mausoleum, so make note of that as well. Only bring a tiny handheld clutch, or wallet with necessities such as phone, camera, money and a place to put your ticket. I just brought a tiny clutch, which fit my all of my necessities. For a complete list of what can and cannot be brought in, visit the official government site of the Taj Mahal.
Everyone wants to coveted shot of the Taj Mahal with the pristine fountain. I mean, who wouldn’t? It is stunning. When trying to snag a gorgeous shot, try out some of these tips to get those unique angles and viewpoints that will have you coming home with some standout photographs of one of the world’s most photographed sites.
What’s the old saying? Patience is a virtue? You’ll definitely need a lot of that while taking photographs at the Taj Mahal. You will have photos with people in in, so get over it. I waited at least five minutes, or longer to take a shot I wanted, but waited for the crowds to thin out a bit.
Get That Coveted Shot
Get the coveted shot with fountains when you leave the grounds, as less people will be standing at the top. Everyone goes there first as soon as they enter the front gate, so it is literally survival of the fittest in order to get a shot then. It was overwhelming at some points with the crowds. You’ll even have better luck if you come again for sunrise and take the shot in the morning, so set that alarm nice and early! Also, when you reach the end of the first pool, there is a viewing platform that will get you a much better shot with less people at a higher level.
Try different angles, frame the Taj Mahal with trees and use reflections. I brought a postcard of the Taj Mahal inside my clutch to use as a prop and I just happened to see a great shot in my friend’s sunglasses, so I literally told him to STOP and not to move to get the shot. It turned out to be one of my favourites from the visit. Even our tour leader wanted me to replicate the shot for him the next day. 🙂
View From The River
If you don’t want to head up to the Taj Mahal and are looking for a more unique view with way less crowds, hire a boat from a local to take you for a float down the Yamuna River. From photos that I’ve seen online, the views are insanely beautiful and the price to hire a boat is way cheaper than the cost to get into the Taj Mahal.
Get Closeup To The Details
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Taj Mahal is in the details. Get closeup shots of the architectural details of the Taj Mahal that you won’t see from a distance. Showcasing the beauty of the carvings, marble tilework and design elements will give you great photographs that a lot of people won’t have.
The Taj Mahal is massive and I have never felt smaller than standing next to its walls while gazing up at its spectacular facade. Try showing the scale of the Taj Mahal by having another well planned person in the shot, or just do what I did and wait for someone to walk into your shot. That’s when patience comes into play once again. I also envisioned a shot of me walking up to the Taj Mahal and had one of our group members snap the photo for me to show scale.
Head To The Mosque First
Not many people head to the beautiful mosque (Kau Ban Mosque) across from the Taj Mahal on the west side. They get in, take the famous snap and then head straight to the main show. Some of the best photos and angles of the Taj Mahal are from this mosque and I’m so glad I took off from the group to shoot here in the morning, since there were literally only a handful of people around. The mosque itself is beautiful, so don’t rule out visiting it as well for all of you architecture lovers. The beautiful archways of the mosque provided me with the absolute perfect framing for the shot I was dying to achieve.
The Taj Mahal is one of the most recognizable and heavily toured places on the planet and after visiting for myself, I can see why. It’s not only a symbol of love, but also a fantastically engineered building, made entirely by hardworking hands with no machines to help. It’s intricate details and symmetry will blow your mind the minute you glance at it up close as well as from afar.
Have any of you been to the Taj Mahal? If not, is it on your bucket list of places to see in your lifetime? Let me know in the comments below! xo
I travelled to India with Vivid Life Journeys in partnership with Toerboer based in South Africa and Ashoka Holidays based in Jaipur, India.