WHY YOU MUST SEE IT
If you are intrigued by the wonders of the world, believe in epic love stories, enjoy tales of deception, appreciate architecture, are fascinated with history, marvel at how things were built long ago, and appreciate the art of illusion, then you must see the Taj Mahal. It fulfils all of these yearnings and will captivate and beguile you, as it has me, and millions of others who have visited. Of course the Taj is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. So, here is my ultimate guide to the Taj Mahal and everything you should know.
Getting to the Taj Mahal
During the hottest time of the year, and monsoon season here in the North of India, I arrived in Agra, after a long flight from Australia to Delhi, via Hong Kong, followed by a 3½ hour drive from Delhi where I was staying. My driver and a separate guide were organised by my hotel. I was taken through the ticket booth and security entrance quickly, bypassing much of the queues (thanks to my guide) even though there were a lot of people there already when I arrived late morning.
Then, I saw it. I was speechless.
Immediately, I realised it was far more beautiful than the pictures. Often places seem more perfect in photos than in real life, don’t you agree? But not in this case. It is far more captivating in person.
The sheer enormity of it and the whitish coloured marble is absolutely stunning. As you approach the monument, which is set far back on the property, with lush green manicured gardens all around and the bluish backdrop of the sky, you begin to see the detail come to life.
My tour guide was talking away, and I’m sure he was saying great things, but I was engrossed in the majestic vision before me, and his heavily Hindi-accented English monologue was just white noise to me.
Located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the whole Taj Mahal complex includes a grand entry gate, courtyards, gardens, shallow pools, fountains and two identical red sand-stoned palace-like buildings on either side, one being a Mosque and the other being a guest house for royalty. The grounds span 55 acres. The Yamuna River is at the rear of the property.
Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had the monument built for his 3rd and favourite wife Mumtaz, who died in childbirth at the age of 39 whilst having their 14th baby. He was besotted by her and had promised her a memorial like no other to house her tomb as a lasting legacy of their love and a beacon to the world. Well he certainly out-did himself and everyone else. This is a love story like no other.
But, there is more to this story, of course. As with all good plots, there has to be some twists, right? Apparently, one of his sons, Aurangzeb wasn’t happy that he built this massive mausoleum when the Mughal empire was in strife. The son had grand plans of his own to take over the reigns. He managed to kill off his 3 brothers and then imprisoned his father, the Shah, in the Agra Fort for the rest of his life, where he was only able to view the Taj Mahal from his window. He died there, 8 years later, then was entombed with his spouse in the Taj. Quite a tale of deception and lust for power.
Building began in 1632 and took 22 years to complete. 22,000 craftsmen from around the world were commissioned – builders, stonemasons, painters, carvers and more. Marble from India was used, brought in by elephants and oxen. Precious stones and gems, such as pearl, jade and opal, malachite, turquiose, and lapis lazuli from around the world were used for the delicate inlays.
Carvings were all done by hand by skilled artisans. Complex patterns, tessellations, herringbone and mosaics embellish the walls, ceiling and floors. Writings from the Quran and calligraphy of poems are included in the design also. It’s truly a work of art. The artwork being definitively feminine.
The Taj Mahal is a symmetrical building, built with harmony, balance and perfection. Every detail was meticulously planned and designed. It is believed the Shah was very much in control of the design, overseeing a team of experienced architects.
The mix of architectural styles is fascinating. Mughal, Islamic, Persian and Hindu features were incorporated in the design and blend together seamlessly. A poignant statement, I think. It is an artistic monument also, in that the use of light and shade creates a changing colour effect of the marble at various times of the day. For example, at sunrise it has a different hue to sunset.
Inside the mausoleum chamber it is surprisingly small. It is built in an octagonal shape with an intricate octagonal screen all around the tombs. The beautiful tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan on display are actually empty. Yes! Their real tombs are located below in a sealed area, not open to the public.
- The main architect was Ustad-Ahmad Lahori, a Persian.
- Muslim law dictates that tombs are not allowed to be decorated at all. So the emperor and his wife are buried beneath the chamber in plain tombs.
- The Shah seems to have been obsessed with the number 22.
- He was also obsessed with everything being symmetrical.
- He intentionally made the 4 corner minarets lean slightly away from the central part of the building in case they were to fall as a result of natural disasters.
- Designs and patterns on the outside of the building create illusions of angles.
- 8 Million people visit each year.
- Unfortunately, pollution is damaging the Taj Mahal.
Important information and tips
Open hours: Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset. It it closed on Fridays, open only for Muslim prayer in the afternoon.
Cost: Indian Rupees (INR) 50 for local Indians and INR1300 for foreigners, including visit inside. Prices as of 7/2019. Discount given if paying with credit card. The cost doesn’t include golf cart or rickshaw ride to and from gate, as cars are not allowed close to the site. Allow INR50 for each way.
Rules: No food, alcohol, cigarettes, music, large bags, headphones, tripods, etc. There is a long list of items not allowed, so check with your local guide at the time of going. I brought in only a small bag, plastic water bottle, camera phone, and essentials. Everything else I left with my driver in his car.
Clothing: Wear modest clothing. You will be provided with shoe covers, like a shower cap, to put over your shoes.
Toilets: There are well maintained bathroom facilities here.
Photos: You are able to bring in phones and cameras. Normally no photos are allowed inside, however, this is India, and with a small fee payable in the hands of the guard, all is permitted. There are also ‘professional’ photographers outside if you wish to avail yourself of their services.
Finally, be aware of people wanting selfie photos with ‘white-skinned’ tourists. I had several people taking photos with me, one lady even kissed me on the cheek! It is usually harmless enough but can sometimes be disconcerting. Not sure why they treat us like celebrities, but apparently it’s a big craze.
Further, beggars are common on the main road, even young children beg for money. People also approach you to try to sell you things. Watch out for pickpockets, scams, overpriced taxi/rickshaw rides. Most importantly keep your bag close to your body at all times.
Tours you may be interested in
I hope you have found this ultimate guide enjoyable and useful in preparing to visit the Taj Mahal.
Have you any comments about the Taj Mahal? Please leave me your thoughts below.