History of the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his third wife who died during childbirth
This was the only wife he married for love (first two were arranged marriages) and her death broke his heart
It is entirely symmetrical down to the mosque and replica mosque built on either side
There are 53 fountains going down the center to commemorate it being built in 1653
How long to stay in Agra
Obviously this is completely up to you - that being said I wouldn’t stay in Agra more than one night. The Taj Mahal is the main attraction and the rest of the city is nothing to write home about. I suggesting doing what we did: arrive in the afternoon, visit the Taj with a guide and then head to the moon garden for sunset. The next morning wake up at 5am and visit the Taj alone for sunrise. Have some breakfast at your hotel and then head out to your next destination.
WHAT TIME SHOULD I ARRIVE TO THE TAJ MAHAL?
The Taj Mahal is open from sunrise through sunset every day except Friday.
I did both late afternoon and early morning. It’s definitely more peaceful at sunrise and I recommend it but don’t expect it to be empty. If you do sunrise wake up way before the sunrises and get in line. If crowds don't both you then go whenever it never really empty's out.
DO I NEED A GUIDE TO VISIT THE TAJ MAHAL?
Again up to you, but I suggest having one. Make sure you book one ahead of time so you don't get ripped off. It's not expensive at all if you book one through TripAdvisor. The Taj Mahal has some really cool history and it’s nice having someone to explain things to you. Plus you have a non-sketchy person you are already paying to take tons of pictures for you.
Getting in to the Taj Mahal - How to buy Tickets to the Taj Mahal
If you have a driver he will drop you off at the roundabout and you can walk down to the ticket booth – ignore the rickshaws trying to drive you down, it's a very short walk
A ticket is expensive – 1000RS when I went (there is no way to buy them in advance)
A tourist ticket includes water and foot coverings. Sometimes the ticket agents “forget” to give you those so people on the inside can sell you expensive ones. Make sure you don’t leave the ticket counter without it.
If you are traveling as a couple or in a coed group expect to get split up when going through security. There are separate entrance lines for males and females.
Pack as light as possible. No tripods, no cigarettes, no sketchpads, no big bags. There is no dimension sizes given for bags, it's pretty much up to the guards. It varies from guard to guard what size bag they want to allow in so I would suggest to just leave it at your hotel. A camera and a phone is all you should need.
INSIDE THE ACTUAL COMPOUND
The main gates before you enter are really impressive - unless it is 6am take a few minutes to admire them before heading inside.
There are two mosques on either side. One is a real mosque and the other was built only to keep everything perfectly symmetrical. If you want some interesting pictures of the Taj Mahal go over to the mosques and frame it in the arches.
The main platform that everyone takes pictures on is about half way up to the Taj. At least when I was there everyone was very civil letting people go one at a time to get a nice picture.
There are tons of hawkers inside trying to take your picture for money. Just ignore them and find another foreigner to take a picture of you.
If you are white and western looking locals will ask to take pictures with you. If you say yes a line will probably form. It’s really off putting at first so if you don’t feel comfortable with it then say no from the beginning.
Inside the actual mausoleum you are herded like cattle. It’s very bare and no photography is allowed. Talking is supposedly not allowed but no one listens to the signs. It is also very very stinky inside.
After you come out of the back of the mausoleum take a second to take in the sides and the crazy details up close.
HOW TO GET THE BEST PHOTOS OF THE TAJ MAHAL
Get there early (duh) – the light is beautiful and on certain days it turns the white bricks a gorgeous shade of pink. Of course it will also be far less crowded.
Don’t forget about getting up close for all those amazing detail shots
Visit the mosques on either side and use the arches to frame the Taj
Wear a bright color – the Taj is so gorgeous and white you will want to be in a nice bright color to really pop and bring dimension to your image. I chose a garnet and gold saree.
Go across the river (see below)
THE SECRET VIEW OF THE TAJ MAHAL AKA THE MOON GARDEN
Ask your driver to take you to Mehtab Bagh (also known as the moon garden). I recommend heading there in time for sunset. Not only is it a gorgeous view of the Taj Mahal but it also has almost no people. When I went there were maybe 20 people total in the whole gardens. And because the garden is so huge it really did feel like I was completely alone.
THE BLACK TAJ MAHAL LEGEND
Supposedly across the river (in the moon garden) an exact replica of the Taj Mahal was suppose to be built for the emperor once he died. It was intended to be a mirror image of the Taj Mahal just all in black. It never got built but the foundation is still there. His son decided it was too extravagant of a cost and instead put his body to rest next to his wives. Which sounds nice but throws off the symmetry of the Taj Mahal completely – which was literally all the emperor carried about when building it. Ironic right?
India is a gorgeous country and traveling there will be a trip of a lifetime. You shouldn’t leave home though without a travel guide. Here are a few I recommend: