Taj Mahal travel guide, including map of India, top Taj Mahal experiences, tips for Taj Mahal travel, when to visit the Taj Mahal
Man’s greatest monument to love. ‘A teardrop on the face of eternity’ (wrote Rabindranath Tagore). The place that launched a million postcard-sellers (wrote us).
The Taj Mahal – that pearl-white, extravagantly beautiful mausoleum shimmering alongside Agra’s Yamuna River – has certainly garnered more than its fair share of gushing epithets, not to mention tourists; it must be the most-visited spot in India by a country mile.
Not without reason: seeing the Taj materialise in the dawn glow, ghostly and more fragile-looking than something so big has any right to be, is truly a spiritual experience.
The Taj Mahal was built in 1653 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, to commemorate his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth. The finest artisans from Asia and Europe worked to design and create the elaborate patterns of marble and semi-precious stones inlaid in the main mausoleum, and the entire site – with four minarets standing guard at the mausoleum’s corner – is a triumph of symmetry and grace.
Enjoying that quintessential Taj Mahal encounter is not without its pitfalls. Alongside those hordes of postcard-sellers, sometimes-pushy guides and rickshaw drivers, the Taj itself has suffered in recent years – pollution has tainted its smooth marble exterior, though a recent ban on traffic nearby should help protect it.
But that’s quibbling. Get here early morning, before the day-trippers arrive, or wangle a moonlight visit, and spend time just looking and absorbing; there’s serenity here, among the crowds, and something new to entrance at every glance.
Taj Mahal & Agra Top 5
- Bag yourself a ticket for a moonlit Taj visit. Tickets are extremely limited and only offered five nights a month (full moon night, and the two nights preceding and following). Book early to ensure your spot. Or head up to one of the nearby surrounding rooftop restaurants on full moon night for a more distant (but cheaper) view of the Taj aglow.
- See the Taj from a different angle. The Taj Nature Walk, which starts 600m to the east of the momument, gives a sense of the gardens that used to surround it. The 9km walk passes amid a range of trees and offers sightings of hornbills, sunbirds, quails and many more birds. Another option is to glimpse the Taj from the Mehtab Bagh gardens across the river.
- Admire Agra’s other fine monuments – including the red sandstone fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his own son, and from where you get great longer-distance Taj views. Also head to the nearby Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque), Itimad-ud-Daulah (‘Baby Taj’) and Akbar’s Mausoleum.
- Get away from Agra on a trip to the nearby ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri, a fascinating, deserted Mughal capital constructed by emperor Akbar from 1570. The site is about 40km from Agra, easily accessed by bus (around 1.5 hours; frequent daily departures); you can also hire a car and driver to take you.
- Get creative with your photography – don't just stand in front of the Taj for the standard cheesy photo: try plenty of different angles and viewpoints inside and outside the complex. For example, cross to the opposite bank of the Yamuna River for shots of the Taj reflected in the water, or head up to the rooftops of the Taj Ganj area's numerous hotels and restaurants for loftier snaps.