Ask anyone what the most famous monument or spectacle is in India, and chances are they’ll say the Taj Mahal. And, to be honest, if you’ve never been to India before, it’s probably the only one you’ll know anyway.
Papped and snapped by everyone and their mate, the Taj is the most iconic and probably one of the most photographed places in the country. A quick online search brings up hoards of images of famous people, from Princess Diana and Will and Kate to Bill Clinton and Katy Perry, posing outside its reflected dome, while tourists take selfies galore from the legendary eyeline at the front of the building.
One of the world’s seven wonders – and rightly so – and India’s greatest treasure, the Taj Mahal is steeped in romance. In the 17th century, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan ruled over north-east India hand-in-hand with his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The two were inseparable; she would travel with him even on his military campaigns. But on one such journey, Mumtaz died giving birth to the Emperor’s 14th child. Heartbroken, Shah Jahan became consumed with the construction of her mausoleum – and thus the Taj Mahal was born.
It was an incredible feat – materials and specialists from all over the world were used, as well as around 1,000 working elephants and 20,000 workers. And those who worked on it didn’t exactly get the reward they were hoping for – rumor has it that Shah Jahan cut off the hands of some builders for fear that they would make a replica of the place.
The main mausoleum was finished in the early 1640s, but – before its full completion – Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangzeb, and imprisoned in Agra Fort. In a tragic end to this tale of romantic excess, Shah Jahan ended his life in a prison from where he could only gaze wistfully at his beloved creation.
The Taj is now a World Heritage Site, welcoming seven million visitors from across the world every year for a spectacle that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Mark Twain said: “The world is divided into two types of people: those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not” – and there’s no time to waste in putting yourself in No 1 camp. The Taj is a masterpiece of Mughal architecture, a structure of geometric perfection symbolising the love story of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. You can access the mausoleum by one of three gates, the South gate is undoubtedly the most beautiful, but you can only exit through this gate at the moment. It’s best to visit at sunrise before the site gets crowded – and while the Taj still floats in the dawn mist like a celestial palace. This sight alone is enough to stop you in your tracks – you’ll understand why Rudyard Kipling described it as “the embodiment of all things pure”.
But make sure you venture into the building itself, through the gorgeously manicured gardens and past the reflective water features, for the real beauty of the Taj lies in its detail. Each side of the mind-blowingly intricate Taj Mahal is identical – every mark of Arab calligraphy and every geometric motif and botanical carving laid in exquisite marble, lapis, jade or jasper. Bear in mind that many hotels in the area will give you a stunning view of the Taj. DoubleTree by Hilton offers views of the Taj Mahal from the pool area, but the best is from the Oberoi Amarvilas, just 600m from the Taj Mahal, where every room has uninterrupted views.
The Taj Mahal will be the jewel in the crown of any holiday to India, select any itinerary featuring Agra. Explore our India Holidays, created by us and tailored by you
The Taj Mahal stands majestically on the banks of the River Yamuna, in the east of Agra. It’s around 6km from the city center, and is easily accessible by auto rickshaw or cab. Agra’s three railway stations – Agra Cantt, Raja ki Mandi and Agra Fort – connect almost all cities in India, and the Taj is just a 10-15 minute walk from Agra Fort station. Getting here is a breeze.
It’s open Saturday to Thursday, opening 30 minutes before sunrise and closing 30 minutes before sunset. There is no limit to how long tourists can stay. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays to anyone not attending prayers at the mosque.
There is no specific dress code, but it is always good to dress respectfully. If you intend to visit the mosque, you will need to cover your head, shoulders, and knees. Bear in mind that you need to take off your shoes when you go inside, so you may want to wear footwear that is easy to slip off.
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