The Taj Mahal is on almost every travellers must-see list. It’s one of the world’s most celebrated structures and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World – and deservingly so. Its design, as well as shear size, are majestic and breathtaking.
The Taj Mahal is a shimmering white marble mausoleum inlaid with semi-precious stones (including jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst and turquoise) forming intricate designs in a technique known as pietra dura. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The central dome is surrounded by four smaller domes and four slender freestanding towers (minarets), all part of an integrated complex consisting of a square garden divided into quarters by long pools, a main gateway of red sandstone, as well as a red sandstone mosque and an identical building called a jawab (or “mirror”) directly across from the mosque. The complex is considered one of the most outstanding examples of Mughal architecture combined with Indian, Persian and Islamic influences.
The famed Taj Mahal is probably best known for the picturesque sunrise photos. Likely, the first question you have is did we roll ourselves out of bed at the early hours before dawn to be one of hundreds in line to capture the sunrise: no, we did not. Instead, we slept in, visited the Taj Mahal in the afternoon, and left before sunset. Every day we were in India there was a thick smog and you could barely see the sun. We opted for mid-afternoon when the sun was the strongest and was able to shine through the smog lighting up the mausoleum’s gleaming white marble façade. And we were very glad we did – our photographs turned out beautifully, minus the fact we left our sunglasses at home and the sun ended up being at just the right angle that we are squinting in every photo.
For the most part, the Taj Mahal complex is kept much cleaner than the rest of the city, although litter was still a problem (some people ignored the giant signs everywhere requesting people to actually use trash cans) and the red sandstone buildings on either side of the Taj Mahal smelt strongly of urine.
In the afternoon I visited Agra Fort which is in many ways as stunning as the Taj Mahal. The ticket for the Taj Mahal looks like it might include Agra Fort (there’s a hole punch mark for both) but it actually only gives you a small discount. In any case, I paid the entry fee and enjoyed wandering around awing at the architecture. Agra Fort was constructed in the mid-16th century although it took its current state in the 17th century under the rule of Shah Jahan – the emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal and seemingly had a love for white marble. He destroyed some of the earlier buildings inside the fort to make his own. The complex is still predominatenly red sandstone but their are some remarkable white marble buildings, all beautifully inlaid in a similar fashion to the Taj Mahal. Legend has it that Shah Jahan (after being restrained by his son for years) died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a white marble balcony with a view of the Taj Mahal where he was later buried next to his favourite wife.
On a side note, Dan and I found it incredibly amusing how many people asked if they could take their photo with us. At both tourist attractions we stood out – there were very few tourists from outside of India. When we asked a guy to take our photo, he did, and then asked if in turn we could be in a photo with him and his girlfriend! At Agra Fort tons more people asked to take photos with me! So, I can now proudly say my smiling face is in at least a dozen smartphones around India 🙂
The town of Agra itself is nothing special and I’ve never met anyone who enjoyed it. There’s very little good food and everything is overpriced. As soon as you are more than a block away from the Taj Mahal it has a really strange feeling to it. Like everyone else, I recommend a get-in and get-out trip to Agra (although I probably still wouldn’t opt for the day trip from Delhi as that is a long day). Oh, and you might catch a camel wandering down the street between cars and tuk-tuks if you’re lucky!
Check out more photos on Flickr
How did we get there: Overnight Train – AC2 Class: Varanasi-Agra
Transport cost: $28 CAD per person
Recommended nights: 1 night
Accommodation: Mid-range Hotel Room at $38 CAD per night
Average Cost per day: $100 CAD/day for two people