You never forget your first love, and the same goes for the first time you visit the Taj Mahal.
Located in Agra which just so happens to be the so-called City of Love, India’s most iconic site is also one of the new seven wonders of the world for good reason. No matter how often you’ve seen it in photos, nothing compares to the overwhelming feeling of awe and amazement that washes over you when you see it for the first time.
Its blindingly-white facade sparkles in the sunlight, the symmetry is flawless, and knowing that such an impressive monument was built by the emperor Shah Jahan solely to house the tomb of his beloved wife takes it to a whole other level. I mean, how freaking romantic is that? Maybe it’s because my visit happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day, but man did I ever get the lovey-dovey feels standing there in front of it.
For those planning to see this bucket list-worthy spot, here are a few things you need to know before visiting the Taj Mahal.
When to visit the Taj Mahal
Timing is everything when it comes to a Taj Mahal visit, and this is one place where the early bird definitely gets the worm. Sunrise is the best time to arrive, as there’s nice soft light for photos (provided there isn’t any smog, which the midday sun sometimes burns off) and way less people getting in your shots. Sunset is another good option for the same reasons, though it’s still busier at the site than it is first thing in the morning.
It’s extremely important to note that the Taj Mahal is closed for general viewing every Friday (only those attending prayers at the mosque can go in the afternoon), so if you’re only in Agra for one day make sure it’s not on a Friday! The Taj Mahal’s visiting hours vary depending on the season, as it’s open from sunrise to sunset.
What (not) to pack for the Taj Mahal
In an effort to keep the complex safe and clean, there are a number of restrictions in place regarding what visitors are allowed to bring in. Only small bags with the bare essentials are allowed, and prohibited items include:
- Food and drinks (you’ll receive a free bottle of water at the gate)
- Tobacco products
- Electronics such as headphones and chargers (cameras are allowed, obvs)
Don’t even think about trying to sneak any of the above in: there are two security checkpoints, and guards are well-trained at spotting prohibited items. For example, my friend’s selfie stick has hidden legs inside the handle that transform it into a tripod, and the guards were savvy enough to figure out how it worked and force her to leave it behind. So seriously, don’t even try smuggling anything in.
At the entrance, all visitors receive a pair of shoe covers. You’ll need to wear them if you plan on heading up to the Taj, to protect the ivory marble.
How to escape the crowds at the Taj Mahal
If you end up the Taj Mahal in the middle of the day like most people do, brace yourself for the crowds. The site may be huge, but with everyone clamouring for the same vantage points it can feel like a zoo. The trick is to quickly snap that token photo right when you walk through the gate (keeping in mind you may have to be a bit aggressive about keeping stragglers out of your selfie), then get the heck out of there so you don’t go mental.
For some strange reason, most visitors tend to stick close to the Taj itself, or along the pools leading up to it. This means that as soon as you head off towards the gardens to the left or right, it feels like you have the whole place to yourself—that is, if you don’t count the resident monkeys.
The matching Mosque and Assembly Hall on either side are both great spots to enjoy some serenity, as well as photograph the Taj from unique angles without 450 heads in your shot.
Why you should skip the mausoleum at the Taj Mahal
The mausoleum may be the site’s piece de resistance—but don’t bother going inside. Why? Because on a busy day, the line to get in is a nightmare, and they let way too many people in at once which means you’re herded though like cattle and not even allowed to stop and look at anything. The whole time, guards are blowing whistles warning people not to stop, so you will also leave partially deaf. Additionally, you’ll get to know the dozen people pressed up against you on a whole other level…something along the lines of “is that your camera lens, or are you just happy to see me?” Take a hard pass on the mausoleum, my friends. You’re welcome.
Prepare to have your mind blown
Hopefully all of that didn’t sound too intimidating, because trust me, it’s SO WORTH IT. There’s a reason the Taj Mahal is a wonder of the world, and I guarantee it will be love at first sight and a moment that will stay with you forever. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
Yes there are throngs of tourists angling for the best selfie shot who will drive you crazy, and yes the day is sure to have its challenging moments as most popular sites do. But the sight of that dazzling white building rising up in front of you is pure magic, making it easy to let the chaos fade away as you simply stand back and soak in the scene. By keeping these tips for a Taj Mahal visit in mind, you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable, awe-inspiring day at one of the world’s most iconic sites.
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