If you’re planning a trip to India, you absolutely cannot miss the Taj Mahal. Standing majestically on the banks of the Yamuna river in the northern city of Agra, the world’s most famous building is the perfect start or end point of a journey through India’s “Golden Triangle” – the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.
The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often included as one of the seven wonders of the world, and it’s not hard to see why.
Along with its spectacular architecture, it’s famed for its romantic past. The monument was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died tragically in 1631. Soon after her death, Shah Jehan commissioned the Mughal empire’s best architects, builders and craftsmen to build a mausoleum worthy of his lost love. No expense was spared, with ivory marble, precious stones, and other materials sourced from all over Asia, and construction was finally completed 22 years later. When he died, Shah Jehan was entombed with Mumtaz and there they both still lie.
Since then the Taj has had a rocky history, from occupation by Shah Jehan’s own son in a hostile takeover, to multiple destruction attempts during British colonial rule. Several restoration projects have run over the hundreds of years since its completion, some simply to preserve the beauty of the building and grounds, and some to repair damages to its facade.
Planning your visit
It can be a bit chaotic at times, but visiting the Taj is relatively easy, having been the main attraction in India for centuries now. It’s always good to have a bit of insider knowledge up your sleeve when visiting a new place – so here are some tips to help make your visit even better.
Entry tickets are generally purchased at the gates, but some hotels sell them to save you time during your visit.
It’s advised that you leave big bags behind, and only take a small bag of essentials into the Taj with you. Security is very strict and entry is up to the discretion of whoever’s on the ticket gate. Cameras and mobile phones are allowed, but there are sometimes problems with video cameras. Banned items include camera tripods, iPads or tablets, knives, headphones, mobile chargers and anything edible. To find out more about what you can and can’t bring into the site, visit the official website.
Show your ticket at the streetside kiosk next to the East Gate parking lot entrance for a free bottle of water and shoe covers.
There are three entrances to the Taj: the East, West and South Gates. The East Gate is the easiest to access from most hotels. It is important to note that cars are not allowed within 500 metres of the mausoleum, in a bid to lessen the effect of pollution on the building. Drivers must drop visitors in the Shilgram parking lot, which contains the ticket office. It’s then a 15 minute walk to the East Gate, but rickshaws, electric carts and buses are also on hand to take you there.
There are four lanes for entry at all gates: foreign men, foreign women, local men and local women. Go with it and join the one that’s appropriate for you.
Get there early
The East and West Gates open at 7am, and the South Gate at 8am. To avoid the queues as much as possible, it’s best to arrive at any of the gates half an hour to an hour before opening.
An average visit takes about three hours, so leave yourself lots of time that day for exploring and enjoying.
To guide or not to guide?
There are multiple companies offering guided tours of the Taj, but it’s hard to know which are reputable or not. Have a look on TripAdvisor at what other people recommend.
If you decide to go it on your own, you can rent a handheld audio guide near the ticket offices at all gates, but you must be prepared to leave photo ID as security.
You can also download the audio guide on your iPhone. AudioCompass is a great app that will guide you through many of India’s best locales and landmarks.
It’s great to be prepared when you travel, but you can’t prepare for every situation. That’s why it’s important to have great insurance covering you for emergencies. Check out Medibank’s comprehensive travel insurance so you can relax and enjoy the sites.