Taj Mahal to me, is the mother load of all tombs of which there are plenty in India. This ginormous mausoleum, an ode to love lost, is truly one of the magnificent wonders, and yes, it is touristy, but definitely a destination that needs to be seen on an India visit. Here is a recap of our visit to the most beautiful wonder of the world.
Taj Mahal Agra India Tour:
Where is Taj Mahal located?
The Taj Mahal mausoleum is located on the Yamuna River south bank in the city of Agra, a few hours drive from Dehli and a popular day trip from New Delhi. We did this day trip with a private driver, but one can also do a private guide tour complete with pickup/drop off, breakfast and also a stop at the Agra Fort.
Who Built Taj Mahal?
The emperor, Shah Jahan built this tomb in honour of his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died while giving birth to their 14th child. She was only 35 years old. Her dying wishes were that he not marry again, and also that he build something in her memory. Bet she had no idea he was going to come up with this doozy!
When was the Taj Mahal built:
Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and finished roughly sixteen years later. Visiting this jaw dropping UNESCO world heritage site was one of the highlights of our visit to India. The architect of Taj mahal was Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, who was the court architect to the emperor and the leader of the board of other architects. How much did it cost to build the Taj? In today’s currency, it would be roughly 850 million U.S dollars, a princely sum indeed.
New Delhi to Taj Mahal in Agra:
We hired a private taxi for our journey to the Taj Mahal. Agra about a three and half hour journey from New Delhi. We left pretty early, about 5.30AM so as to avoid the traffic. Our cab driver, Pratheel, was a lovely young man who had been recommended by the owner of the guest house my brother was staying at.
To say it was a nerve wrecking journey would be putting it mildly . Reason being that big trucks and trailers are on the road in the dark hours of the day as they are not allowed on them during daylight. Navigating through the narrow roads, avoiding both pot holes and wide loads while barreling down makes for two very nervous passengers! I became an instant back seat driver and must have been a pain in the rear end to him. He just smiled through it all. He was probably used to it.
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About an hour into our trip to Taj Mahal from New Delhi, we came upon this huge stature of an Indian prince whose name was Hanuman. l believe the driver said, but l might be spelling it wrong. It was almost scary for me as this stature was humongous and with the streets still dark, it was a little intimidating.
l felt like l was in the land of the giants and this thing was going to reach down and squash me! He told us the story of how she had been sent off to earth by her father for disobeying him. He even showed us a YouTube cartoon video telling the tale, which he insisted on watching along with us. The driver was thoroughly prepared for the bad roads. He had one of those back support things on the driver’s seat, which he generously offered when he saw our discomfort, something to consider if you have a bad back.
Parts of the highway were nice, and it was pleasant to speed down it for long stretches. Upon hitting Agra though, we slowed down quite a bit. Bad roads and traffic. It allowed you to see how poverty-stricken the area was. It is quite the contrast to the Taj Mahal. One would think that Agra being one of the most visited places in the world would get the same love as dear old Taj Mahal. Sadly, it is not so.
Agra is dirty, smelly and the neglect quite obvious. It highlights how truly far apart the rich and the poor are. Agra was the former capital of India before it got moved to New Delhi, so l thought it would look nicer, but nope. It reminded me a lot of home in Nigeria so it wasn’t quite as jolting to me, but l can imagine for first world citizens, it might be a shocker.
Taj Mahal Tour:
We had arranged for a private guide for our tour of the Taj Mahal, and the driver picked him up once we got to Agra. I highly recommend a guide if you go visit. There was a really long line to get tickets, and l was crushed for a moment. Luckily, as a guide, he knew where to go, and was back with tickets for us within five minutes. Taj Mahal Entry fee is $11 for foreigners and just 30 cents for Indians.
Try and imagine how long the line was for the locals. Luckily, there is a separate line for foreigners. Entry is free for children under 15, foreign and local. It is about a 15-20 minute walk to the entrance from the road. There are people with camels, horse drawn carriages and golf carts offering rides for about a dollar. Totally worth it on a hot day, we took one on the way back. I was tired!
Click here to find the best priced hotels close to the Taj Mahal:
The entrance to the Taj Mahal is already very nice, but when you look across to the dome itself, you are just gobsmacked by how beautiful it truly is. The grounds are so lush and the fountains are just lovely. Halfway between the entrance and dome is the Princess Diana bench. This is the bench that she sat on when she visited the Taj Mahal, and there is a line to take pictures on and with it. Here is information about Taj Mahal, thanks to our guide. It made us understand better the history of the Taj Mahal.
Our guide told us some Taj Mahal facts: (Why was the Taj Mahal built?)
- Mumtaz, the wife for whom the tomb was built, bore a total of 14 children for the emperor, only six of them survived.
- The other two wives, who bore him no children are buried in smaller tombs to the front, forming a triangle basically.
- Taj Mahal is considered the best example of Mughal architecture (similar to Humayun tomb), and is often referred to as the Jewel of Muslim art in India.
- Shah Jahan, the builder, also has a tomb there.
- Taj Mahal was declared one of the seven winners of the New seven wonders of the world (2000-2007) initiative in Lisbon.
Other facts about the Taj:
- The tombs that the public sees are replicas. The real tombs are directly under the fake ones, in the lower level. For security purposes, no one is allowed in the basement.
- The dome of the tomb is often referred to as an onion dome, thanks to its shape. It is 115 feet in height. The minarets are 130 feet tall and still function to call for prayer.
- Passages from the Koran are inscribed in the decorative elements.
- The artisans who did the work were from Iran. Today, their direct descendants carry on the restoration work on the Taj Mahal. A lot of them live in town and sell some of their works to tourists. We visited one such artist afterwards, but did not buy anything. Heck..we were already over our weight allotment, not sure how we would have carried heavy marble to boot ;-).
- Details of Taj mahal – White marble was mostly used to build the tomb. There are lots of calligraphy and floral design all over the dome.
Inside Taj Mahal:
There are no pictures allowed inside the mausoleum. The Taj interior is circular, so one enters one way, make your way around, around to come out the other side of the same circle. It was extremely crowded, and there were guides to make sure the line kept moving. Our guide had an old man use a lighter on the Taj Mahal marble to show us that the marble was not only fireproof, but that it threw off pretty colours as well. Despite the crowd, there was also an echo in the chamber when he made sounds that reverberated. That was pretty cool.
If you’re visiting the Taj Mahal with children, Jenny Lynn has a great post on accomplishing this with the least fuss. Plan on spending about three hours on your Taj Mahal visit. We thoroughly enjoyed the back story of lost love. Our guide was awesome, and made it more pleasurable for me as l like learning things about places l visit.
Federico barely listened to the guide, he just wanted to take pictures :-). He ditched us often. It’s one of those places that I never thought I would get to see in my lifetime. because it had never been on my radar to be honest.
Is Taj Mahal worth visiting? You betcha! That is of course assuming you are in India already. Is it worth going to India just to see it? That’s something for you to decide. If it’s on your bucket list, why not? There are other places in India that you can incorporate into your holiday.
Related Reading: Honest thoughts on New Delhi.
What do you think of the Taj Mahal story? Have you been to see it? If yes, did you enjoy it? If not, does it sound like someplace you would like to visit? Do you believe in such grand gestures of love?