The sites are some of the wonders of the world and no trip to India is complete without at least one visit to the Taj
Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi. It has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra’s days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.
The Taj is constructed in white marble. It took 20 years to construct, and is now universally known as a monument to love. Legend has it that Shah Jehan wanted a replica of the Taj constructed in black marble that would be his final resting place. There is no actual support for this theory, but even if it were true, it would have been unlikely to be eventuated. During Shah Jehan’s reign, which was the period when the Mughal empire was at its height, the construction of the Taj put a strain on the resources of the empire and caused a min-famine around Agra. Shah Jehan was eventually buried in the white Taj, next to his beloved Begum.
Anyone interested in reading a novel based on the remarkable story behind the Taj Mahal’s creation should consider Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath a Marble Sky is an international bestseller, has won multiple awards, and is being made into a movie by Hollywood. Other book (historical fiction) is The Taj by Colin De Silva.
To See and Do
The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife. Taj Mahal means Crown Palace. One of his wife’s names was Mumtaz Mahal, Ornament of the Palace.The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture, and one of the great sites of the world’s heritage.
The Taj Mahal has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones. It is a celebration of woman built in marble, and that is the way to appreciate it.
Although it is one of the most photographed edifices in the world and instantly recognizable, actually seeing it is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.
There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy of the Taj Mahal out of black marble on the opposite side of the river as his own tomb. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.
If you are taking a camera, beware that because the Taj is white your camera may underexpose your photos. If it is a film camera you will not find out until it is too late. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.
The Taj is open from 6:00 AM to 6:30 PM (sunset) every day except Friday. The gates won’t open until 6:00 AM at the earliest, often a few minutes later, so don’t bother getting there at 5:00 AM. Entry costs ₹750 for foreigners and ₹20 for Indians. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds. Crowds are the biggest during the weekend when people overshadow the grandeur of the Taj. Plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is utterly stunning under a full moon. You can also get very good views from Mehtab Bagh (see Gardens section below). It is a good idea to bring a flashlight, because the interior of the Taj Mahal is quite dark even during the day. To fully appreciate the details of the gem inlays, you need a good light.
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The Taj Mahal • Locations & Activities