The most famous mausoleum in the world, the legendary Taj Mahal, in Agra, India! I still remember my reaction when I saw it for the first time for real, with my own eyes “Woooooow!“. And I wasn’t even there yet, I was seeing it from afar in the city… Everybody knows at least the Taj Mahal by name, but a little bit less the history behind this monument, which is one of the new seven wonders of the world!
Why does the Taj Mahal exist? Why has it been built? The mughal emperor Shah Jahan was madly in love with his (favorite) wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He loved her so much that they had 13 kids together. However, his wife passed away after the birth of their 14th children. A few times before she passed away, she asked him to build a monument as big as their love. The emperor then decided to build the Taj Mahal, which means crown of the palace, in honor of his wife.
The snag is… The emperor was deposed by his own son before the Taj Mahal was completed, and he was put under house arrest. The poor guy saw the end of the building of his own project from his cell, at the Agra fort. When he died, his body was transfered to the mausoleum, and he’s now resting next to his wife. For your information, the emperor had a big project. He actually wanted to build two Taj Mahal, one for his wife, and one for himself! The one for his wife is the one we all know, and the second one, for himself, was supposed to be a black Taj Mahal! Imagine that! Two Taj Mahal, one white, and another one in black, with a bridge between them! Anyway, the emperor was deposed, they completed the Taj Mahal that had been under construction for years, but they never started the construction of the second one!
I arrived in Agra from New Delhi one day before visiting the Taj Mahal, and I still had a glimpse of the monument before going there. How come? There are several rooftops in Agra, and you can see the Taj Mahal from there. You have plenty of choices, they all claim to have “the best view to see the Taj Mahal“. Being a backpacker, long-term traveling, I recommend not going to the Oberoi hotel. Drinks are more expensive than in Paris there! Either go to the rooftop of the Kamal hotel, or the one at the Saniya hotel.
The Kamal hotel is where I was staying, 5 minutes away from the Taj Mahal and they don’t market much their rooftop (or I’d rather say it’s probably not in the travel guides). Thus, very few people know it exists. I can tell, I’ve been there five or six times (it’s normal, that’s where I was staying!), and I was almost always by myself. A rooftop just for me, the service was ok, cheap place, with a view of the Taj Mahal 😀 One thing I need to clarify : you read rooftop but don’t expect anything bling bling. It’s a rustic place, and you’ll see by yourself, plastic tables and chairs are waiting for you, nothing more.
Otherwise there’s the rooftop of the Saniya hotel, 5 minutes away from the Kamal hotel. This one is more “famous”, so unless you go early in the morning, this rooftop will always be crowded (and the best seats will be taken). The place is nicer, tt’s a bit more expensive but that doesn’t mean the service is better… I vote Kamal hotel, but don’t go there if you like fancy, classy places… By the way, in both places, you need to keep an eye open! Indeed, some monkeys are prowling, and they don’t hesitate to steal people’s stuff!
I give all the tips at the end of the article, but as you might imagine, a wonder of the world, that popular, is constantly invaded by tourists from all over the world! To fully enjoy your visit of the Taj Mahal without feeling overwhelmed by the crowd, I strongly recommend you to be there at the opening time, 6 in the morning. That’s what I did! There will be people, but it will be nothing compared to the crowd at 8, and then all day long! Oh and if you go there early, you’ll have the unique opportunity to take pictures alone in front of this wonder of the world!
After getting your ticket, you’ll see a small stand where you can get a bottle of a water and a small plastic bag for your shoes. This plastic bag is mandatory is you wanna get inside the Taj Mahal, otherwise they won’t let you in. And inside the Taj Mahal, where the two lovers rest, it’s forbidden to take pictures (but I saw some people who didn’t really care…).
There’s already a lot of information online about this terrific mausoleum, so I won’t write much about it! And writing about it cannot explain how beautiful this place is!!! I think I already liked and enjoyed my time there because I was inside at 6am, the opening time. When I left the Taj Mahal after 8am, it was already way too crowded for me… So I left, glad to have seen this wonder of the world!
Tips to visit the Taj Mahal
- Do not go to India without a travel insurance! It’s far from being the safest country in the world!
- The Taj Mahal is in Agra, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) southeast of New Delhi. To go there, the easiest way is to take the train. There are six different train classes, I took the 3ac (third class with AC), I paid 815 rupees (11€) for a three-hours ride from New Delhi. You can also go to Agra from New Delhi by bus, or take a private taxi.
- A lot of tourists are doing a day trip from New Delhi to visit the Taj Mahal. They leave early in the morning from New Delhi, they arrive in Agra, they visit the Taj Mahal, and then go back to New Delhi in the evening. Why not but I don’t like to rush, and most importantly, you’ll visit the Taj Mahal at the end of the morning at best, already crowded… The best thing to do is to go to Agra one day before (like I did!), and then leave after your visit or even the day after (like I did!). It gives you time to get in the city, not rush, visit Agra the day before or even the same day after visiting the Taj Mahal, and leave peacefully… Oh and you’ll be there at the opening time!
- Accommodation? I stayed at the Kamal hotel. The only reason I picked this hotel is because of its location, 5 minutes away by foot from the Taj Mahal (didn’t want to spend one hour going there at 4 in the morning to be one of the first to get in at 6…). I’m not gonna lie, this is not the best place I’ve been to, but I contented myself with it, and the staff was really nice.
- How much does it cost to get in? 40 rupees (0.55€) for the indians, 1000 rupees (13.50€) for the tourists. Contrary to what I read, it’s not possible to buy your ticket one day before. If you pay, you have to go the same day! And very important, the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays!
- Now something I would have liked to know before going there… There are three gates to get in the Taj Mahal : West gate, South gate, and East gate. The south gate opens at 8, so forget about it if you wanna get in at 6! Now west and east. For each gate, there are two lines. The first line “Buying the ticket“, and the second one “Getting in the Taj Mahal“. On the West gate, you buy your ticket, walk for like 20 seconds, and then start waiting on the second line to get in. On the East gate, the first line to buy your ticket is one kilometer away from the Taj Mahal… Therefore you have to go there first, walk for 10 good minutes, and then wait on the second line to get in! So… Where should you go? East or West?
- If you’re alone, go East! I know, you first have to buy your ticket one kilometer away, but there are way less people than on the West! So move your ass and get up early, buy your ticket, wait on the line to get in, and you’ll be among the first ones to get in the Taj Mahal. If you’re at least two people, the West gate is more convenient (you don’t need to go one kilometer away to buy your ticket, but you can go East if you want to!). The West gate is where the buses full of tourists go and drop off the big groups, but if you’re not alone, you can work around the problem. One person buys the ticket, the other ones directly goes to the line to get in. The one who bought the tickets join the rest of the group then, and you’ll be the first ones inside.
- In my case, I didn’t know all this… And I went to the West gate. I arrived at 5:20am, and went straight to the first line to buy my ticket. No one was on the second line to get in, and only two girls and 4 indians were already there! Yay! We’re all patiently waiting 5:45am, when they start to sell the tickets… Right after getting the precious paper, I rushed to get in the second line… And I saw at least 150 tourists in front of me! Whaaaaaat!? Yep, the big groups of tourists all go to the West gate, and they go straight to the second line to get in the Taj Mahal. A few indians are responsible for buying the tickets for everyone. I was sooo pissed!!! That’s why I said earlier that if you’re alone, use the East gate. If you’re alone and you go West, you’ll have to buy your ticket anyway, and by the time you have it, dozens of tourists are already in front of you in the second line to get in. They arrived later but they don’t care, one or two indians are buying all the tickets for them. You won’t have this problem on the East gate, because all the buses arrive from the West.
- Bring as little as possible with you. Ideally your phone, your money and your camera, nothing more! If you have a bag, you’ll have to go to the lockers room. You’ll waste a lot of time, because you’ll have to do so after getting in. Don’t bring any books, notebooks, papers… Otherwise after getting in, they’ll ask you to go to the lockers room which is outside… And then wait again to get in… I saw a French girl in a fury because she didn’t know and they asked her to put her bag in the lockers room, outside of the Taj Mahal…
- Once you’re inside, the best thing to do is to go straight to the back, close to the Taj Mahal. Most people stay next to the entrance to take their first pictures so if you go to the back first, you’ll have the Taj Mahal just for you. Perfect to take nice pictures with no one on it (you can see it on the main picture of this article, there’s no one!).
- I said it earlier, the Taj Mahal is in Agra, and there are a few places to visit there. I’m thinking about the Agra fort. 40 rupees (0.55€) for the indians, 550 (7.50€) for the tourists, 500 (6.50€) if you show them your Taj Mahal ticket.
- If you wanna get good food, go to Joney’s place. Small restaurant, good and cheap!
- Very important in India! For your online security, don’t forget to use a VPN! I use ExpressVPN, fast and very efficient!
- If needed, get a travel guide.
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