Taj Mahal, India – The Simplicity Of Perfection!

LAST UPDATED: 02 AUGUST 2021

How do I begin to define a structure that is more iconic brand than historic monument?

A name that instantly conjures up romance and grandeur even when claimed by a humble tea stall, let alone some of the finest hotels and resorts? And whose Chinese made plastic likenesses outnumber the citizens of this overpopulated land?

Taj Mahal - Agra, India
Icon of bilateral symmetry

The Taj Mahal, as I am sure all of you know, is considered a symbol of devotion of the vainglorious but art loving emperor Shah Jahan (King of the World) to his favourite queen Mumtaz Mahal…although his documented sexual proclivities cast aspersions on the myth of his undying love.

Yet, this is possibly the only mausoleum in the world of this scale and beauty not conceived for the monarch himself.

So the myth endures. As evidenced by the long lines of newly weds queuing up to strike romantic poses on the ‘Princess (Diana!) bench’. Or the lip-locked western tourists hoping to seal their love eternally.

Love is good for business. But the enduring myth edges out the fact that this is still a resting place of the dead. With a working mosque next door.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India
The plinth, with exquisite detailing on the translucent, but discolouring marble, sourced from the quarries of Makrana, in Rajasthan
Taj Mahal - Agra, India
Paving in perspective on the riverfront terrace!

If I had been born a decade or so earlier I would have honeymooned here. (Clubbed with Kashmir of course.) My sister did. As did most everyone from her generation that could afford the trip. We were creatures of habit that way. If that is where everyone went, then that is where we followed.

Then the hype dulled the Taj Mahal’s allure a bit and we (slightly) younger lot looked for less frequented destinations. By the time R & I had saved up enough to travel, the lure of the newly opened (to us) west was more compelling than the charm of a monument that by then was literally coming out of our ears.

In the end, we arrived here more with the intention of putting an end to the “You still haven’t seen the Taj?” question rather than a burning desire to see it.

Considering all that, despite the hype and the cliches of greatness, the Taj Mahal did not disappoint.

It is monumental. it is majestic. it is perfect. So perfect in fact, so cleverly conceptualised its details, that the dominant impression is that of pure simplicity.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India
View from the Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was confined by his son Aurangazeb, in his final years.
Taj Mahal - Agra, India
View from Mehtab Bagh – the Moonlight Garden – across the river.

I have been thinking about why some people are underwhelmed by the Taj. The common thread among those I know, is the day trip from Delhi. Granted, the new super fast highway gets you here much quicker, but monuments like these are meant to be savoured. The more time you have to sidestep day trippers, the better will be your enjoyment of the site. And the better your photographs. And then there are the alternate views, equally rewarding.

Stay overnight. Or two. There is more to Agra than the Taj Mahal.

White marble Taj Mahal - White marble dado with bas relief.
White marble dado with bas relief
Painted flower motifs and honey comb ceiling detail  in the Mehman Khana
Calligraphy in black marblr, depicting verses from the Quran, encircles the soaring arched entrances to the mausoleum. To ensure a uniform appearance from the vantage point of the terrace, the lettering increases in size according to its relative height and distance from the viewer!
Taj Mahal - Agra, India
Detail of Pietra Dura or precious stone inlay and the incredible, turned, edge detail! I am in love with that moulding!
Conspicuous contrast! Poor villagers retuning homw along the dried up river bed
Conspicuous contrast! Poor villagers retuning homw along the dried up river bed
Taj Mahal, - Agra, India
Sunset from Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden)

TAJ MAHAL TRAVEL GUIDE

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GETTING TO THE TAJ MAHAL

By Flight: Agra airport is around 7 km from the city centre and is serviced by several domestic airlines flying in from major cities across india.

By Train: Agra Cantonment and Agra Fort are short taxi/auto rides from the centre. Average train journey from Delhi takes around 1.5 to 3 hours. The most convenient trains connecting Agra with Delhi are the Gatimaan Express (non-stop), the New Delhi Habibganj Shatabdi Express and the Taj Express. Tickets can be purchased from the Indian Railways website, from travel websites or travel agents and even from the International Tourist Bureau at the New Delhi railway station. Book well in advance during peak season.

The luxurious Palace on Wheels and the Royal Rajasthan on Wheels also include a stop in Agra.

By Bus: Average journey by bus from Delhi to Agra takes around 3- 4 hours. Buses ply between Agra Idgah Bus Stand and several North Indian cities. Buses depart hourly from the Anand Vihar terminal in New Delhi and cost ₹750 on average. 

By Car: The 221 km distance can be covered in about 3+ hours via the Taj Express Highway. The older Mathura Highway (if a stop at Mathura is on your itinerary) is just a few kilometres longer but takes an extra hour or so depending on traffic.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Winter months between mid November to February are most pleasant. December and January are busiest. April and September are blazing hot but (most luxury) hotel room rates drop to half from April 1st upto September 30. So shoulder season might be worth considering if you enjoy luxury and think you can put up with the heat.

HOURS

Open daily except Fridays. Ticket counters open one hour before sunrise & close 45 minutes before sunset. Which is approximately between 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Taj Mahal is open for night viewing for 30 min. every full moon night and two days before and after, from 8.30 pm until 12.30 am. Night viewing is not available on Fridays (around the full moon) and during the month of Ramadan.

ENTRANCE FEES (2019-20)

Note: Taj Mahal has reopened (for daytime visits only) on 21 Sep 2020. Manual ticketing isn’t available currently. Entry tickets can only be bought online until further notice.

Adult Indian: ₹50/ Foreigners: ₹1100/ SAARC and BIMSTEC Citizens: ₹540. Free entry for (all) children below 15 years of age. There is an additional fee of ₹200 (for all) to enter the mausoleum.

Tickets can be bought up to 24 hours in advance from the ticket counters. Foreigners will need to show their passports. Domestic citizens can manage with driving licences or any other official identification document.

Night Viewing Fees (five days around full moon as stated): Adult Indian: ₹510/ Foreigners: ₹750/ Children below 15 years: ₹500. Night viewing tickets can be bought 24 hours in advance from the Archaeological Survey of India office on Agra Mall Road between 10:00 am and 06:00 pm. 

If it is any consolation, the steep foreigner price includes shoe covers, a bottle of water, a tourist map of Agra and the golf cart transfer to the gate. Foreigner ticket holders also get priority entry to the site ahead of Indians. Even those already in line.

SECURITY

There are two functional gates. The East Gate is closest to the higher end hotels. Get dropped off at the Shilpgram parking area then walk (10 min) or take the golf cart up to the ticket counter. The ticket counter is well before the main entrance to the monument. Tickets cannot be bought anywhere else.

Security is strict and all bags will be scanned. You are only allowed to take bare essentials into the site: wallet, cell phone, camera, and a water bottle each.  Food stuff, tobacco, lighters, electronics like chargers, headphones, tablets etc, sharp implements/knives and even camera tripods are strictly banned. Extra batteries might also be disallowed so make sure your camera is fully charged.

Drone cameras are strictly forbidden.

Cloak rooms are available near the ticket counter (at the east gate) to store larger bags. Footwear is not allowed inside the mausoleum and will need to be covered with the cloth covers elsewhere around the monument. The actual graves at a level beneath the sarcophagi are out of bounds for the public.

WHAT TO WEAR

Covering arms, shoulders and knees isn’t mandatory but it is advisable to respect the sanctity of the mausoleum and working mosque. Daytime is warm even in winter so wear light, breathable garments. Carry a light jacket for evenings and early mornings.

WHERE TO STAY

There’s a wide range of hotels in Agra to suite every budget. The most atmospheric by far, and boasting the best views, is the Oberoi Amarvilas Agra close to the East Gate. It is also the priciest.

Find the best option to suit your dates and budget


INDIA ON YOUR RADAR? 📌 PIN FOR LATER

Partly cropped close-up of the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal and its reflection in the mirroring pool ofTaj Mahal, Agra.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

118 thoughts on “Taj Mahal, India – The Simplicity Of Perfection!

  1. I am not surprised you find it simple Madhu, and I love hearing about your perspective on this world famous monument … we were not particularly drawn to it either, but it was part of our Peregrine trip to Rajasthan starting and finishing in New Delhi. We staeyd the night in Agra, and saw the Taj Mahal at dawn, rising out of the early morning mist, with no one else ahead of us …. we were struck by its perfect design, supreme elegance and simplicity … every aspect so pleasing … a true wonder of the world, we thought. I love how you have shown it to us from different perspectives, excellent photos all round!

  2. Beautiful photos and lovely post! it is hard to write about those most iconic things. I loved seeing the details that are normally missed.

  3. Madhu, What a fascinating perspective you bring to understanding, appreciating and enjoying the Taj. I didn’t realize it was the honeymoon destination of generations (much like Niagra Falls was here in the States to older generations – we finally made our pilgrimage only a few years ago – much like you with the Taj).

    When James and I visited the Taj, I was spellbound by its beauty and simplicity. I sat for hours contemplating it from all angles. When we were there, a group of men were trying to dislodge an enormous hornet’s nest that hung in one of the arches. It was like a spectator sport you might have to run from. 🙂 And you’re right, there is so much more to Agra. ~Terri

    1. Ha, I wouldn’t have waited around to watch that! 🙂
      Glad you enjoyed this. And that your experience was similar to ours.

  4. I was actually surprised by how in awe I was when I saw it. I too had seen plenty of pictures and had even been gifted one of those mini-plastic ones, (horrible thing, with a light in it), I was not expecting it to be so beautiful. I never thought it was a romantic place, it being a tomb and all. Interesting to know that it was a honeymoon-destination. But it is beautiful enough to look at for days on end.

    1. I think it is the story behind it – the image of a powerful emperor pining for his beloved for the rest of his life – that boosts its romantic image. No matter whether it is true or false, everyone loves a fairy tale 🙂 Thank you for stopping by Nathy.

  5. A friend of mine went to Agra a few weeks ago and he visited Agra Fort, in addition to Taj Mahal of course. If I go there one day, I might follow your suggestion to spend a night in the city and wake up early the next day to take some pictures of this beautiful monument, sans the hordes of tourists.

    1. Well worth it if you are interested in history and architecture Bama. The town itself is rather shabby, its historic center in worse condition than Chandni Chowk in Delhi. And it doesn’t even have an airport!!

  6. It looks majestic from all angles, but the classic water reflection shot makes me dream…. It was interesting to read the story behind it. I had no idea Princess Di had her own bench there 😉

    1. Paula, princess Diana’s solitary, sad figure on that bench was sensationaised by the press, leading to a frenzy of conjecture about the state of her marriage. Hence the name. Rather a sorry spot to click romantic photos 🙂

  7. I had always heard that the Taj Mahal did not disappoint, Madhu, but when my friend and I went in March, 2011, I found myself disappointed. The main reason was the overall shabbiness of the grounds and the fact that there was no water in the watercourses! I see you have water in your pictures. In my opinion, when a country has such an iconic monument as the Taj Mahal, it should do everything in its power to upkeep the site, and keep water in the watercourses, by gosh! Your pictures are beautiful (mine not so much as I didn’t have the reflections in the pools!) and I really love the view of it from Agra Fort, which we didn’t see. 🙂

    1. What a pity Cathy. But that is India for you. Never any guarantees of what you will find. For me the worst part was the ticket office. it had threadbare jute carpets and stained walls. But worst of all, a plastic bucket in the middle of the room to collect water dripping from a leaking air conditioner. Looked like it had been leaking for a while. The rest of the place was surprisingly well maintained. Perhaps we were following in the footsteps of some visiting dignitary 🙂
      Conservation of heritage and promoting tourism have never been very high on the Governments list of priorities. Evidenced by the low profile of its ministry of tourism as well. Doubt many citizens will even know who their tourism minister is, off hand!

      1. Yes, it was too bad about the Taj Mahal, Madhu. It’s funny, I was more impressed by the mosque in Abu Dhabi than I was by the Taj Mahal; it was pristine and stunning. The history of the Taj Mahal is unfailingly fascinating though, Madhu, even though the Shah’s “undying love” was questionable, as you mention in your post.

        India would be a magnificent tourist destination if the Ministry of Tourism was a priority. Sadly, in March of 2011, it was a bit of an endurance test. 🙂

  8. Thanks for showing us this outstanding icon and sharing your thoughts on Agra. I don’t think I ever will see it by myself. I’m fascinated by India in a way, but also torn.
    Enjoyed your post very much, Madhu, lovely photography.
    Dina

      1. Some 15 years ago I was totally set on going to India, read travel books, wanted to visit an ashram, the whole job. 🙂 Then there was a change at work and I was not able to get away for so many weeks as I wanted.
        Today, I think, what makes India less attractive in my eyes, are all the comments from friends who went there: It’s crowded, polluted, dirty and the climate in the south is a pain for anyone from the North. But I’m still torn, especially when I see your beautiful photos, Madhu. It has a special kind of magic.

  9. It’s a beautiful place on photos, but the city of Agra is a horrible place and the river is polluted and stinky. Knowing that the Shah himself used slaves to build the place, makes it less romantic than the “eternal love story” they like to present it as.

    1. I agree Cardinal. The river wasn’t too bad, it was mostly dry, but the town is practically a shanty town. Pity, because with vision it could be so much more. This post was solely about the Taj Mahal though.

  10. It is very beautiful and your photos are awesome. If I ever go I’d be very frustrated if I was rushing through with the crowds. Seeing it in different lights as you have is perfect 🙂

    1. Ah, delighted this didn’t disappoint Kathryn! I struggled with how to handle this overdone subject. Thank you very much for taking the time to tell me 🙂

  11. Excellent captured photos and even the story of this amazing building is well known – so it’s very interesting writing too – very inspiring post… 🙂

    1. Thank you for the lovely compliment Kat. Those perspectives were deliberately created by the architects in an era before photography. I just had to aim and shoot 🙂

  12. If people only bothered to look behind the veil, they’ll be shocked by the facts surrounding the man, his family and the mausoleum. But there’s enough harsh reality in life. We all can do with some bliss and that which feeds it, I reckon.

    Peace,
    Eric

    P/s More replicas of the Taj than people in China – LOL! In time the Chinese would claim the Taj was actually built by their craftsmen brought to India by the Moghuls.

    1. I was referring to the population of India Eric, but what you say is perfectly possible 🙂
      Yes, Shah Jahan was a horrible man, and I find it hard to swallow the myth of a near nymphomaniac, with a huge harem, staying celibate from the age of 38 until his death some four decades later!! I doubt anyone truly believes that. But it makes for a lovely fairytale 🙂

  13. Madhu, this is such a wonderful tribute to an awe-inspiring structure… it seems you managed to evade the crowds again, and what luck to be greeted with blue skies! Despite its flamboyance the Taj remains very easy on the eye. Your photos bring out so many different angles and details, especially the precious stone inlay and delicate moulding. I can’t think of a better definition of “exquisite” than this icon, clearly Shah Jahan spared no expense in its construction!

    1. An estimated 1.5 million rupees at the time apparently!!! That must be an infinite number of zeros at present calculations!!! Yes the weather Gods decided to be kind to us until our last day in Varanasi. Thank you James 🙂

  14. Lovely images, Madhu! I like the different perspectives you’ve used to photograph the Taj Mahal. Viewing this monument during a full moon night is also a wonderful experience.

    1. Thank you Naomi. The sunrise shots are more common, since most people return by afternoon I guess. We regretted not having returned for a sunset from inside the complex. That would have had the Taj silhouetted against the setting sun!

  15. When I first walked through the arch to my first glimps of the Taj Mahal I was rendered speechless by its beauty. We had an amazing guide who set the scene beautifully for us. The perspectives were incredible. Love the detail in your shots – lovely images.

  16. Your exquisite photos take my breath away, Madhu! What a majestic place. coincidentally, a week or so ago, my Indian friend at work referred me the history of Taj Mahal in Youtube. Glorious history!

  17. This is a sight I would love to see. Still so foreign to me and something as a Westerner that I could never take for granted. I think I felt the same way about the Eiffel Tower. It was something I had to check off the list and I wasn’t as impressed with the tower itself as I was with the views of Paris.

    1. Our enjoyment of these places are relative though, aren’t they? We found the massive crowds at the Eiffel tower at sunset very offputting. Didn’t remember it being quite as bad on a previous visit.

  18. Beautiful post; I love the photo of the Taj from the Agra fort. I will never get there, so thank you for all the wonderful photos to help me feel I’ve really seen it.
    P.S. Does R read your posts? 🙂

    1. He does, but he is kind of like the Buddha with a great sense of humour, so I am safe 😀 Thanks Angeline.

  19. Love the opening, Madhu. Very fitting on how Taj Mahal is viewed by tourists like I am. Well thank you for the enlightenment!
    You went to town with your awesome details. 😀 I love all the views in its entirety though. But ultimately, the ones colored by the sunlight and moonlight are the best.
    That really is a tourist/traveller dream shots and location spot.

      1. Dear Rommel, just realised yours was the only comment on this post left unanswered for some reason….so a very belated ‘Thank you’ 🙂

  20. What a stunning beauty…..You know witnessing the photos of taj mahal always sets the strings of my heart to start a music…the romantic one ! Love all these master pieces.

  21. Yours is the quintessential travel blog, striking images that draw you in, and the most interesting history lessons. I love coming to visit! 🙂

  22. Really, you’ve captured the world’s most famous building beautifully Madhu, though it’s your header shot that keeps grabbing me. Maybe it’s the contrasts of the pristine white geometric shapes against the softness and vastness of nature, or maybe it’s the titillating glimpse of the domes that ignites my imagination, but yes, it grabs me – and inspires so many memories of our enchanted days in Agra. I must admit I was relieved you weren’t disappointed – I’d have hated to think of you having such a sad case of ennui 🙂

    1. I was happy too that the Taj didn’t disappoint Meredith. Happy too that you enjoyed my gallery. Thank you for your generous comments. I noticed that you haven’t been posting much of late. Hope all is well with you?

      1. Oh my dear, everything’s fine, thank you! Life’s sort of overtaken me: first visitors and now I’m in Melbourne staying with friends. Lots to post about but little opportunity, though I try to grab a few moments to catch up … see you next year, for sure 🙂

  23. Simply beautiful as ever and the classic shot with the pale blue reflection ! Yes Perfection!

  24. So very breathtakingly beautiful Madhu! Simplicity is a word I embrace lovingly when I write, as it breathes into creation a certain exquisite beauty! It always has seemed throughout my life that the far east always called to my spirit! Thanks for leaving a smile within! God bless!

  25. Taj Majal is one piece of Indian history and architecture that is always present in our world history class. In my mind, right or not, I will always associate India with Taj Majal and if ever I get the chance to visit India, it is one of the place I will try to see. 🙂

    1. It certainly is the grandest of our monuments! I hope you can visit soon Imelda. And perhaps I will get to meet you too 🙂

  26. Your Blog is Absolutely Breathtaking!!! Congratulations and THANK YOU! , I Live vicariously through your travels! I hope you enjoy my humble travel Blog as well! 🙂

  27. Oh you bought back many happy memories with this one. I can remember scorching my feet on those marble floors in high summer before the monsoons as you are not allowed to wear shoes but it was worth it.

    1. There must have been a lot of complaints Ian, for they now hand out cloth covers to wear over one’s shoes!

  28. Madhu – I just came across your blog! wow amazing work! I am sitting at my desk here at work looking at these beautiful images of the Taj Mahal wishing I could visit some day!

  29. Wow! I just saw this. Very fine post. You have an unerring eye for the finer aspects. To have this chance to view the Taj thru your eyes is a magnificent treat – even Shah Jahan would be struck with admiration and unending wonder at his worthy creation.

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