Taj Mahal. This magnificent, royal mausoleum has been an iconic landmark of India for many centuries. A glowing example of the Indo-Islamic architectural brilliance of ancient times.
It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that draws over 8 million visitors annually. You would have seen it on screen or paper. But until you truly see this spectacle with your own eyes, you might doubt whether it deserves to be recognized as a world wonder.
And we will try our level best to eradicate that doubt. Let’s start with the history.
The Birth of Taj Mahal – History 101
The Taj Mahal was built under the watchful eye and direction of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to honour his dearly beloved Wife Mumtaz, whose life came to a shattering halt after giving birth for the 14th time. (Not fun).
Her passing affected the emperor deeply, and in grief, he focused his time and resources (Approx. 20,000 workers of different skills and craftsmanship) on creating a resting place fit for the woman he loved deeply.
Just like his affection for Mumtaz, the Taj Mahal after being completed in 1653, would survive the dreary test of time, only to be observed as a rare marvel in the modern world.
It’s bittersweet to know that after the passing of the emperor himself, he too was laid to rest next to Mumtaz inside the Taj Mahal.
Touring the Taj Mahal
Whether you’re touring the place with or without a guide, one thing you’ll first know is that there’re three entrances. The Western, Eastern and Southern gates. Most tour guides, or just the locals, will direct you to the Western gate because it’s the main one (a.k.a. Darwaza)
The Southern gate is usually closed (some say permanently). The Eastern gate is also accessible. It’s actually less crowded – if you want to avoid being in a long queue to get your tickets, then try your luck at the Eastern gate. You’ll have to walk a little from the parking lot (approximately 250-300 metres).
*Note – if you enter from the Eastern gate, you can make a quick visit to the tomb of another wife of Shah Jahan before making your way to the main site.
Once you get your tickets and walk towards the Western gate, you’ll notice how big and beautiful it is. We were told it was constructed in red sandstone. When you look up, you see incredible geometrical details in the ceiling, the floor, and even the walls – giving us a little taste of what awaited.
As you exit the gate, don’t forget to turn around and observe the long (and huge) Arabic scriptures. If you go with a seasoned tour guide, you will get to know some incredible details about it.
The path towards the main structure is a treat. Especially if you come early in the morning when the crowds are minimal. Perfect for vlogging since you won’t be disturbed by the heavy buzz of crowds – just the pacifying sound of birds chirping.
There’s also an effect that no one talks about when visiting the Taj right after sunrise. While the whole structure looks pure and refined because of the white marble, as the sun touches it, it almost begins to have a subtle glow – which can be mesmerising.
The closer you get, the more wonderstruck you become just by the sheer size alone. The stage-like platform (on which this titanic creation stands) is twice the height of an NBA player. And it dawns on you… it’s big in astronomic proportions.
Entering the Taj Mahal
You cannot enter wearing footwear. While many go barefoot, for just 5 INR, you can get a pair of foot covers and wear that over your footwear before entering the sacred interior of the Taj.
In case you couldn’t get covers – there is an area to leave your footwear – with a local assigned to watch over it. However, we advise you to avoid wearing branded footwear or anything that is expensive and leaving them because there have been plenty of incidents of footwear going missing – especially when the crowds increase.
Very little will prepare you for climbing up the stairs, standing in front of the Taj entrance and looking up at the colossal arches and the entire structure. To put it simply, it’s breathtaking.
Here too, the main entrance is framed by large Arabic scriptures. When entering you’ll be greeted by a sign requesting you to be quiet. And in the mornings when the crowds are less, it seems manageable.
You will immediately find yourself taking in so many things at once.
There’s white marble everywhere. From the intricate carvings on the sky-high ceilings to the floral designs on the marble walls and the marble floor patterns.
Tour guides will explain in detail that the structure is inlaid with coral, amethyst, onyx and lapis lazuli and carnelian to create that refined exterior – which still exudes grandeur even now.
You could stare at one area for quite a long time – discovering more intricate artistic details within a complex design.
The craftsmanship observed here is on a whole other level. The workmanship of the masons, the stone-cutters, calligraphers, painters, carvers, and builders. It’s evident that the emperor has ensured only the very best were working on this one-of-a-kind creation.
There are several places you can explore in silent awe, like the Tomb, The Tomb Chamber, and the Lower Tomb Chamber.
From the botanical paintings that remain un-faded, framing the floral carvings that look clean and fresh. How is this even possible? This is a question that you might ponder when touring this revered place.
Visiting the Mehmaan Khana (The Guest House)
Overlooking Yamuna River, this lovely (ever so ancient) guest house stands on the right side of the Taj Mahal. It bears a resemblance to the Western gate. Mainly because it too is built using red sandstone.
The geometrical designs on the walls also look similar. But it’s massive. The carvings and the drawings on the walls and the columns here bore similarities to the patterns and floral designs we witnessed inside.
Unfortunately, there is a small fence that stops you from entering through the arches to the doorways. But you can walk along the open corridor. Here, there are no restrictions on footwear.
On the left stands the ancient mosque. Here you can walk past the stunningly done red sandstone archways and look at the beautiful and complex designs everywhere up close. It almost mirrors the designs within the Taj Mahal. Again, much beauty to absorb.
But bear in mind – this is a place of worship, which means you need to remove your shoes (even if you had foot covers on).
And make sure you are not intruding on anyone’s prayer session. Even in the morning, there are at least one or two, so be mindful.
Completing the Tour
Once we spent nearly 3 hours observing the beauty of the Taj Mahal, taking in every detail, it was time to walk through the well-kept gardens that made way for some extensive views of the Yamuna River and beyond; heading out knowing it was completely worth the visit.
– Do not wear expensive footwear – if you plan on removing them and going barefoot when exploring inside the Taj Mahal.
– Be aware of monkeys – snacks attract them, and some are scary bold.
– Food is not allowed inside (a water bottle is alright)
– Phones must be switched off – or on silent mode when inside the Taj Mahal.
– No cameras allowed
Frequently Asked Questions About The Taj Mahal
What’s the best season to visit the Taj Mahal?
Early summer. Between March – June (Preferably early in the morning)
What are the visiting times?
Tickets are available from an hour before sunrise till 45 minutes before sunset.
Are there days the Taj Mahal is closed?
Every Friday (Avoid Saturdays too)
Is there a dress code for entering the premises?
No dress code is strictly enforced, but be respectful, especially if you’re visiting the mosque.
How long does an average tour take?
Generally 2-3 hours (especially with a tour guide)