Many people have tried to describe the Taj Mahal’s beauty. Shah Jahan, the buildings creator said “it made the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.” Rudyard Kipling said “It is the embodiment of all things pure” and Rabindranath Tagore described it as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity.”
This may all seem like extraordinary hyperbole, but I am sure that the vast majority of the Taj’s 3 million annual visitors will tell you that it is all true.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his 3rd wife who died in childbirth in 1631. The emperor was so heartbroken that he began building the Taj Mahal in her honour. The main mausoleum took just 8 years to complete, but it wasn’t until 1653 that the finishing touches were added to the complex as a whole. Because of this, it is often described as the world’s greatest monument to love.
Open from sunrise to sunset every day except Fridays, when the site is only accessible to people attending the mosque.
Entry fee: 1100 Rs for foreigners, 40 Rs for Indians.
The Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah has gained the nickname of ‘The Baby Taj’ over the years due to the similarities in stonework and carvings between the two. What many people don’t know is that Itimad-ud-Daulah was actually built before its more famous counterpart and was the first mausoleum to be built from white marble rather than red sandstone. It may not be as grand as the Taj Mahal, but it is just as beautiful.
Aside from the Taj, Agra’s most impressive structure is this red sandstone relic of the Mughal era. Its construction began along the banks of the Yamuna in 1565 by Emperor Akbar and was later embellished with white marble by his grandson, Shah Jahan. What was once a sprawling, a military fortress was transformed into a palace during his reign.
What will strike you most about the fort is its scale. It is 2.5km in circumference and the walls get as high as 20m at some points. Once you get inside, the interior is as impressive as the outer walls. Here you will find stunning structures such as the Shish Mahal (mirror palace), Khas Mahal, Diwan-e-khaas (hall of private audiences), Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and Nagina Masjid (Gem/Jewel mosque). My advice would be to spend an entire morning or afternoon wandering the various buildings to get everything you can out of your visit. Just make sure to peek out of the rampart windows to catch a distant glimpse of the Taj Mahal.
One of the most mesmerising views of the Taj Mahal is from the Mehtab Bagh gardens on the Yamuna river’s north bank. Mehtab Bagh is beautiful; a long, lush green lawn dotted with flowering bushes designed to mirror the Taj Mahals own decorative gardens. Legend says that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan long planned an exact copy of the Taj to be built in the spot as a tomb for himself, only made entirely of black marble. The idea originates from fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveller who visited Agra in 1665. It was suggested that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangzeb, before it could be built.
The perfect time to visit is just before sunset, settling in for a view of the Taj as daylight fades, casting an orangy pink glow on the building’s marble dome. I spent a beautiful evening, sat in complete silence with dozens of other people, gazing in awe at history’s greatest monument to love.
Although it is only a few hundred metres from Agra’s centre, getting there and back is a 16 km round trip, taking 20 minutes each way and costing around 150 rupees on an overpriced tuk-tuk. It requires travelling a few kilometres west of the city, crossing the Ambedkar bridge, and then making your way back eastwards to the Taj Mahal viewpoint.
Entry fee: 100 Rs
Agra isn’t the kind of place that suffers from a lack of retail options. All around the old town, the Taj and in Sadar Bazaar you will find gift shops and emporiums trying to hawk you all kinds of tat; bags, clothes, marble ornaments (be warned as these are often not real marble), gems and tiny models of the Taj itself. I even saw multiple stores selling Taj Mahal snow globes despite the city never experiencing snow.
However, if its a more local experience that you’re looking for, head to Kinari Bazaar. This crazy labyrinthine network of alleyways and chouks situated behind Jama Masjid is a colourful assault on the senses. Just make sure to take plenty of patience as the crowds and onslaught of sales pitches can be a little overwhelming.
Open Wednesday – Monday, 11 am – 9 pm
Take a Boat Ride on the Yamuna River
Officially, it’s illegal for tourists to take a boat ride on the Yamuna. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, you just have to know where to look and who to ask. After all, who would want to miss out on the best view of the Taj Mahal just for the sake of a few rules?
Most hostels in and around Agra offer this tour (200-250 Rs per person) but I found that the best way is to do it yourself from Dusshera ghat. To reach Dusshera ghat, head to the Taj Mahal’s east gate from Taj East Gate Road and, as soon as you pass the ticket office, take a right and follow the Taj’s perimeter wall all the way to the waterfront. As boat rides are not advertised, it is best to ask around at the jetty to see if anyone will take you. When I visited, there were a few policemen on the jetty but they didn’t seem to mind me hopping aboard a boat. For the best view of the Taj, visit at sunset or sunrise.
We paid 100 rupees (around £1.10) each for a 15 – 20 minute ride.
Check out this blog post for a detailed account of my sunset boat ride.
Taj Nature Walk
Just a short walk from the Taj Mahal down the East Gate Road sits this lush expanse of parkland, crisscrossed by walking trails, picnic spots and viewpoints. The nature reserve covers 70 acres, stretching from the road towards the banks of the Yamuna and you can expect it to be fairly quiet compared to the rest of Agra if it is a little peace and tranquillity that you’re looking for. I only spotted two other couples walking the trail while I was there.
While it is great for twitchers and nature lovers, the real attraction is the various vantage points dotted around the park, allowing to see the Taj Mahal from a unique perspective. It’s possible to spend a whole morning exploring the different paths but I found that an hour was enough time.
Entry Fee: 100 Rs. for foreigners, 20 Rs for Indians.