Visiting the Taj Mahal is an essential on anyone’s Indian Bucket List, but it sometimes isn’t as easy as just turning up on the day. With the potential for bustling crowds, scorching weather or even the Taj being closed, this essential guide will tell you everything you need to know about visiting the Taj Mahal.
Introduction to the Taj Mahal
So you’ve found yourself in Northern India and you feel your heart longing to visit one of the world’s most beautiful buildings? Well you’re in the right place!
Let’s get started by understanding what the Taj Mahal actually is. Many tourists visit this beautiful building and leave still asking themselves; is it a palace? A temple? Was it built just for my Instagram photos? Well, the answer is a resounding no to all three of these questions.
The Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra and was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum, or in other words, to house the tomb of his favourite wife. He loved this wife so much (and so much more than the rest?) that he dedicated 17 years to build this stunning memorial. In fact, Shah Jahan also rests inside the Taj Mahal, joining the love of his life for eternity.
When to visit?
With a few important exceptions which will be discussed later, the Taj Mahal is open year round. This gives you the fantastic opportunity of choosing which season you would like to visit. Are you a heat-lover? Or do you prefer cool rain as a romantic backdrop to your visit? Maybe you prefer a foggy ambience?
The hottest month in Agra is May, so a visit between late March to late June will ensure scorching temperatures and very little rain. Be warned, hot means HOT, with average highs of 109°F or 43°C. This heat may distract you from the wonder around you and so I would not suggest visiting the Taj in the middle of these months.
Late October to March brings much more pleasant temperatures, still very warm so you won’t miss that holiday sun, but not as intense as the peak of summer. These months also bring fewer tourists, meaning you can have a little more space as you explore the Mausoleum.
Be mindful though, as this season is known locally as ‘fog season’, meaning the mornings are often thick with fog, with visibility sometimes being as low as a few metres. The fog often clears throughout the day so if you do visit during these months then it may be worth an afternoon trip. I would highly suggest visiting in either October or March, coupling pleasantly warm temperatures with slightly fewer tourists and a much lower chance of fog.
June to September is when monsoon season rolls in, expect rain every single day. However, whilst it will rain every day, it won’t rain for the entire time. Often it will rain very intensely for a few hours in the day, meaning if you can time it right then you can be sitting comfortably in a cafe, sipping your masala chai and watching the spectacle of monsoon rain.
This season offers a unique view of the Taj, a building which shimmers and shines when wet, sparkling with many different colours creating a rainbow-like pattern upon the building. This season also brings fewer tourists, discounts on accommodation and more manageable temperatures (think 86°F/30°C).
How to get there?
You’ve chosen your season and you’re getting excited, but how do you get to this magical wonder? Good news, Agra is very accessible via public transport or charted taxi. You can easily take a train or bus from Dheli and both are relatively inexpensive and take around three hours. I would recommend the train as India’s train system is something to experience in itself. There are several class options and always food available. You can book your train or bus online here or you can also buy them from the station.
Some people take a day trip from Dheli however, I would not recommend doing this as you will miss the chance to fully experience the Taj. I would suggest staying at least one night in Agra, and if you have the time you can use it as a springboard to visit India’s holiest city, Varanassi or India’s desert state, Rajasthan.
Do I need to prepare anything?
As with many beautiful and holy sites in India, you need to know a little before just turning up at the door. The Taj Mahal is coupled with a mosque and so some consideration is needed when entering the holy area. This means that modest clothing is recommended. Although you won’t get turned away by security for wearing a vest, covering your shoulders and knees is considerate of the people worshipping in the area and will save you many unwanted stares and glances.
There are also several items which are strictly banned from the Taj and, although there are lockers to store these items, there have been several incidents of theft and I would recommend leaving these at home. These include food, tobacco or alcohol, chargers, drones, gopos, tripods and backpacks (only small bags for essential items, cell phones and cameras are allowed).
Essentially, if you dress modestly and bring only your phone and your camera then you will be fine! You can bring water also, but if you are not from India then a bottle of water is included in your ticket (more on this soon!)
How do I get my ticket?
So you’ve finally made it! You’ve chosen your best season, you’ve taken the train from Dheli and you’ve left your tripods at the hotel, now where do you go?
Well thankfully getting tickets to the Taj Mahal is very easy, you can buy your ticket online here, or simply purchase from the East or West gate when you arrive. Both these gates offer tourist tickets for a price of around 1,100 INR ($13) if you are from outside of India, or 50 INR if you are from India. There are a couple of reasons for the change in ticket prices and I hear some tourists unjustly complaining about it.
India is a very poor country and many people do not have the opportunity to travel and experience their own land. Due to this, the government of India is subsidising ticket prices for attractions all over the country to help encourage the learning and preservation of Indian culture and heritage, as well as providing the opportunity for more Indians to learn about their own land and explore something that simply would not be possible if the ticket price was higher for locals.
If you are buying the foreigner ticket, then your ticket also comes with a bottle of water, shoe covers (shoes are not allowed to be worn in the Taj, in order to preserve its marble floors), a map of Agra and free transportation to the Taj (the gates are both around a 10-minute walk from the entrance of the Taj itself)
How can I avoid crowds?
One thing that is undeniably true about the Taj Mahal, is that it can get very busy. Lucky for you, there are some tips for avoiding crowds in order to get the most out of your experience!
We know the season you choose can affect the number of people joining you on your adventure, but there are a couple of other factors at play also. One of the greatest experiences you can have at the Taj Mahal is to arrive for sunrise. Luckily, this is also the least busy time of day to arrive!
The Taj opens its doors 30 minutes before sunrise and the vast majority of people won’t arrive until later in the day, making this an essential on anyone’s Taj Mahal Itinerary (plus, it’s a beautiful experience).
There will still be a lot of people and a visit on a weekday will cut these numbers down as well. After you’ve seen the serene sunrise over the shimmering building, the area will quickly fill up with tourists. Don’t leave just yet though, as now is the time to explore the west and east sides of the building, both offering more spectacular views of the Taj. Not many people wander to these sides of the building and, since the Taj is almost symmetrical, you can get a chance to experience the wonder up close, without hundreds of people surrounding you.
Make sure you do go up close, as the intricate detail carved in the marble walls are just as spectacular as the views from the reflecting pools!
Should I get a guide?
Now, you’re at the Taj, and you’re bathing in its glory…but you don’t really know what you’re looking at, what to do? Firstly, I would always recommend doing some research on any monument you visit before arriving, just so you can add some context to your visit. Secondly, you will probably see thousands of guides waiting at the door, eager to tell you the rich history this building has to offer.
The guides here can be fairly inexpensive and invaluable and I would definitely recommend hiring one if it is within your budget to do so. The problem, however, presents itself when choosing which one. Of the thousands of guides waiting at the Taj’s door, only a few hundred are government-approved, and it is hard to tell who is a genuine guide and who just sees you as walking moneybags. The government guides will always have an official tag around their neck, but they may still be hard to find and there may still be some haggling to be done.
If you have been in India for a long time and you understand the subtle nuances of hiring a service from the street, then take this experience and start gathering a group of guides, searching for the best option. If a chaotic crowd of auctioning guides isn’t your thing, then I would recommend booking a guide beforehand through either your hotel or the Taj’s official website, here.
When is it closed?
The Taj Mahal is open only for those of Muslim faith during the month of Ramadan, and it would be very disrespectful to try and visit at this time if you are not going for prayer. If you happen to be in Agra during this season, then consider some of the other visiting options here to not miss out on seeing the spectacular Taj.
When I first visited the Taj Mahal, I made the mistake of not doing my research and arrived on a sunny Friday morning, ready to see one of the world’s wonders. The Taj, it turns out, is actually closed every Friday (yes EVERY Friday), allowing the local Muslim population time and space to enter the adjacent mosque in peace. Again, other options are available to you if you happen to only be around for this day, but I would highly recommend either arriving a day earlier or staying an extra day if you are due to arrive on Friday.
Special insider tips to consider
Okay, we’ve talked about how to experience the Taj Mahal hassle-free and at your own pace, but now it’s time to add a bit more magic to your trip!
Another beautiful way to explore the Taj Mahal is by boat, as the grand structure itself is nestled sweetly on the riverbank. As mentioned before, the Taj is almost the same from all sides and so even though you will be watching the back side of the Taj, it still holds all the glory and wonder of the front. I would suggest doing this trip for sunset, or, if a boat trip isn’t in your budget, you can cross the river and watch the sunset over the Taj from the park which is conveniently located directly across. This park also provides a more distant view of the Taj, allowing you to see the whole building and surrounding city easily.
Keep an eye on the skies during your visit, because for two days before the full moon and for two days after, you can enter the Taj Mahal at night time and see the moon’s brilliant glow add a whole new aura to the Taj’s chromatic skin. I would do this in addition to a day trip as visits are limited to only 30 minutes. There are also a limited number of tickets so keep an eye on their website for when tickets are available to purchase.
The Taj Mahal is truly one of the most incredible buildings that I have ever seen and I would suggest adding it to your Indian Itinerary!
When you visit the Taj, remember to go for sunrise, get up close and walk the whole way round. Why not end your day sitting in one of the many rooftop bars that surround the monument and watch the sun go down over the Taj with a beer in hand to wind down your day? Doesn’t sound too bad, right?
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