India’s most-famous piece of architecture, an incredibly popular tourist destination, an important place of worship, and a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site, the stunning Taj Mahal is also often high on the lists of new world wonders.
Located in the city of Agra, in the north-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, it is a striking testament to love and devotion. With numerous decorative details and beautiful green grounds, the Taj Mahal is a veritable visual feast. Referred to as the “Jewel of Muslim art in India” by UNESCO, see for yourself what makes the Taj Mahal, the Crown of Palaces, so special.
A sad but beautiful tale of heartbreak and loss
Perhaps the grandest declaration of love on the planet, the Taj Mahal was built on the instruction of Shah Jahan, a mighty Mughal Emperor, to honour his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A mausoleum to contain her body and a magnificent structure to celebrate her life, the Taj Mahal was constructed between the 1630s and 1650s.
Shah Jahan was India’s fifth Mughal Emperor. In his mid-teens he met a girl called Arjumand Banu Begum, the daughter of a powerful and affluent Persian noble family. Several years later, he became engaged to the young lady, subsequently marrying her a few years after that.
Despite Shah Jahan having two wives already by the time he married Arjumand Banu Begum, she became his favourite wife. She was given the title of Mumtaz Mahal, which means the chosen one of the palace. He had 14 children with Mumtaz Mahal, and she sadly died at the age of 39 whilst giving birth to their final child.
Such were Shah Jahan’s acute feelings of loss and deep sadness that he arranged for the Taj Mahal to be built in honour of Mumtaz Mahal. Her body was moved from its original burial place to the mausoleum upon its completion. However, Shah Jahan’s other wives are buried in mausoleums outside of the main walls.
Spectacular craftsmanship and stunning details
The Taj Mahal is built from gleaming white marble, and it is said that around 20,000 craftsmen were used during the complex’s construction. Combining elements from Mughal and Persian architecture and using materials obtained from all across Asia, ornamentation includes semi-precious gems, carvings, paint, and stone.
Due to restrictions concerning Islamic art, you’ll notice that the beautiful details show fine and graceful calligraphy, with sections from the Islamic holy book of the Qur’an, images of vegetables and flowers, geometric patterns, and abstract designs. As with many Islamic buildings, symmetry plays an important part in the overall layout and design.
The impressive marble dome will probably be one of the first features that your eyes are immediately drawn to. Though once you start to look around, you’ll notice grand columns, soaring minarets, attractive arches, lovely gateways, and more. Additionally, when you look down, you’ll see that even the floor tiles are very pleasing to the eye. Indeed, you will be given plastic covers to wear over your shoes to prevent unnecessary damage and dirt.
The main tomb houses two stone coffins: one for Mumtaz Mahal, and the other for Shah Jahan. These are actually not where their bodies are entombed though – they are buried lower down in a fairly plain chamber.
Gorgeous well-manicured gardens and grounds
Directly in front of the magnificent main building is a reflecting pool. This had, unfortunately, at the time of visit been emptied for cleaning. Even with just a small amount of water, though, it was clear to see how impressive the reflection would be. With the right angle you could get some really magical photos of the shining Taj Mahal rising up behind its shimmering reflection in the sunshine.
Take some time to stroll through the gardens and along the tree-lined walkways, admiring the vibrant colours of the flowers and listening to the tinkling sound of water from fountains. You can also admire the marvellous Taj Mahal from many different angles to fully appreciate its splendour. It’s difficult to imagine the vast scale of everything until you are actually there, experiencing it for yourself.
Other buildings around the walled complex
As well as the main mausoleum, you can see a number of other fine buildings within the Taj Mahal’s grounds, and some others just outside the walls.
The main gateway is impressive, almost like a smaller and less elaborate version of the mighty Taj Mahal itself. You’ll see two buildings made from vivid red sandstone to each side of the main tomb. One of these is a sacred mosque. Whilst the other one’s original purpose isn’t completely clear, it is thought that it was built mainly to maintain the symmetrical layout of the area. You can learn even more about the Taj Mahal in the interesting and informative Taj Museum.
Wild monkeys can be observed outside of the walls, well-used to seeing visitors and making sneaky attempts to relieve passers-by of any drinks and snacks!
Opening hours and admission costs
Visitors are allowed inside the complex between sunrise and sunset on all days except Fridays. Friday is the Muslim holy day and so the complex is only open for people attending worship at the mosque. Get there as early in the day as possible. Firstly, to avoid wandering around in the blazing heat of the day, and secondly, to beat the crowds! Sure, it won’t be deserted, but it will be a lot quieter than later on when large tour groups arrive.
Whilst not essential, having a registered guide with you can really enhance your experience. Guides can tell you more about the building of the Taj Mahal and its past, point out details that you may otherwise have missed, explain the significance of certain symbols, and take photos for you!
The admission fee for most foreign tourists is 750 INR (approximately 11 USD). Visitors from countries that are a part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) pay a reduced rate of 510 INR (approximately 7.50 USD). Citizens of these nine countries will pay the lower admission fee: Burma / Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Though, if you are an Indian citizen the cost of entry is only 20 INR (approximately 0.29 USD).
Night time visits are also possible around the time of the full moon. Further details can be obtained from the Taj Mahal’s official website.
Other practical information for visiting the Taj Mahal
Vehicles, specifically those that create pollution, are not allowed within 500 metres (1,640 feet) of the walls. This is to try and preserve the stunning building in its pristine white state. Visitors must either walk from the main car-parking areas, or hop on one of the regular electric buggies.
You need to pass through security points to enter the grounds, and you can only carry small handbags with a few items, such as a camera, video camera, phone, and bottled water. Lockers are available close to each gate. Food and drink, with the exception of water, are prohibited, and there are points around the complex where you can fill up your bottle with fresh drinking water free of charge. Smoking is banned, along with the use use of tripods.
Arrange your visit to Agra and the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal for a most magical time when travelling around India.
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