|The Taj Mahal of India|
The Taj Mahal is one of the world’s most iconic and beautiful buildings. It’s located in the city of Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, only 200 kilometers south of New Delhi. This monumental structure was built in the 17th century to serve as a mausoleum for the wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It is one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the world and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The complex receives millions of visitors each year and it is almost always crowded. The best time to visit is shortly before sunrise, as this is when the crowds are at their smallest. Sunset is also a good time to visit and the beauty of the Taj Mahal during these times is almost too beautiful to describe. The site opens every morning (except Fridays) at 6 am and closes at 7:30 pm. The entry fee is 750 Indian Rupees for foreigners (about $15). When there’s a full moon the Taj is also open at night and if it’s a clear night, the experience is truly breathtaking.
A man praying in front of the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
The Taj Mahal has a huge reputation and it is one of the few places in the world that manages to surpass already enormous expectations. While visiting the Taj Mahal complex once may be enough for any one trip to Agra, that doesn’t mean there won’t be time to take in its beauty throughout the rest of your trip. There are many hotels and guest houses located to the south of the Taj Mahal that have rooftop restaurants that offer excellent views. Also the Mehtab Bagh Botanical Gardens are located just across the river from the Taj Mahal and are a quiet place to take in unobstructed views of the complex.
The Taj Mahal at sunrise as seen from the Mentab Bagh Gardens.
While most tourists come to Agra for the Taj Mahal, that doesn’t mean the city is a one-trick pony. Another big attraction in the city is the Agra Fort. Located only a few kilometers from the Taj Mahal, this fort is the equivalent of a large walled city. It’s built in a traditional Mughal style, reminiscent of some of the forts in neighboring Rajasthan, with walls 70 feet high!
A crowd of people entering the Agra Fort through a gate in its massive walls.
The fort has a tragic legend associated with it. After commissioning the construction of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was later deposed by his own son and imprisoned in the Agra Fort. He spent the rest of his life locked in the Muasamman Burj tower, staring out at the Taj Mahal just below the hill.
Agra is one of India’s most accessible cities. It lies on the rail route between Delhi and Mumbai, with trains taking as little as 2 hours to Delhi. Jaipur in Rajasthan can also be reached via train, and is located 4 hours to the west. Buses are another way to travel and there are regular departures from both Delhi and Jaipur. Agra also has an airport with domestic connections to Delhi and Jaipur.
As in most Indian cities, getting around Agra usually involves a mish-mash of walking, taxis, motorcycles and tuk-tuks.