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Four centuries ago, the mighty Mughal emperor Shah Jahan ordered the construction of an opulent memorial for his beloved queen who died in childbirth. Testament to an amazing love story, the structure has now in turn drawn love from admirers all over the world. Architectural marvel, icon of India, new wonder of the world, call it by any name: the Taj Mahal. Even if you are not keen on architecture, the mausoleum’s splendid dome, garden and tomb will bring tears to your eyes.
No matter where you are spiritually, watching sunrise in the Taj Mahal will refresh your soul. Not far from the world-famous mausoleum is another highlight of Indian architecture, the Agra Fort. Together, the two sites charm every tourist to India and make them fall in love with the country’s culture. However, many hassles along the way can easily spoil your experience. Therefore, to ensure the best trip, follow our detailed guide to visit Taj Mahal & Agra Fort.
“Crown of the Palaces” and its sister: Location and how to travel there
Approximately 200 kilometers south of Delhi, the Taj Mahal is located in the Agra city in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It sits on the banks of the Yamuna River. 2.5 kilometers west of the well-known mausoleum is the historic Agra Fort. Both structures were among India’s first landmarks to be declared as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1983. Though Agra is far from being an ideal destination for travelers, a trip to the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort is something that everybody would die for.
Of the two sites, the Taj Mahal has emerged as perhaps the most recognized monument of the country famous for curry and Bollywood, attracting about 7 – 8 million tourists every year.
Agra is well connected with Delhi and can be reached by car, train, bus and airplane. Therefore, the Taj Mahal can be easily visited on a day trip from Delhi.
The main railway station is Agra Cantt and it takes about 3.5 hours to arrive at Agra. But if you prefer to travel more independently by car and are ready to brave the sluggish traffic in Delhi, the Yamuna Expressway should be your choice.
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The unique history and architecture of Taj Mahal
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When Queen Mumtaz Mahal met an untimely death, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan grieved deeply for his wife. But since he was the king of one of the world’s wealthiest kingdoms, he had his own way of demonstrating his devotion. He ordered 20,000 artisans to labor for 22 years to build a magnificent memorial out of ivory-white marble for his beloved wife. But the Taj Mahal turned out to be much more wonderful as today we have an unparalleled jewel of art and architecture.
A fusion of Islamic, Persian and Hindu styles, the mausoleum blends various design ideas into a masterpiece embodying India’s cultural richness and diversity. Upon arriving at the Taj Mahal, you will come across a large and lovely garden, adorned with fine fountains, that symbolizes paradise. Although beautiful, it is nothing compared to the heart of the Taj Mahal: the tomb of the Mughal king and queen.
Its most recognizable feature is the 35-meter-high marble dome, on its four sides stand four slender minarets aligned perfectly symmetrically. If their scale and exquisite craftsmanship fail to impress you, the exterior and interior decorations of the tomb will. They are made up of numerous delicate carvings, elaborate paintings, masterful calligraphic inscriptions, gemstone inlay and more. Statues are nowhere to be found in the entire complex as Muslim tradition forbids them, but this hardly lessens the grandeur of the Taj Mahal.
Read more: 10 fascinating things to do in Delhi
Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets at Taj Mahal
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The Taj Mahal is special because it has no fixed opening and closing hours. Instead, it is available from sunrise to sunset everyday (except Friday), and there is a very good reason for the timing. Thanks to the use of white marble as its building material, the Taj Mahal appears to change color depending on the amount of sunlight. The best time to visit the mausoleum is during the sunrise when out of hazy morning fog, the marble dome appears with a soft, golden color of early morning light.
On a more practical side, there are few tourists in the Taj Mahal at dawn, so your visit is much more intimate. As the sun sets, the dome takes a warm rose hue which darkens until nightfall. Add in the peace and serenity of the twilight interrupted only by the distant call to prayer, you will see how magical the scene is. You can even watch the superb sunset without having to set foot in the mausoleum.
All you need to do is to visit Mehtab Bagh – a beautiful garden complex which faces the Taj Mahal but lies on the other river bank. Speaking of opening hours, you should also know that the Taj Mahal is open for night viewing for five nights every month except on Ramadan. They include the full moon, the two days before and the two days after the full moon. On these nights, you can access the magnificent mausoleum from 8.30 p.m. until 12.30 a.m.
The Agra Fort is part of the setting in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes detective novel, The Sign of the Four. It also appears in many Bollywood movies. Photo by Arun Geetha Viswanathan / Unsplash
Agra Fort: Stronghold of the lost empire
Despite being less popular than its sister monument, the Agra Fort is still a wonderful place that will awe and inspire travelers. Built in the 16th century by Emperor Akbar who was the grandfather of Emperor Shah Jahan, the fort covers over 94 acres of land and is surrounded by an imposing 21-meter-high wall. While the fort was made of red sandstone, a lot of marvelous marble creations were added under Shah Jahan’s reign, making the fort as architecturally significant as the Taj Mahal.
Due to the fact that this served as the residence of numerous Mughal royal families, the fort was endowed with countless gold and gemstone ornaments, intricate etchings, wonderful floral inlay work and other regal decorations. You can learn a lot by visiting the maze of the courtyards, mosques & chambers steeped in Mughal history, like the Pearl Fort and the Mirror Palace. It would be a huge mistake to miss out on visiting the Agra Fort after your trip to the Taj Mahal.
A few tips to remember
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- Security at the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort is very tight with multiple checkpoints at the entrances. You can only bring in small bags containing essential items like mobile phone, camera, and water bottle. Anything that is not in this list is out of the question. Anything.
- It is unwise to hire a local guide because the places are rife with frauds, something which fans of “Slumdog Millionaire” know so well. Instead, you can download the government-sponsored audio guide to your smartphone.
- Though no dress code is enforced, it would do you no harm to dress appropriately. Moreover, you can wear bright clothes to take cool pictures in front of the iconic white marble dome of the Taj Mahal.
- The best time to go to Agra is from November to February. For the rest of the year, it can be rainy or excruciatingly hot.
- Normally, it is quite OK to buy tickets at the ticket booth as there is no need for online booking. However, take this Taj Mahal and Agra Fort day tour from Delhi by car to have the best travel experience.
Keyword: A detailed guide to visit Taj Mahal & Agra Fort