As you approach the famous Taj Mahal of India, your eyes will be drawn up to the incredible white dome, which rises in the center, flanked on each side by more white domes and surrounded by incredible white towers.
Taj MahalLast updated on
The construction of this splendid building was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jana as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
It was designed by an entire team of designers to create and was not completed until 1648, long after Mumtaz Mahal died during their fourteenth child's birth. The gardens and outbuildings of the Taj Mahal were not completed until five years later.
This incredible building was completed with the aid of a complex pulley system because of the huge marble blocks, which according to historical accounts, took teams of twenty or thirty oxen to pull on specially constructed carts or wagons. The scaffolding for the building was constructed of brick instead of bamboo. While the designers lamented the time that it would take to deconstruct the scaffolding, legend has it that Shah Jahan decreed that anyone could take bricks from the scaffolding and keep them, leading to the deconstruction of the entire scaffolds overnight by peasants.
The Taj Mahal is an early example, perhaps the first, of Mughal architecture and is a masterpiece combination of Turkish, Indian, Persian, and Islamic architectural styles.
Even the Taj Mahal's outer sections are incredible to look upon, including the gardens, a traditional char bagh, a formal garden of the Mughal period, divided into four parts. The four parts are divided by raised pathways, which further divide each quarter of the garden into 16 sunken flowerbeds. These are kept watered with a raised marble water tank, situated at the center of the gardens at the halfway point between the tomb itself and the gateway.
The tomb of Mumtaz Mahal
The central focus of the entire compound is, of course, the tomb itself. Topped with an amazing dome and a beautiful finial, this white marble structure stands on a square plinth. It is a large structure and has several chambers, including the monuments to Mumtaz and Shah Jahan, with the actual remains residing on the story below. Four minarets or towers stand at each corner of the plinth to frame the tomb.
The palace's landscaping and gardens© Photo by Ron Gatepain
There is also the unforgettable reflecting pool on the North-South axis, designed to reflect the Taj Mahal. Throughout the rest of the garden are fountains and avenues of trees. The garden's original landscaping is said to have included vegetation such as fruit trees, daffodils, and roses all over the gardens. However, as the keeping of the grounds declined, the plant life began to die back. When the British took over the property management, they changed the formal gardens to resemble London's formal lawns' landscaping more closely.
Three sides of the Taj Mahal are bounded by red sandstone walls, with the side that faces the river being unwalled. Outside the walls are several other mausoleums, including those of his other wives and a tomb for Mumtaz's favorite servant. Within the gardens are several additional outbuildings, including the main gateway. This gateway is built of marble, primarily, and the gateway's archways mimic the tomb's archways.
To the east and west of the tomb, two red sandstone buildings of a grand nature open to the sides of the tomb and are precise mirror images of one another. These two buildings are a mosque and a mirror of the mosque, used primarily to balance the architecture and probably function as a guesthouse.
Many myths surround the Taj Mahal, including the myth that a mirror building known as the Black Taj was to be built across the river, supported by the ruins of black marble that can be found there. However, this myth is insubstantial since the supposed black marble is actually just white marble discolored completely to black.
Another myth propagated about the Taj Mahal states that the workmen and artisans who worked on this incredible and beautiful building were killed in gruesome manners or otherwise mutilated or dismembered by Shah Jahan to keep them from ever building a similar building. However, this too seems to have no historical basis in fact. Many of the most famous buildings in the world have similar stories in association with them.
A popular tourist attraction
Today, the Taj Mahal attracts approximately two to three million visitors each year, with about 200,000 of them arriving abroad to see this marvelous structure. The Taj Mahal is easily the most popular tourist destination in India and has been included in a more modern version of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Tourism to this building is high for a great reason – the Taj Mahal is an architectural masterpiece and is arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It was created, so the stories say, out of deep and binding love and have withstood several centuries, several wars, and a decline into disrepair to remain standing intact as one of the world's architectural masterpieces. The Taj Mahal is worth a visit for anyone interested in seeing tremendous beauty and wonder first hand. Anyone who has been and who has seen the Taj Mahal will likely tell you that the trip is well worth it, and the building and grounds are a wonder that has withstood the test of time so far.
Visiting information and tips
When to go
The Taj Mahal is a highly touristic place. You will, unfortunately, need to decide on whether you prefer to escape the crowds and visit during the intense summer heat and possible pouring rain season, or simply get in line and enjoy the Taj Mahal during the more comfortable winter seasons.
The site is open from sunrise to sunset from Saturday to Thursday and is closed on Fridays for prayer time. Going early at sunrise is usually more rewarding for its natural lighting but it is still better to arrive 30 minutes before the gates opening at 6 am because even at that early time, there could be a crowd building up.
On full moon evenings, the site also offers some beautiful night tours so you may also want to plan your visit to the region around that period of the month. If you would like that, be sure to verify your dates with the Taj Mahal official website.
Where to stay the day before
Since Agra is at about 200 km (125 miles) of the main cities of Jaipur and New Delhi, it is usually preferred to find a hotel or place to stay in or around Agra the day before.
The distance can be covered by train (around 20$), car (UBER/taxi - around 40usd). Flying could even apparently be a low-cost option if your starting point is Jaipur.
Entrance to the Taj Mahal
You can buy directly tickets at the Taj Mahal or online. The price should be around 15 to 20 USD for foreigners. For the evening fares, on full-moon days, they are usually at about a 30% discount.
You can expect some waiting time if you buy on-site. Make sure to have some cash in handy in case they can't process cards on the day you go.
It could be a good idea to visit other Agra attractions, like the Agra Fort as entrances at these places often come with rebates to visit the Taj Mahal after.