Agra: the Taj Mahal at last!

Admiring the Taj Mahal from the shade of the southern portico

Our guide from the previous day’s visit to Agra Fort met us at Coral Court Homestay to walk with us to the nearby entrance to the Taj Mahal. Visiting the Taj was a highlight of this 3-month travel extravaganza, but I worried a little that the iconic landmark would be a let down after the countless images I’d seen over my lifetime. I needn’t have worried. The Taj Mahal was spectacular and we loved every minute of our leisurely visit on a gorgeous day.

View of the huge gateway leading to the Taj from the grassy courtyard just inside the main entrance gate

We opted to skip sunrise at the Taj, something that’s touted a lot, but which sounded to me like a gimmick…and I just plain didn’t want to get up that early. Besides, we’d put off our visit to the Taj until this year so that we’d see it just after the major cleaning that had its domes covered in purifying mud for much of 2018. I had no particular desire to see it turned pinkish by the rising sun. I wanted to see its freshly-restored gleaming white. The choice turned out to be a good one. We chatted with fellow guests at Coral Court Homestay who got up for a sunrise visit and said they were disappointed to find the entrance queue long and the Taj Mahal grounds crowded. They said it was pretty, though. We arrived around 10am to find only a short line and sparse crowds. And the Taj a brilliant white in the sunshine. The April weather was ideal, too: warm in the sun, cool in the shade. Fantastic!

Just beyond the gateway shown in the previous photo

Our guide, paid for and included in the Jaipur to Agra drive and touring we’d hired from Pushpendra (see my earlier post), had tried to talk us out of using his services at the Taj. We’d arrived too late from Jaipur the day before and had only been able to tour Agra Fort, having to put off the Taj Mahal for today. Despite the guide’s obvious reluctance (Why work another day when he could pocket the pay and do nothing?), he turned up to walk us to the Taj then provided cheerful and informative service. He delighted in posing us for what seemed like dozens of touristy photos and tended to speed along when I wanted to just stop and gape and take my own photos. We were glad we insisted on using him, but also happy to send him on his way after we toured inside the mausoleum so we could just stroll and sit and admire the incredible beauty around us.

We mounted stairs to the vast raised plaza where the Taj Mahal mausoleum sits, flanked by two mosques (one in use and the other primarily for symmetry and show). Separate tickets were required to enter the mausoleum and we joined a short line to file through. Photographs weren’t allowed inside the mausoleum where two replica cenotaphs sit in an ornate upper room of intricately carved marble and semi-precious stones. The real sarcophagi are in a lower room at garden level.

Back outside, we explored the wide terrace with its view of the river below and park across the way. Large flocks of black kites, eagle-like birds of prey, swirled and glided around the towers and central dome of the Taj. Indian tourists in an array of colorful regional clothes added to the overwhelming beauty of the place.

Black kites (birds of prey) circling a Taj Mahal minaret
Colorful locals near one of the identical mosques that flanks the Taj Mahal
View from a mosque flanking the Taj Mahal

After a quick visit to the mosque, we bid good-bye to our guide and set out to explore the square gardens with their central fountain and a small museum on the west side of the complex. We ended up strolling a long red stone portico that joined with the grand entrance at the south end of the gardens. Exhibits depicting historic and architectural sites around India lined the portico. We enjoyed browsing the exhibits, then gave over to the ultimate pleasure of the place: just sitting in the shade admiring the Taj Majal.

Red stone portico connecting to the grand gateway leading to the Taj Mahal. The exhibits depict architectural and historical sites around India.

Practical info:

Taj Mahal tickets are available at both the Western Gate and the Eastern Gate (where we entered) from one hour before Sunrise up to 45 Minutes before Sunset. Tickets are 1100INR ($15.34 US) for foreigners plus another 200INR ($2.79) to enter the mausoleum. There’s a 50INR (70¢ US) discount on the general ticket for buying online. We found the guide informative and helpful, but not a necessity. Allow plenty of time just to bask in the beauty. The Taj Mahal is not the place to rush.

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