Explore Taj Mahal, India
Explore the Taj Mahal an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658) to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal; it also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself. The tomb is the centrepiece of a 17-hectare (42-acre) complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.
Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643, but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The Taj Mahal complex is believed to have been completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (U.S. $827 million). The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage”. It is regarded by many as the best example of Mughal architecture and a symbol of India’s rich history. The Taj Mahal attracts 7–8 million visitors a year.
The tomb is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. It is a large, white marble structure standing on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.
The base structure is a large multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners forming an unequal eight-sided structure that is approximately 55 meters (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. Each side of the iwan is framed with a huge pishtaq or vaulted archway with two similarly shaped arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.
The most spectacular feature is the marble dome that surmounts the tomb. The dome is nearly 35 meters (115 ft) high which is close in measurement to the length of the base, and accentuated by the cylindrical “drum” it sits on which is approximately 7 metres (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasized by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. The dome is slightly asymmetrical. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.
The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This feature provides a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The finial is topped by a moon, a typical Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward.
The minarets, which are each more than 40 meters (130 ft) tall, display the designer’s penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets— a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that in the event of collapse, a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period, the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb
Official Tour Guides
Official guides are available in Agra for a half day (including Taj Mahal & Agra Fort). Not many official approved guides stand outside the monuments so if you require an official tour guide then you can book one of any foreign language spoken tour guides directly with contact no. from the approved guides’ office in Agra (Office of Approved Guide Association Agra). Guides are recognized and approved by Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India. Guides provided by most of travel agencies or hotels in Agra usually insist to visit a fix shop and get a big commission; this commission is distributed among unofficial guides, travel agents or hotel’s staff.
Note: to make your tour more enjoyable book ‘guides services’ online for Agra trip, as they are more trustworthy than a guide provided by hotels in Agra. All travel desks are taken by shop’s owners and they force to visit that particulate big shop.
Effective April 2011, the Archaeological Survey of India introduced an official self-guided audio tour facility of international standards for visitors. The tour allows visitors to experience the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort at their own pace, with authentic and factually accurate information. Visitors may avail of the audio guide facility from the official audio guide booth near the monument ticket counters. Prices for audio guide services are approx US$ 2 in English & Foreign Languages (currently French, Spanish, Italian, German) in Hindi & Indian Languages.
Reviews for the audio guides have been very positive on Tripadvisor and other travel websites and this is the recommended way to see the two Agra monuments.
Rules and Regulations at the Taj Mahal
Security is tight and there are many rules and regulations at the Taj Mahal. Many of these are not enforced, as is common in India. For example, the employees of the Taj Mahal smoke drive petrol-powered vehicles and litter on the premises. Many tourists take photos everywhere, including where the signs prohibit it, and the guards do nothing.
- Arms, ammunition, fire, smoking items, tobacco products, liquor, food, chewing gum, knives, wire, books, mobile charger, electric goods (except video cameras, photography cameras and similar consumer electronic products like MP3 players, iPhones, Smartphones etc. and music players) are prohibited inside the Taj Mahal complex. Leave these in the hotel or in your driver’s car. Avoid carrying a bag altogether if you can as the bag scanning process is cumbersome.
Mobile phones are allowed. They don’t really seem to enforce this with camera phones.
Eating and smoking are strictly prohibited inside the Taj Mahal complex.
Lockers are available at the gates to keep your belongings (of course, at your own risk).
Avoid carrying big bags and books inside the monument as this may increase your security check time.
Video cameras are allowed up to the red sand stone platform at the main entrance gate of the Taj Mahal complex. There is a charge per video camera.
Photography is prohibited inside the main mausoleum, and visitors are requested not to make noise inside the mausoleum.
Tourists must co-operate in keeping the monument neat and clean by making use of dustbins.
Avoid touching and scratching the walls and surfaces of the monument as these are old heritage sites that need special care.
Tourists are advised to hire official audio guides available at the ASI ticket counter or to use only pre-arranged approved guides.
Tourists are allowed to carry a water bottle inside the monument. Shoe covers, 1/2 litre water bottle and Tourist Guide Map of Agra are provided free of cost with the foreigner’s entry ticket for the Taj Mahal. After getting your ticket, proceed to the side of the ticket window to collect your water and shoe covers.
Wheelchairs for disabled persons and First Aid Boxes are available at A.S.I. Office inside the Taj Mahal complex. A refundable charge is to be deposited as security before wheelchairs are made available for the disabled.
All the above mentioned items along with the mobile phones are banned for the night viewing of the Taj Mahal.
Video cameras are permitted after the security check during night viewing of the Taj Mahal, though extra batteries are prohibited.
Remember that the Taj Mahal is a religious site and it is best to dress conservatively when visiting the Taj Mahal complex, not only because the Taj Mahal itself is a mausoleum, but also because there are mosques inside the Taj Mahal complex, if you wish to visit them as well.
Please note that the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday.
If you plan on visiting Agra Fort too, hold on to your Taj Mahal ticket since it gives you a discount on the entry fee. Sometimes the ticket office does not give the discount – there is not much a tourist can do about it.
About Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife. Taj Mahal means Crown Palace. One of his wife’s names was Mumtaz Mahal, Ornament of the Palace. The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture, and one of the great sites of the world’s heritage.
The Taj Mahal has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it a teardrop on the cheek of eternity, while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones. It is a celebration of woman built in marble, and that is the way to appreciate it.
Although it is one of the most photographed edifices in the world and instantly recognizable, actually seeing it is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.
There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy of the Taj Mahal out of black marble on the opposite side of the river as his own tomb. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.
The Taj is open from 6:00 AM to 6:30 PM (sunset) every day except Friday. The gates won’t open until 6:00 AM at the earliest, often a few minutes later, so don’t bother getting there at 5:00 AM. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds. Crowds are the biggest during the weekend when people overshadow the grandeur of the Taj. Plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is utterly stunning under a full moon. You can also get very good views from Mehtab Bagh. It is a good idea to bring a flashlight, because the interior of the Taj Mahal is quite dark even during the day. To fully appreciate the details of the gem inlays, you need a good light.
To buy tickets, you can go to the South gate, but this gate is 1 km far away from the entrance and the counter opens at 8:00 AM. At the West and East gates, the counters open at 6:00 AM. These gates also have smaller queues in peak times as the big tour buses drop groups off at the South gate. Alongside the ticket counter, you can also purchase a self-guided audio tour (allows two to a device).
The Taj is located in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds. There are three gates. The western gate is the main gate where most tourists enter. A large number of people turn up on weekends and public holidays, and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are much less busy and should be tried on such days.
There are night viewing sessions during full moons and two days before and after (five days in total). Exceptions are Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) and the month of Ramadan. Tickets must be purchased 24 hours in advance from the Archeological Society of India office situated at 22, Mall Road, Agra. Night tickets go on sale starting at 10 a.m., but they do not always sell out, so it can be worth looking into it when you arrive even if well after 10 a.m. Tickets only allow viewing from the red sandstone plaza at the south end of the complex, and only for a 1/2 hour window. Make sure to wear mosquito repellent. Viewing hours for night viewing is from 8:30pm-9:00pm and 9:00pm-9:30pm. Arrive 30 minutes early for security check at Taj Mahal Ticketing counter on East Gate or you may lose your chance.