The Taj Mahal, India’s icon, is a shining example of the Mughal architecture that dominates India’s most stylish constructions, namely various Maharaja’s palaces and forts, particularly in the nearby state of Rajasthan and India’s capital city New Delhi. The Taj is a vast Islamic tomb or mausoleum, finished in 1653 (after 20 years work) in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, Emperor Shah Jahan‘s favourite wife.
The Taj Mahal’s ‘garden’.
Apart from the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, Agra is known for traffic congestion and disagreeable urban sprawl. So why go there? Around 20, 000 visitors a day pack into the glowing marble magnificence and make themselves busy barging about, taking selfies or arty photographs or rushing to catch up with their noisy and demanding tour guides, so visiting in tranquil contemplation is not easy to accomplish. But. . . if you get it at the right time, in the right light and manage to blind-eye the noisome masses, the Taj is a magical sight, pink at dawn, shining white at noon and silver by moonlight. Get close, look at the detail, get a personal guide and hear the stories, lie on the floor and look up, cross the river and see it from the other side. It’s a stunning building but does require imagination to take home the best memories.
The Taj’s monumental entrance, the Great Gate or Darwaza, reflects the tomb’s architecture, with elaborate arches, Arabic script, inlaid semi-precious stones and bas-relief flowers, Agra.
When to go there
The weather in Agra is best November to mid-March, after monsoon rains and before the heat starts to build in April. Average high temperatures in this winter season will be mid 20Cs (77F) to high 20Cs (85F) with lows from 8C (46F) to 14C (57F). As usual Christmas and New Year periods are more crowded – with Indian tourists as well as foreigners.
A closer view of the Taj Mahal’s intricate Koranic (Arabic) calligraphy and flower inlay. Photo by Rene Drouyer.
And closer. . . much of the script inlay is in black marble, surrounded by semi-precious stones – yellow marble, jasper and jade – set in a vine pattern.
A personal guide explaining the Taj’s inlay detail and methods used. A knowledgeable guide is a definite asset when visiting the Taj.
Taj marble in bas-relief flower designs.
How to get there
Agra is one leg of the famous Golden Triangle circuit of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur-Delhi, India’s classic tourist route that takes a convenient 7 days and hits tourists with not only some of the country’s top attractions but also gives a whiff of India’s downsides of crowds, noise, dirt, poverty and chaos. There are two ways to see the Taj, travelling individually or signing up for some kind of tour package, big or small. Tours range from a private car with personal guide or traveling in a group.
Delhi, Agra, Jaipur are interconnected by train so this is the best option for individual travelers whether it’s a day trip to Agra from Delhi, one leg of the triangle or one stop on a much longer voyage. In fact experiencing comfortable, efficient, cheap and safe rail travel is another experience vital to an understanding of this massive country. A Shatabdi Express leaves Delhi at 6 am arriving in Agra two hours later. There’s a return from Agra at 8. 35 pm arriving in Delhi at 10. 45pm.
Don’t even think about self-drive on these hellish and unpredictable roads so if you insist on going by car hire a car and driver for a day. One way on the Taj Express Highway will take about 3 hours and offers little in the way of big sights but will certainly be a learning experience.