A couple of months ago I wrote a post about getting an India e-tourist visa so I’m excited to say I made the day long flight to India & visited the iconic Taj Mahal!
When I tell people I went it leads to so many questions – was it as beautiful in person? how do you get there? can you go alone or do you need a guide? where do you stay? – so I wanted to share everything I learned with you guys because to be honest I went in pretty blind.
Before I go into details I have to say the actual Taj Mahal is majestic & everything you expect it to be. Here are a few pictures I took right as I walked in that exemplify its beauty.
You know the Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world – its majestic & beautiful – & a once in a lifetime experience. But, there is so much more that goes into visiting, so much more you should take in consideration & so much people don’t tell you about! But, don’t worry I’m here to share everything you need to know! Don’t forget my final thoughts & advice at the end.
We flew into Delhi & although it’s one of the closest airports it’s not anywhere near where the Taj Mahal is located. It’s actually located in Agra which is a 4 hour drive away. Once out of Delhi it’s pretty much a straight shot as they’ve built an expressway almost specifically for this trek but it’s still that… a trek.
You won’t want to drive yourself around in India so you will either want to book a tour with a bus ride, take the train or rent a driver with a car. If you plan on making it a day trip a tour might be your best bet but if you plan on staying the night in Agra you should consider a driver. We stayed 2 nights in Agra so we rented a driver from Savaari.com for 8,000 rs ($120). This was the most convenient as they drive you to Agra, drive you around Agra during your stay & drive you back to Delhi. There are other reputable websites to book drivers through just make sure to look for the outstation option.
Helpful Tip: We paid 8,000 rs for our driver, however, he only spoke Hindi. If you need an English speaking driver it would cost 1,200-1,500 rs extra.
Agra as a city leaves a lot to the imagination. It’s dirty, crowded & if this is your first stop in India you will be underwhelmed. The locals clearly make a living off the tourists & other than that there isn’t much else. We drove into the city at night & the sides of the roads were full of people sleeping.
Hotels & Food
Hotels & food options are limited unless you are extremely adventurous. We love trying local restaurants everywhere we go but you have to be careful! We stayed at the ITC Mughal which was a pretty nice hotel but came with quite a price tag for India standards. The hotel was full of marble & decadence, but the furniture in the room was old & outdated.
Helpful Tip: If you haven’t been to India be aware every hotel has security at the entrance which requires all cars to stop & check in. There is also security at the door including a metal detector.
We also ate almost all our meals at the hotel which is totally against what we normally do & that made them extremely expensive. The food at Peshawri was very tasty & I would recommend it. We also ate at the buffet Taj Bano for breakfast & one dinner. The breakfast in my opinion was better than dinner as the options included the usual western options as well as a few Asian & Indian options.
If I was to do it again I would make it a day trip & spend the rest of my trip in Delhi where they are tons more options.
Entering the Taj Mahal
Once you get dropped off at one of the gates to enter the Taj Mahal you will need to buy tickets. I remember being confused because as soon as you exit your car you are bombarded by people – beggars, tour guides, locals selling trinkets – & it’s pretty overwhelming. You can buy your tickets in the office located at the door – 1000 rs for foreigners, 40 rs for locals (quite a difference!). One thing we learned was if you hold a OCI (overseas citizenship of India) flash your OCI & you will only pay 40 rs. But, the guys there won’t ask & will just take your 1000 rs. & pocket it.
You need a pair of shoe covers which are handed out here for free. You are forbidden from walking on the Taj Mahal with your shoes so don’t forget a pair of these.
We went alone but knew we were interested in negotiating for a tour guide which happened right as we exited with our tickets. The guy we chose walked up to us & was offering a tour for 5,000 rs but we negotiated it down to 1000 rs. Looking back this was a great idea as we learned all the history of the Taj Mahal & had someone lead us around without any questions about where to go & what to do.
From here you hop on a golf cart tram that will take you on a 10 minute ride over to the entrance. Our guide quietly mentioned to me to hold my backpack close as this is a common point for pickpocketing. You don’t realize quite what he means until you start the ride & it’s full of beggars, kids & workers on the street. If you aren’t warned it can be quite overwhelming as it’s primarily skeleton thin men working construction, elderly woman sweeping the roads & children or physically deformed adults begging for money.
You’ll be dropped at the entrance where women separate from men to walk through a metal detector & have bags checked. There was a mad rush when we went & it was very confusing. This is where our guide came in handy & basically told us what to do. Be careful to watch all your items – these spots are notorious for theft especially if you have cash in your bag.
Once you enter
The Taj Mahal is surrounded by red sandstone walls & even as you enter you still can’t see the actual structure. The complex itself includes many different structures including the Great Gate & has a deep, enriched history even before you see the actual Taj Mahal structure we all think of. Our guide took us to specific spots to discuss the history of each. It was powerful to hear how every single brick & stone was placed in a specific manner to achieve exact symmetry. At this point, we still haven’t even seen the huge marble structure!
This is also where we picked up a “photographer” who knew our tour guide. You can do 2 things in this situation – say no & assume it’s a rip off or negotiate. We chose to negotiate down to 5,000 rs for a USB of all our pictures & 10 print outs – mind you he wanted 16,000 for a 100 picture album (look for a future post with all the details on my experience with this!). The local knew exactly where to go & would even push people out-of-the-way if they were in our picture. Not to mention – the pictures turned out pretty good – see below .??
Once you pass through the Great Gate the gardens surrounding the Taj Mahal open up & boom, there it is! At first glance it looks fake – like a picture you’ve seen on the internet – but it’s not. You almost have to pinch yourself although you do quickly come back to reality with the crowds & the incredibly hot temperature it is outside.
This is the point where you go picture crazy & get as many as you can. You have to push through the crowds to get the most picturesque ones especially if you go later in the day when all the tours show up but that’s okay. If you wait a minute or two everyone will get their turn. You don’t want to regret not sitting on Princess Diana’s bench! See what I mean about picture crazy below. ?
You can walk inside the Taj Mahal where you can get a close look at the stone work. It’s really just an open space with replica tombs representing those of Shah Jahan & his fourth wife. We were told the real ones where downstairs & those are open 1 day a year on ‘Urs’. It’s free & open to the public but as you can imagine is very crowded. It was incredibly hot & crowded inside the building so a quick pass through was enough.
One other place you must also visit is the Agra Fort. This is where Shah Jahan was allegedly imprisoned by his son where he spent the remainder of his days overlooking the beautiful, marble structure mourning his late wife. Look for a future post with details & pictures of the Agra Fort!
As I reflect on my trip I can’t emphasize enough how unbelievable the Taj Mahal is. As you walk through the grounds & hear the history of its construction you begin to truly understand how magnificent it is & truly forget where you are.
Although the trip was exhausting & I don’t recommend staying in Agra more than the day the overall trip was worth it. One thing I’ve learned is take everything in stride & laugh off the small stuff. At the same time, take in your surroundings & be grateful for every moment. I mean.. how many people can say they flew across the world to walk in one of the Seven Wonders of the World? I can & I’m pretty excited that you were able to also visit through my eyes!