How can a 400 year old white monument, built by a king for his dead wife, be one of the wonders of the world? Seriously now it’s just a building. Or is it?
Think of a moment when you have been transported into another world, it could be a film or a place, where you totally lose yourself and time seems to stop. This is what it’s like entering the Taj Mahal. When you go through the main gate, you are transported to a place of utter beauty and tranquillity. There is nothing else in the field of your vision, no cars and no buildings. Even the people walking around doesn’t distract from the presence of the gleaming white marble. It captivates your eyes, your heart and mind. For hours we just sat there taking it all in, even then it didn’t seem enough. That’s just a taste of what it’s like to visit the Taj Mahal.
The Journey to Agra
Our journey to Agra from New Delhi was super easy, we caught the early morning Shatabdi Express which left at the ridiculous time of 6am. But the service was brilliant, it left on time, it was clean, seats were comfortable, fed a lot and it was only a two hour journey. Highly recommend Shatabdi, although make sure you book through your hotel or at the train station as the online/app system is a total joke – will explain in another blog post.
Agra City – What it’s really like
This is going to sound really negative but I have to be honest, Agra is a complete dump. Sorry Agra lovers. The city lacks any sort of charm, it’s so run down with slums dotted around the city, the streets are dirty and tuk tuk drivers are like hounds looking for tourist meat. There is nothing to do here except to visit the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, you can’t even go out for an evening walk.
Our first day trying to find somewhere to have lunch turned into a nightmare. After spending ages walking along a dusty main road with raging traffic in the blazing hot sun with no shelter, trees and no pavements, we ended up jumping into the nearest tuk tuk. It’s not easy here with small children, the best advice is to get a good hotel and go out when you really have to!
Our day at the Taj Mahal
We got to the Taj Mahal by 7am and it was perfect because the queues were short and it was relatively quiet. But at every step we were swarmed by tour guides who think the word no means yes, which was beyond frustrating.
As we walked up the main gate to the Taj, my heart was actually racing because I knew that through that archway I was about to get my first glimpse. The gate is a masterpiece in itself, the white marble against the red sandstone is just beautiful. One if the qur’anic verses inscribed on the gate states it is ‘inviting visitors into paradise,’ which could not be more fitting.
When you look through the main gate, the Taj looks hazy, it’s almost like it’s in world of its own. The gate also gives an optical illusion as the Taj looks huge from here but as soon as you move towards it, it gets smaller and smaller. When you come out at the other side you are greeted with the most magnificent view of the Taj Mahal with its beautiful lush gardens and water fountains.
I felt the same amazement people must have felt nearly 400 years ago when they saw it for the first time. It’s not the biggest building or the most elaborately decorated but everything works together so well to create the most awe inspiring experience. The fact that it is elevated above the gardens and framed only by the vastness of the sky gives the impression it sits in a whole new world.
On either side of the Taj are two beautiful, red, sandstone mosques. There’s a large open space separating the Taj from the mosques, which is a wonderful space to walk around and get a different view of the Taj.
As the morning went on, more and more people entered the site, but is it never felt crowded even with thousands of visitors around you. You can always find a quiet shady spot in the gardens or in one of the adjacent mosques where you can sit back and take in the beauty of the Taj slowly and peacefully. Not unless you want to get the Diana picture of course! That bench is buzzing with people imitating that famous pose or taking funny pictures of trying to pick up the Taj. We tried some of our own too!
As you walk through the garden to the foot of the Taj you go up some steps and find yourself at the great entrance to the tomb. There’s beautiful Arabic calligraphy which border the entrance and the semi-precious stones embedded in the marble as flowers are crafted so intricately. This is when I began to really appreciate how it took 20 years and around 20,000 workers to complete this work of art.
When you enter the tomb, it’s dark, quiet and incredibly peaceful. There’s a perforated marble screen enclosing the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal in the centre and on the left is the tomb of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal. At this point I couldn’t help but be utterly captivated by the love story that inspired it all.
What is it that makes the Taj Mahal so monumental?
Out of all of the countries we have visited over the years and seeing the architectural feats of man from the pyramids in Egypt to the Parthenon in Greece, for us nothing compares to the Taj Mahal. It is more than sheer beauty, it is almost divine. There is a sense of real magic here and all we know for certain is that we are coming back!
- Restaurants: A Pinch of Spice – Best Indian food & also a great lunch buffet
- Take the Shatabdi Express from New Delhi – but best to book direct at the station
- Choose a good hotel – You’ll be spending alot of time here!
- Don’t bother with a guide
- Get there early – it’s quieter and more comfortable heat wise
- 1 or 2 nights is enough – there’s nothing else to do or see