Cleaning the floors at Taj Mahal.
Keeping the floors clean at the Taj Mahal. Corno van den Berg

The city of Agra in India is the heart of the Mogul empire. It has countless monuments, including the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. This mausoleum is completely made out of marble. Indian Mogul emperor Shah Jahan had it built for his principal wife, who died while giving birth in 1631. The Taj Mahal is considered as the ultimate declaration of love.

A close-up of a mosaic in the Taj Mahal.
A close-up of a mosaic in the Taj Mahal. Aditya Banerjee

Shah met Arjumand Bano Began, a beautiful jewellery vendor, at a bazar. She was not intimidated by him and demanded an extremely high price for a piece of jewellery. But Jahan was smitten. He married the woman and named her Mumtaz Mahal, ‘Pearl of the Palace’.

Taj Mahal: an incredible spot to watch the sunrise
An incredible spot to watch the sunrise. Lapidim

They lived happily until Mumtaz died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Shah Jahan mourned for two years and according to stories his mind slowly deteriorated. In an ultimate attempt to display his love for her, he decided to build a mausoleum in her honor. Approximately 20,000 labourers worked for over two decades under extremely harsh conditions on the structure that we now know as the Taj Mahal.

The marble was brought in by elephants from various distant mines. According to one of the legends Shah had the fingers of main architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri chopped off, so he would never be able to construct a building as beautiful as this, ever again.

Nowadays, squirrels live at the Taj Mahal.
Nowadays, squirrels live at the Taj Mahal. Corno van den Berg

Legend also says Shah Jahan considered this tribute not to be sufficient. It is believed that the emperor intended to have an identical mausoleum erected across the Yamuna river. Made entirely out black marble. However, there is no evidence to support this theory, as the Shah was removed by his son Aurangzeb. From the dungeons of the famous Fort of Agra, he could see the tomb of his beloved. After his death, his remains were interred in the Taj.

Sunset at the Taj Mahal.
Sunset at the Taj Mahal. Francisco Martins

Even after the death of its founder, the Taj Mahal continued to stir up legendary tales. There is a persistent rumor that the British rulers wanted to take down the building in 1830, for the simple reason that the marble would generate a lot of money. English Lord William Bentinck, governor of India at the time, had already given the order, but could not arrange the financial part of the undertaking. Every year, millions of tourists are grateful that he couldn’t.

A woman praying at the Taj Mahal.
A woman praying at the Taj Mahal. Louis Vest

Besides the Taj Mahal, Agra has many more monuments, but these pale in comparison to this famous construction. Many tourists only visit the Taj Mahal and the Fort of Agra, but Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, Chini Ka Rauza and Fatehpur Sikri are most certainly worth a visit.

Must do! Tips:

See the Taj Mahal at sunrise
The most beautiful light fallson the Taj Mahal early in the morning. The smog will be at a low level, so join the hundreds of other tourists and just wait. As the light brightens, your view will gradually change in the first minutes. Until the first rays reach the building. Take a picture every now and then, you will see the beauty of the Taj Mahal increase by the minute.

View the Taj Mahal from the river at Mehtab Bagh

De zonsopgang bij de Taj Mahal vanaf de rivierkant gezien.
Sunrise from the riverside. Koshy Koshy

The gardens of Mehtab Bagh are exactly opposite the Taj Mahal, across the Yemuna River. The view of the monument is the biggest attraction. Also appealing is the tranquility, as it is a lot less busy here. You can walk to the river bank in peace while daily life continues around you. It is an ideal spot to take some pictures that are just a little different from the standard snapshots.

Discover Itmad-ud-Daula; the ‘baby’ Taj Mahal
Itmad-ud-Daula is referred to as the smaller version of the Taj Mahal. The tomb is of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, an imperial officer from the court of Akbar the Great. Just as with the Taj mahal, white marble and a lot of mosaics were used on this smaller version. The differences are mainly in the dimensions of the two buildings. It is fun to compare the two with each other.

Watch the Taj Mahal shine in the full moon
In the Second World War, the Taj Mahal was covered with a cloth during the night. The reason for this was really simple. In the moonlight, the marble would shine brightly, which would make the building a perfect point of reference for enemy war planes.

You can see this yourself during a full moon. The doors of the Taj Mahal will be open and you will have the opportunity to look, be it from a distance. Once your eyes have adjusted to the dark, you will see why it was covered. Visits are only possible on the days around full moon, so check with your hotel when this is, or plan your journey in such a way that you can experience this.

Restoration of the Taj Mahal.
Restoration of the Taj Mahal. Jigmi

Best time:

The best season for a trip to Agra is winter (December until February). Temperatures are pleasant at this time of year (between 5 and 22 degrees Celsius) and there will be lots of sun.

In summers it can get up to 46 degrees Celsius. Besides, the wet season (from June to October) is also humid and muggy. However, after a rain shower, their will be very little smog and the views will be very clear. That is extraordinary in this city. It is a shame, though, because you may not get to see the sun reflected on the marble.

Be aware!

The gentle light of the early morning sun gives the Taj Mahal just the right colour. This is why thousands of people will gather by the entrance before sunrise. Later in the day the light will often be too harsh, and high temperatures (and the smog) don’t do a visit justice either.

At the entrances of Fort Agra and the Taj Mahal, vendors will try to sell you their goods (picture books, postcards, statuettes, etc.). Sometimes they will do so in a friendly manner, sometimes they’re dowright pushy. The monkeys at the fort can also be obtrusive. However, they don’t have anything to sell, they are simply looking for food.

Take your time for a proper visit to Agra. Only then will you be able to experience what the ‘heart of the Mogul empire’ really was. Many tourists come to take a look at the Taj Mahal, but forget about all the other monumental structures in Agra.

How do I get there?

Agra is 204 kilometers (or 125 miles) south of the Indian capital of New Delhi. There are flights to New Delhi from all over the world, every day. From the capital there are daily trains and buses that go to Agra.