If you’re going to the Taj Mahal, you’re presumably spending some time traveling elsewhere in India as well, which I think is a good thing. The process of traveling to Agra, spending time there, or even seeing the other notable sites in town, like the Red Fort, all are underwhelming experiences in a country that has a lot to incredible ones. The Taj Mahal itself, however, does not disappoint and should not be missed. I’m the first skeptic of “must-see’s” while traveling, but just trust me on this one: the Taj Mahal is a work of genius.
Agra is a relatively small town in comparison to the bigger cities like New Delhi or Mumbai, but the draw of the Taj Mahal has put it on every travelers map. You can catch a morning train in and an afternoon train out, and you’ll have plenty of time to experience the Taj, or you can spend a couple of days checking out some of the other notable sites like the Agra Fort and Fatehpūr Sikrī. From the train station you’ll want to catch a taxi or tuk-tuk to the Taj Mahal, and might consider hanging on to your driver for the day if you can work out a good price.
After you get your tickets (at the legit ticket office – not from a hustler), the entrance into the compound is pretty straight-forward and even quite remarkable itself, with a beautiful sandstone gate and archway. As pleasant as the entrance is, it’s modesty in comparison to the main event is evident as soon as you emerge into the gardens surrounding the Taj. When you Google image the Taj Mahal this is what you see… but you don’t really see it. You don’t see the architectural genius the way it’s meant to be seen. You can’t as easily envision the structural engineers, masons, architects, designers, sculptors, painters, construction workers, and landscapers pouring years of labor into this extraordinary feat. You can’t see the way the four minarets three-dimensionally frame the domed structure.
The Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to be the greatest mausoleum imaginable for his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal; I’m sure it had absolutely nothing to do with his own ego/legacy… Nonetheless, he sure did accomplish what he set out to do by creating such an astoundingly iconic structure that would forever immortalize his beloved wife. Considered to be the pinnacle of Indo-Islamic architecture, the Taj Mahal is so unique in design and scale, that the nuances of its shadows, arches, towers, and domes are difficult to even fully appreciate face-to-face. The fact that the mausoleum was built at the end of a long series of gardens (rather than in the center), provides not only a fantastic perspectival view at the entrance, but also time and space to appreciate the building as you draw nearer. The spatial beauty of the place is something that could drive a painter or photographer insane in attempting to capture what can only be experienced in person.
I wonder what Mr. Jahan envisioned for the future of this place; would he relish in the millions of tourists who flock each year to revel in the beauty of his wife’s resting place? Or would he be bothered by the lack of tranquility on the premises? The grounds are so large that, although there are hundreds of tourists about, it doesn’t feel extremely overrun. Maybe the open lawns, tree-lined pathways, and spacious fountains were designed with the understanding that this is a place that will attract guests and visitors and there should be breathing room to take in the experience.
The interior of the building is not overwhelmingly elaborate, but the cool glow of the white marble and the airy domed interior are impressive up-close. As striking as the building is from a distance, its subtle but intricate marble work and inscriptions are a whole different kind of incredible. The combination of imposing architecture and minute craftsmanship is what makes this a monumental treasure of human achievement. The Taj Mahal was no accidental masterpiece; such a calculated and intricate combination of a dozen or so disciplines of design makes it an experience worthy of a hundred visits – so you’re wise to give it at least one.
A visit to the Taj Mahal is included on all of our Adventure Tours that visit Agra. For more information on our India tours, click here.