When you think of India, you think of the Taj Mahal: one of the 7 Wonders of the World. And it was one of the many reasons we wanted to go to India. This impressive building is something you have to see at least once in your life. It's the history of the Taj Mahal that adds a soul to its magnificence: a soul that is filled with love, loss, remorse, and love again.
This beautiful building is a monument for the Persian Princess Mumtaz Mahal. She died in 1631, while giving birth to Shah Jahans 14th child. In memory of his beloved wife, Shah Jahan started the same year with the construction of this magnificent monument. It took approximately 22 years to build this tribute. It made use of more than 22.000 laborers and is completely build out of white marble. It costed 32 million Rupees and was finally completed in 1653. The body of Mumtaz got entombed in this mausoleum after it was finished.
However, Shah Jahan could only enjoy this monument from far away. He was deposed by his own son Aurangzeb en was put under house arrest in the nearby Red Agra Fort. Only after his death, he was able to return to the Taj Mahal where his body was lied to rest next to his wife.
In Jaipur, we took a tuktuk from our hotel to the main busstation. There we bought a direct busticket to Agra which left almost immediately around 10 am. Arriving in Agra on our first bussop we almost went with the tuktuk driver who came in the bus and told us (the white people) this was the last stop. Luckily some told us that was not true because after he left it was still a 10 minute drive to the last stop, where we arrived around 4 pm. The cost for this easy bus ride was 225 Rupees for Marije and 284 Rupees for Michiel. The tuktuk we took for the last 4 km to our hotel costed another 150 Rupees.
We stayed at Hotel Taj Plaza, which has a perfect location when visiting the Taj Mahal. It is close to the Shilpgram ticket office where you can buy the tickets for the Taj East gate and it’s situated on a nice and pretty quiet street. But the best feature about this hotel, is the rooftop view overlooking the Taj Mahal. From here, we saw our first glimpse of this amazing building and we started to get really excited to go and visit. Next to the wonderful view, the restaurant serves pretty good food for fair prices. Our room wasn’t special, but we didn’t care about that. The most important reasons we came here were the rooftop view and the perfect location nearby the Taj Mahal.
** You can find them on booking.com
Like we said, we wanted to see the Taj Mahal, so that’s what we did. But before going here, we also wanted to see the Red Fort, where Shah Jahan was put under house arrest. We rented 2 bikes for 100 Rupees each and drove to the Fort. That was an experience on itself. Riding your biking through all the small alleys, people looking strange at you (maybe not a lot of tourists do this?) and riding between the busy traffic and crossing the streets was a little adventure. The Red Fort itself however was a bit disappointing (cost 550 Rupees p.p.). We’ve probably seen to many Forts and there was hardly anything special to see in this one, except the view overlooking the Taj Mahal. In our opinion, it’s better to stick with reading the story of the Red Fort without visiting it.
Visiting the Taj Mahal isn’t something you just do. You have to have a plan if you want to be there before the big crowds take over. We woke up early, grabbed the pre packed bag with our breakfast and went to the ticket office at Shilpgram. We were there around 5.20 am and there were about 10 people waiting/sitting in line before us. The office openend at 6 am and that’s when people started to get a little bit annoying. There are tour guides who cut the line and buy tickets for their 60 clients who are already waiting in line at the Taj Mahal. Smart but annoying. Not to mention the German man that thought he could get in front because according to him sitting in line (there were chairs at the side of the office) wasn’t the same as standing in line. We told him off, sent him back to where he belonged, and had our tickets within a few minutes (cost 1.000 rupees p.p.). After picking up the shoe covers and free water (right next to the exit of the office) we jumped into one of the golf carts that bring you to the Taj for free. Unfortunately we already saw a big group standing in line at the East Gate (thank you tour guides) but we were still one of the first who got in. The doors opened at sunrise and after a security check we sort of ran to the Taj. We took a quick reflection photo and than headed to the mosque next to the Taj for some beautiful sunrise pics without other people on it.
We now realize how lucky we’ve been because we heard some stories of people who visited only a couple of days later, and they could not see the sunrise because of all the fog (or is it the pollution?) which is a real shame. We spent some time walking around, did a quick round inside the mausoleum but realized it’s much prettier from the outside so quickly went out again. To our surprise, everybody got kicked out of the Taj Mahal, because some important person came to visit around 10 am.. So they clear the entire property just for one important person. We asked security several times if we could go back in later, when they would reopen the Taj and they all said yes. So we went back, to see the sunset at the Taj as well around 4pm. Michiel got in (or should we say he sort of sneaked in without showing his ticket), but Marije was refused! It took Michiel a lot of convincing, he had to write a complaint on a useless piece of paper but managed to be brought to the head security which decided that they had to let Marije in as well. Yay!
The first thing we noticed was how busy it was compared to that morning! So that’s a tip for future Taj Visitors, go in the morning! We did not really see a special sunset, but it was nice to be able to take our last photos, walk around a bit more and enjoy the view of this amazing building a bit longer.