After a stop at the abandoned capital Fatehpur Sikri we traveled to Agra. The home of the Taj Mahal and one of the must sees during our trip in Northern India. In general there are two moments ideal for visiting the Taj: early morning at sunrise and late in afternoon at sunset. These are the moments when it’s not too hot and too busy. We decided to go for the early morning. A great decision, because it was a magical morning. In this post I will show you what to expect when visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise and I will give you a few tips.
06.30 am: buying tickets
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal meant getting up in the dark. Our alarm went off at 5.45. You might think that this is way too early, but it was actually a good thing. We were about to make two stupid mistakes. The first one was not informing our homestay that we were going out so early. The gate was still locked and climbing it was not an option because of the spikes. We rattled the door and luckily the guard on the other side woke up and opened the fence. The second mistake was thinking that we could buy ticket at the gate of the Taj Mahal. Wrong! You can only buy tickets at the ticket office, located 1 kilometer from the east gate at the Shilgram parking lot. That meant we had to walk back. Luckily for us, we got up early.
At 06.15 am we arrived at the ticket office and though it was closed there was already a line of tourists waiting. A half hour before sunrise (in January 2017: 06.30 am) the ticket office opens and there was a huge run on the tickets. People were really in a hurry, because at 06.30 am it was already getting light. The drivers of the cycle rickshaws use this as an opportunity to earn some money and bring people fast to the gate. There is actually no need to rush to the gate, because the gate opens at 07.00 am.
07.00 am: the East gate opens
We moved from one queue to another. There was already a huge line of people waiting at the gate. Men with men, women with women. Officially the East gate open at 07.00 am, but in reality it could be a little bit later. After the gate opens everyone is searched and bags are checked. The rules are strict: backpacks and big bags are not allowed inside. You are better off leaving your bag at your hotel. I only brought what I needed in my hand: my camera, my phone, exact amount of money and my passport. After the security check a lot of tourists sprint to the gates of the Taj Mahal, but we decided to take it easy. The sun was already up and that Taj Mahal is not going anywhere. But we were a bit worried about the thick fog. Were we able to see the Taj Mahal at all?
07.30 am: a foggy start at the Taj Mahal
Through the gigantic gate of Darwaza-i-Rauza we made our way into the gardens of the Taj Mahal. Vaguely we saw the Taj Mahal and also not. The white domes were covered in a thick layer of fog. It left us a bit disappointed. Was this the famous sunrisde at the Taj Mahal? We hardly saw the building! We decided to walk around for a bit in the gardens of Mughal charbagh (quadrilateral Persian gardens). We stopped every few minutes to take a photo. And luckily for us, with every step we took the Taj Mahal was getting more and more clear.
There are three popular photo spots in front of the Taj Mahal: immediately after the Darwaza-i-Rauza, from the Princess Diana Bench and from the start of the last pond before the Taj Mahal. The second one is the marble bench Princess Diana sat on when she visited the Taj Mahal in 1992. I really liked the spot in front of the last pond. From here I took the photo in the header: pretty great, right?
08.00 am: visiting the monument of love
I actually always thought that the Taj Mahal was a palace, but it is not. It is a grave monument. The background story of the Taj Mahal is a tale of a love heartbreak. The Islamic Mughal emperor Shah Jahan married at age 20 with his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. Together they had 14 children, but at the last childbirth Mumtaz died in 1631. According to the stories this broke the heart of Shah Jahan. A year later Shah Jahan starting building a mausoleum for his beloved wife: the Taj Mahal was born. He wanted it to be a master piece, and it is. The Taj Mahal is the largest mausoleum of the world and it was named one of the seven New World Wonders of the world in 2007. In India the Taj Mahal is known as the ultimate declaration of love.
The Taj Mahal is standing on an increased marble plateau and is flanked by four minarets and two buildings. At one side there is a mosque and on the other side there is an exact replica, both built in an identical red sandstone style. They say – I did not notice this at all – that the four minarets are not entirely standing straight. This is not a construction error but there is a reason for this: in case of an earthquake the minarets will not fall on the mausoleum.
08.30 am: the golden moment
Briefly I walked around inside the Taj Mahal, but I soon realised that I liked the outside more than the inside. As we walked out of the mausoleum I saw that the fog was starting to get thinner and thinner. The sun is burning its way through the white clouds. This gave it a magical vibe: the red sky covered with a thin white layer and the Taj Mahal in front of it. The whole thing only lasted for 15 minutes, but it was a great moment I did not want to miss. One and a half hour after opening and there is was: the real sunrise at the Taj Mahal.
09.00 am: the sun is up!
The sky cleared up and the sun was starting to shine. The day had started. Finally I could see the Taj Mahal in full day light. What a beauty! But this is also the moment a lot more tourists pour into the grounds of the Taj Mahal. I saw more and more tour groups. For me time it was time to leave this amazing site. But it was okay, I had taken enough photos. Until the next time Taj Mahal!
- Entrance ticket for the Taj Mahal for foreign tourists costs 1.000 rupee per person (January 2017). A bottle of water and shoe covers are included.
- With the entrance ticket for the Taj Mahal you also get a discount for the Red Fort and the Baby Taj. Hold onto this ticket!
- There are three entrance gates: west gate, south gate and east gate. All have their own ticket office. Note: the south gate opens at 8 am. This is an hour later than the other two gates.
- The zone around the Taj Mahal is car free. From the East gate there is a free electric golf cart going to the gate.
- You hate getting up so early? Buy your ticket a day ahead or online and go directly to the gate.
- It is not permitted to take photos inside the Taj Mahal.
- Note: the Taj Mahal is closed on Friday. The Friday prayer takes place at the site.
- The Taj Mahal is a religious place. Dress appropriately: cover your shoulders and knees.
Is the Taj Mahal also on your bucketlist?