One of the most visited landmarks in the world, the Taj Mahal is worth the hype. It took more than 20 years and 20,000 laborers to build Mughai Emporer Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal, the final resting place of his beloved wife. In recent years the Taj has undergone significant cleaning efforts to bring back its bright white marble sheen, and visitor time limits have been imposed to reduce overcrowding. Before you cross this landmark off your bucket list, here are 11 important Taj Mahal facts you need to know.
You Need a Reputable Guide
Where there are millions of tourists, there are scams, and the Taj Mahal is no exception. Both inside the complex and on the street, men aggressively advertise their tour guide services. However, the information they provide isn’t always correct, and you may be heavily pressed for tips. A better bet is to visit the Taj Mahal (and really, all of India) with a reputable guide, like one from G Adventures. You’ll get accurate information about the Taj’s incredible architecture and history, plus excellent advice on how to get the best photos using the reflecting pools.
Timing Is Everything
The Taj Mahal is open year-round, though on Fridays it’s only accessible to practicing Muslims who visit the mosque. Otherwise, tourists can visit the Taj from sunrise to sunset, all year. If you want to see the Taj Mahal on a Friday, you can view its exterior from the Mehtab Bagh, on the other side of Yamuna River.
The time of year is another consideration to take into account when planning a Taj Mahal visit. The temperatures are most pleasant from October through February; heat and smog are at their worst from March through June; and monsoon season brings rain from July through September.
The time of day matters, too. A sunrise visit offers beautifully soft light and fewer crowds, though mosquitoes are a problem (wear insect repellent). Afternoons see more visitors, but the strong sunlight makes the white marble glow. Full moon visits can also be arranged, and can be breathtaking.
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You Only Get Three Hours
As of 2019, there’s a time limit to visit the Taj Mahal. To prevent overcrowding and damage, the UNESCO World Heritage site has already capped the number of visitors per day at 40,000 and raised prices from 50 rupees to 250 rupees for Indian citizens, and from about $16 to $19 for international visitors. The latest measure is charging visitors who linger longer than three hours; the amount is equivalent to the original ticket price. Turnstiles at the exits enforce the time restrictions. If you stay over the time limit, expect to pay up.
Don’t Miss the Big Picture…
It’s easy to get caught up in the crowds and vying for the best selfie angle at the Taj Mahal, but take a deep breath and appreciate what you’re really looking at. The Taj Mahal was built with perfect symmetry in a time before power tools. There’s nothing behind the complex to take away from or interrupt the view—an amazing feat in modern-day Agra.
… or the Small Details
Once you’ve absorbed the minarets, twin mosques, and sparkling white marble dome, narrow your focus. Emperor Shah Jahan’s artisans spared no expense when it came to adding exquisite details. Black onyx calligraphy, inlaid jewels, and sparkling gemstones are embedded throughout the walls and exteriors of the complex. The reflection pools and gardens add another layer of beauty and precision planning.
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Expect to Take Selfies—and Star in Them
Of course, you’re going to want a keepsake selfie at this marvel. One thing to note: If you’re a female Westerner, you may find yourself approached by Indians who want to take a photo with you. While the attention can be fun and flattering at first, past tourists have felt mobbed and uncomfortable with the attention. If you don’t want to take photos with strangers, it’s best to politely decline the first person who asks for one. Agreeing to a single photo sets the precedent that you’re open for selfie business.
While there isn’t a strictly enforced dress code at the Taj Mahal, visitors should dress modestly. The rule of thumb, or really the rule of shoulders and knees, is to keep them covered. Women can easily wrap a lightweight scarf around their shoulders if they’re wearing a tank top. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen, and bring sunglasses and a hat. If you want to pop in photos, don bold colors like blue and pink, which look beautiful against the white marble.
For more tips, see What to Wear to Look Amazing (and Appropriate) in Taj Mahal Selfies on SmarterTravel’s sister site, What to Pack.
Expect Security Lines
Before visitors are allowed access inside the Taj Mahal gates, everyone must pass through a gender-specific security line that includes a pat-down from a guard. Here’s what you can’t bring: tripods, food, gum, drinks (apart from a water bottle), tobacco products, headphones, chargers, flags, books, and drones.
What can you bring? An umbrella, single bottle of water, camera, selfie stick, and cell phone. Women can bring small purses inside, though all bags will go through an X-ray machine and may be checked by hand. If you do bring contraband, there are lockers for rent just outside the complex gates.
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You’ll Have to Wear Shoe Covers
At the entrance, all visitors receive a pair of disposable shoe covers. You’ll need to wear them, or walk barefoot (lots of Indian kids go this route), if you plan on going inside the Taj. This is an effort to protect the ivory marble floors.
Expect to Walk
In an effort to reduce pollution, traffic of any sort is not allowed near the Taj Mahal complex. In fact, industry in Agra is severely restricted to cut down on damaging smog. Tour buses and cars park about a kilometer away from the entrance. Visitors either walk to the complex or hop on large electronic shuttles. The walk is lined with gift shops, casual restaurants, and aggressive pedestrian vendors trying to sell tourists everything from Taj Mahal snow globes to postcards. Sprinkle in stray dogs, roaming cattle, and food-snatching monkeys, and you’ve set the sometimes wild scene to and from the Taj Mahal’s entrances.
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Visiting the Taj Mahal is an excellent way to support tourism in Agra, but it’s also important to give back to small scale local businesses. Sheroes Hangout, about a 10-minute drive from the Taj, is a must visit. The pay-what-you-can chai shop and cafe is run by women who were victims of vicious acid attacks. Apart from lunch and coffee, visitors can also watch a short documentary about the history of acid attacks in India and peruse a gift shop of items made by local artists. Proceeds go to supporting the women and changing laws. It’s truly an uplifting and educational experience that you won’t forget.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 9 Hidden Cities in Asia for Your Bucket List
- The 9 Most Insanely Gorgeous Temples in India
- The Benefits of Visiting India and Nepal with a Group
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Megan Wood was hosted by G Adventures on her trip to the Taj Mahal.