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A guide to visiting the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India

Taj Mahal is one of the most well-known attractions (if not the most well-known attraction!) in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal was on my bucket list for as long as I can remember, and was one of the things I must visit when I traveled to India - it is one of the seven wonders of the world afterall! But actually, unbeknownst to me, behind the wonder and beauty of the Taj Mahal, was a tragic love story.

A (brief) history of the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal mausoleum was actually built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1631, in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child. Rumour has it that Mumtaz Mahal’s dying wish was for the emperor to immortalise their love by building the grandest monument on Earth. It took 20 years to construct, and many say that the Taj Mahal was built not out of love, but out of grief.

How to get to the Taj Mahal from New Delhi

We stayed in New Delhi and took a day trip to Agra. There are several ways to do this:

  • Hire a driver (expensive option, but it’s one of the more comfortable options)
  • Catch a bus (cheap option, I’ve been told this costs around INR 700)
  • High speed train
  • Take a flight to Agra
A front view of the Taj Mahal
A front view of the Taj Mahal

We chose to hire a driver, after consulting several of our Indian colleagues with much more experience travelling India than we do. One of our male colleagues told us point-blank that it’s better to stay on the safe side, especially as a female foreigner travelling around, and to secure a trip back home with a private driver rather than rely on public transport.

Hire drivers seem to run on reputation in India, so we chose the driver that takes care of our colleagues’ travels as well. However, we were told that Uber Outstation is now also a good (and cheaper) option!

The drive from New Delhi to Agra: How long does it take and cost?

Ok, so this was completely new to us as we’re big fans of public transport. Getting a private car and driver just isn’t something we do very often. After a lot of negotiation and back and forth, the price we came out with was INR 6000. This included:

  • A private car: Suzuki Dzire was our model. We were told this is sort of “average” for the hired cars, but is still considered comfortable. Trust me, you’ll want a comfortable car for this long journey.
  • A driver from beginning to end
  • A tour guide for Taj Mahal

Do take into account a tip for the tour guide and driver though - that wasn’t included in the INR 6000.

The drive is also very, very long. Depending on the route you take, the drive can go anywhere from 3.5 hours to 5 hours. The driver might ask you which route you want to take. After some research, we decided on the Taj Express Highway going from Delhi to Agra instead of the NH-02. On the way back, we decided to opt out of the Expressway.

Why? A few searches told us that the Taj Express Highway isn’t considered safe at night. The driver also told us there is news of a lot of robberies and hijacking during the night, and he himself didn’t feel safe driving in the dark on the expressway. So during the daytime, from Delhi to Agra, it seemed the smarter choice. This took 3.5 hours to get from New Delhi to Agra.

On the way back, we took the old Delhi-Agra highway instead, and this took 5 hours via the old Mathura road. I could see why NH-02 was considered safer on the way back - it’s more populated, less isolated. If something happens, there will be some form of help at least! Better to be safe than sorry - especially at night.

Entering the Taj Mahal and Ticketing

Entrance gate to the Taj Mahal
Entrance gate to the Taj Mahal

With regards to ticketing, you can either buy tickets online or buy them at the ticketing office at the Taj Mahal complex. Prices increased as of 2018, and as of time of writing, for foreigners it is INR 1100 and for locals it is INR 50. If you pay cashless, then foreigners get INR 50 discount and locals get INR 5 discount. You can enter from either the Eastern or Western gate. We went through the Western.

I’m not entirely sure for locals/domestic tourists, but for foreigners, the ticket price includes shoe covers, a bottle of water, a map, golf cart service to the entry gate and of course, entry to the Taj Mahal complex.

Find more updated ticketing information from the official site.

The Mausoleum

Every year, millions of people descend upon the Taj Mahal to witness its beauty, myself included.

Another side of the Taj Mahal
Another side of the Taj Mahal

When you enter the main tomb, you will need to put on the shoe covers you were given. This is to protect the delicate white marble monument, and also out of respect, as it is the final burial place of the emperor and his wife. Also, no photos are allowed once you are inside the tomb either. However, take your time to explore the Taj Mahal in all its splendour.

A popular postcard shot of the Taj Mahal
A popular postcard shot of the Taj Mahal

Repairs and scaffolding?!

The Taj Mahal, due to the pollution from Agra and other nearby areas, is actually no longer marble white. In an attempt to restore this, there’s some scaffolding and mud masks going on at the Taj Mahal at the time of writing - which might ruin your photo. Having said this, the government would never allow the whole Taj be covered in scaffolding (tourism is a significant source of income for Agra) - so you should be alright.

Some of the engravings in the marble
Some of the engravings in the marble; as you can see, it's not entirely white and needs some deep cleaning!

Some things to watch out for…

As always when travelling to popular tourist destinations, there’s a few things to watch out for:

  • Be on the lookout for people who randomly come up to you and start talking history. They’re expecting a tip from you. Just politely tell them that you’re not interested if you don’t want this service - as it’s a really easy situation to fall into!
  • Pickpockets and thieves, as with any area heavily visited by tourists.
  • People asking to take a photo with you. Sometimes this is an innocent request driven by curiosity and novelty. Other times, they might take your photo and use it on online social forums as a source of ID. There’s also been incidents where people have been harassed or asked for more personal details after agreeing to a selfie. Not to mention, pickpockets use this method to get close to your pockets. So be cautious.

Final thoughts

Taj Mahal was every bit as beautiful as I thought it would be. Yes, there are lots of people and yes you are going to get bumped into, and yes your photos aren’t going to look as empty as you thought they would. However, it is a marvel to lay your eyes upon - don’t miss this wonder of the world!