Did you receive your Indian visa? Then you are all set to visit the Taj Mahal during your tour of India. This impressive structure, which is on UNESCO's World Heritage List and was named one of the Seven New Wonders of the World in 2007, sits at the top of many people's bucket lists.
History of the structure
What many people do not know is that the Taj Mahal is not a temple, but a tomb. The Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648 on the orders of Shah Jahan - the fifth ruler of the Mogul Empire. He had the gigantic tomb built as a tribute to his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth in 1631, giving birth to their fourteenth child. Several architects and some 20,000 workers - including sculptors, masons, painters and calligraphers - from South and Central Asia worked on the tomb for several years. The mausoleum itself was completed in 1648, the surrounding buildings and gardens in 1653.
Architecture and location
The architecture of the Taj Mahal was inspired by the tomb of Humayun, the second ruler of the Mogul Empire. The Taj Mahal was built on the right bank of the sacred River Yamuna. The white marble tomb is symmetrical and thus forms a strong contrast to the other chaotic and colourful buildings in India. The largest dome of the Taj Mahal is about 35 metres high and is surrounded by four smaller domes, four minarets and two sandstone outbuildings.
The detailed decoration of the Taj Mahal is also quite impressive. The tomb is richly decorated with calligraphies of verses from the Koran, geometric murals and reliefs of floral motifs. For years, the marble of the Taj Mahal has been affected by emissions from factories in the area and the heavy traffic in the nearby city of Agra. Pollution and smog turn the white marble yellow.
The structure stands in a Mogul garden of almost 300 square metres. Mogul gardens are laid out in Persian-Islamic style, more specifically in the Charbagh pattern. They are divided into four sections separated by raised walkways. In the centre of the garden is a marble basin, in which the Taj Mahal is reflected.
How to reach the Taj Mahal?
An India e-visa allows you to enter India at a limited number of arrival locations. These include 24 airports and 5 seaports. The nearest airports to the Taj Mahal where e-visa holders are allowed to arrive are Delhi (Indira Gandhi), Jaipur and Lucknow (Chaudhary Charan Singh). From Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow, you can travel to the Taj Mahal in about 3-5 hours by train, car or bus.
The Taj Mahal is located on the outskirts of the city of Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. Agra is just over 200 kilometres from the capital, New Delhi. Due to the hectic traffic in India, it is not recommended renting a car and driving yourself. However, several organised tours to the Taj Mahal can be found in New Delhi.
Another option is to travel from New Delhi to Agra by train or bus. From Jaipur - the capital of the state of Rajasthan - there are direct buses and trains to Agra. The city can also be reached by air from Jaipur, Delhi, Jaisalmer, Bangalore, Bhopal, Lucknow and Varanasi.
From the railway station or the airport in Agra, you can easily travel to the Taj Mahal by tuk tuk or taxi. The Taj Mahal has three gates: the Western Gate, the Eastern Gate and the Southern Gate.
Best time to visit the Taj Mahal
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is early in the morning as there are few tourists around at that time. It is also nice to see the sun rise behind the Taj Mahal. Two of the three gates open at sunrise. In the course of the day, it gets busier and busier, and you often have to stand in line for a long time. To avoid large crowds, getting up early is key. A ticket can be bought directly at one of the three entrances. Take note that the Southern Gate only opens at 8 a.m., while the other two entrances open at dawn.
Another tip to avoid the crowds is to view the structure from the other side of the Yamuna River. From the gardens of Mehtab Bagh, you have a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal and can take pictures of the tomb without being disturbed by other tourists.
Applying for an Indian visa
British and Irish travellers need an Indian visa for a visit to the Taj Mahal. The visa for India can easily be applied for online. Tourists generally meet the requirements for the electronic Indian visa and therefore do not need to visit the embassy or consulate to apply for a visa.