One cannot visit India without seeing the Taj Mahal. Despite being ill with food poisoning, I was determined to see this architectural marvel and fulfil a childhood dream. I was worried that I would be disappointed once I stood in front of the Taj Mahal, but on the contrary, it was magnificent and I'm so glad and grateful that I was able to see it. We didn't have the place to ourselves, obviously, but we were very lucky because it wasn't crowded at all, mainly because we got there early. So if it's on your bucket list, here's how to avoid the crowds and enjoy a peaceful visit to the Taj Mahal!
A symbol of love carved in marble
The Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1653 by order of Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. Although the mausoleum is the most famous part, this monument shouldn't be reduced to this marble construction. The Taj Mahal consists of a series of buildings, gardens, water features, and fountains arranged in perfect symmetry. It includes two mosques, one of which is unused because it does not face Mecca, three Iranian-style gates, three red brick buildings, a central fountain and four water features arranged in a cruciform pattern.
The Taj Mahal is visited by 4 million people a year, making it the most visited monument in India, and every morning the same moving spectacle repeats itself. First timidly, then with vigour, the sun's rays illuminate the mighty monument on the banks of the Yamuna: the vague silhouette waiting in the grey silence of the night becomes once again a glittering jewel.
We all know that the Taj Mahal is a husband's token of love for his wife. It's a beautiful story, but is it true? Well, yes. The Taj Mahal was built for Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. When she died giving birth to her 14th child on 17 June 1631, she was buried in Burhanpur, on the spot where she had died. But this grave was only temporary, for Shah Jahan, in mourning, decided to build a mausoleum for his wife that would be as beautiful as his love for her.
It took several thousand workers from Lahore, Delhi, Shiraz and Samarkand and 22 years to complete this exquisite (and expensive) project. Of course, the story is probably a little romanticised, but it's still one for the books!
How to avoid the crowds and enjoy a peaceful visit to the Taj Mahal
Get there early to avoid the crowds
It's no secret that you have to get up early if you want to enjoy the famous sights without the tourists and so is the case with the Taj Mahal. The monument is open every day except Fridays from sunrise to sunset. As you might have guessed, you have to go at sunrise (or sunset), not only to avoid the crowds but also because the light on the white marble of the Taj Mahal is beautiful and not to be missed! There will inevitably be people but if you're quick, you'll get THE photo!
Pre-book your tickets
You can either buy your tickets at the ticket office directly at the Taj Mahal or to avoid the crowds, you can pre-order them online. We were too late at the time and there were no tickets left for sale online but if you want to avoid queues, you should probably pre-book. When we were there though, there was no queue, we didn't wait at all and went straight through, but maybe we were lucky.
A visit to the Taj Mahal costs 1,300 rupees (about €16.5), a high price for India. Admission is free for children under 15. Tickets are sold at the three gates (West, East and South) and include a bottle of water and plastic slippers to walk on the marble floor of the mausoleum.
Bring the bare minimum
I recommend that you do not bring much besides your phone and camera because there are strict rules about what you can bring when visiting the Taj Mahal. Do not bring water, cigarettes, or chargers... the security at the Taj Mahal is very tight and you will have to pass strict checks at the entrance gates. Be prepared to have your bag thoroughly searched and patted down. Large bags and bulky backpacks are not allowed inside the Taj Mahal, but there are storage facilities where you can leave them. If you only take what you need, the whole procedure can go smoothly and you can enjoy a peaceful visit to the Taj Mahal!
Grab something to eat before visiting
If you are like me and feel lightheaded if you do not eat, I advise you to grab something beforehand to enjoy a peaceful visit to the Taj Mahal. I usually do not eat in the morning, but when I wake up that early, I am a little sensitive and I tend to convince myself that I do not need to eat. Big mistake on my part. In the middle of the visit, I began to feel weak, and I knew my blood sugar was low. You are not allowed to take food into the complex, so you have to eat something beforehand so you can fully enjoy the place. Around the complex there are many small stalls selling tea and snacks, so you can easily find something to give you an energy boost for the visit!
Give yourself enough time
Visiting the Taj Mahal can take anywhere from 2 to several hours and depends on your inclinations and interests. The normal route is through the front gate, visit the courtyard and then explore the south gate, followed by the gardens lined with beautiful arcades. You will then reach the marble terrace, where you will have to put on the slippers that you will receive with your entrance ticket and enter the marble mausoleum. No photos are allowed within its walls. There is also a museum about the history of the Taj Mahal. There's a lot to see, so give yourself enough time to fully immerse yourself!
I also recommend planning a night or two in Agra. Besides the Taj Mahal, there are other sights to see, such as the Red Fort. We took a bus from Jaipur to Agra (6 hours) just to see the Taj Mahal. We arrived late the day before, woke up early to see the monument at sunrise and then took a bus to Delhi (4 hours drive) a few hours later to fly to Paris the next day. So if you're on a tight schedule, it's quite possible to visit the Taj Mahal in 24 hours, but if you can take more time, two/three days is good to enjoy a peaceful visit to the Taj Malah and other sights!
And so our four weeks in India come to an end, and in style to say the least! Our trip to India was unforgettable, enchanting, exhausting, and full of surprises. Our first voyage to a far away land, both in terms of distance and culture, was a success, despite the inevitable food poisoning, and we will cherish the memories for a long time to come! I hope that my articles have made you travel a bit, inspired you or helped you organise your trip to this land of a thousand senses!
If you're planning to travel to India, be sure to read my other articles about the places we visited, our itinerary, and tips for planning a stress-free trip to India.