No trip to north India would be complete without a visit to the Taj Mahal. Constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife after her death, this stunning architectural icon is one of the wonders of the world for a reason – it’s bound to take your breath away. While any decent guidebook can tell you the basics of visiting the Taj Mahal, here’s a few unexpected insights to help you make the most of your visit.
If you’re obviously a stranger to these parts, you are just as interesting to many domestic tourists as the site itself. Prepare for your first run-in with the paparazzi. Because some domestic tourists from less tourist-frequented areas rarely see foreign faces outside of television and movies, you’ll get frequent requests to pose for pictures. Be aware that if you say “yes” to one, you may end up with a queue. If you have a sense of humor about it, the photo taking can be quite fun, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t decline if you’re uncomfortable. Be civil but firm if you’d rather be left in peace to enjoy the monument – just be aware that just because you’re not posing, doesn’t mean someone isn’t taking your picture.
Seek Good Guidance
If you choose to find a guide for your Agra explorations, don’t just hire the first guy to approach you at the gate with a sales pitch and an ID card. While most guides will show you credentials boasting government approval, these kinds of documents are easily faked, and these unlicensed “guides” may be more focused on taking you on a shopping expedition than sharing the history of the Taj Mahal. Ask you hotel or guesthouse for help in finding an official government guide, or visit the U.P Tourism Office or the India Tourism Office.
There are other options for informational exploration at your own pace. The Archaeological Survey of India offers an audio guide (Rs. 105 – about $2 – for English), allowing visitors to learn about the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort at their leisure. They’ve also put out smartphone apps through AudioCompass, called Official Taj Mahal and Official Agra Fort.
Beyond the Taj
While many travellers treat the Taj Mahal as a one-day trip from Delhi or on their way to their next destination, there are plenty of reasons to spend a night in Agra. For starters, seeing the Taj at sunrise or sunset, either up close or from a rooftop café, is an experience not to be missed. There’s also lots to see in Agra beyond this stunning monument. Make time to visit the extensive red sandstone Agra Fort, or enjoy the relative peace and quiet at the beautiful “mini- Taj Mahal,” the Tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah. Further out, take the thirty-minute rickshaw ride to the botanical gardens at Mehtab Bagh for a less crowded view of the Taj Mahal. You’re also not far from Mathura and Vrindivan, the birthplace and childhood home of Krishna and major spiritual centers. It’s worth taking the 55 km trip to explore these fascinating, culturally significant sister cities.