The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum located in Agra, India. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is widely recognized as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage". It coveres area of about 221 hectare (552 acres), which includes the 38 hectare taj mahal and the 183 hectare taj protected forest area.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar component of the Taj Mahal, it is actually an integrated complex of structures. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision, including Abd ul-Karim Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer.
The Taj Mahal, the most famous monument in the world, happens to be the final resting place of a lady who was the favourite wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Heartbroken when she died in giving birth, the Emperor decided to build a testament to his love in white marble that would dazzle the world.
In fact he had plans to build an identical tomb for himself in black marble on the opposite bank of the river Yamuna, but these plans were spoilt by his own son Aurangzeb. The son imprisoned the father and took over the kingdom keeping the him in a room in the Agra Fort which overlooked the Taj Mahal. The Taj was recently voted into the new list of Seven Wonders of the World with a thumping majority.
Getting To Agra
Located in the north of India in the city of Agra, it is very close to New Delhi. It has an airport which has a daily return flight to Delhi, but the regular train service is just as good and a great deal cheaper. If you are short on time you can catch the morning 'Taj Express' or 'Shatabdi' from the New Delhi Railway Station around 06:00 and be in Agra Cantt station by 09:00 in the morning.
You can spend the day sightseeing and be back to catch the 20:00 train back to Delhi. If you prefer to get a taxi, it takes around three and half hours to do the 200km from Delhi to Agra.
Getting to the Taj
There are prepaid taxis available outside the railway station which will bring you directly to the parking lot. The area about one kilometer around the monument has been declared a no-pollution zone and only battery operated vehicles or rickshaws as well as horse carts are allowed from the parking lot to the outer gate. There is an entrance fee and the tickets can be obtained at the outer gate.
Ticket rates differ depending on your nationality. You can enjoy a trotting ride on the horse cart and if you bargain well you can do it really cheap. Do remember to include the return journey in the deal or you will end up paying more to another driver for it. No food is allowed inside the inner gate. Water may be carried.
Sightseeing at the Taj
Naturally, the main attraction is the huge marble structure in which the tombs of Shah Jahan and his Queen Mumtaz Mahal are ensconced. If you have the time and inclination it is worth visiting the mosque on the side of the Taj Mahal after you have seen the sights. There is also a museum exhibition in the grounds that chronicles the history of India. The gardens are typical Mughal Gardens with neat squares and a fountain in the middle. The little platform at the centre of the fountains serves as a good place to take photographs with the Taj as a backdrop.
You are not allowed to carry video cameras past the inner gate and there are lockers available to deposit them in. Professional photographers are also available and do a fast delivery of photos by the time you return after visiting the tomb. They also do some trick photographs with examples in albums they carry with them. Again the rates need to be bargained for. It does work out cheaper if a big group is paying for the photographs so try and share the roll with someone else.
You must remove your footwear just before entering the main platform that holds the tomb. There are people who will keep your shoes safe for you here. Remember to get your token. If you wish the Taj can be visited in the moonlight every month for five nights. Two before and two after the full moon as well as on the full moon night. The charges are much higher and quite prohibitive but the experience is unparalleled. It is a select and small group that pays for the privilege and is almost a private party. On a normal day it makes sense to visit the Taj either in the early morning or in the evening once the heat subsides.