Where: Agra, about a 4-5 hour drive from New Delhi (with a pit stop), but it can be done by speed train in around 2 hours. We went on a tour our hostel offered, but tickets can be bought from the train station a day or two before you plan to visit.
Duration: 1-2 hours. If you are a major photographer and want to capture every detail, perhaps more, but I found it easy to go around to many of the areas (as a foreigner in India) quickly because of the High-Quality Ticket holder pass—check out the side courts of the Taj for an amazing view with few people. Don’t be intimidated by the guard with the scary gun. He’ll let you go through.
Cost: 1,000 Rupees (approximately $15).
A Brief History: The Taj Mahal is a tomb that was commissioned in the 17th century by Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal after her death. Her casket is in the center of the crypt although it’s unknown whether or not her body is truly locked inside. Legend has it that Shah Jahan saw the Persian princess and fell instantly in love and demanded to be married to her: which they were five years later. Though he had other wives (5 total, plus all the, uh, concubines), it was Mumtaz Mahal that was the center of his heart and went everywhere he did. When she died, he mourned her for years and swore never to remarry (although I’m not sure how much that mattered with all those other wives…). The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build and somewhere around 22,000 workers.
Point of Interest: The first look of the gleaming white-ish Taj Mahal as you walk through one of the red gates is amazing. It’s the realization that something that before you had only saw in pictures was a reality. Right inside the gate is a balcony area that is perfect for taking pictures as long as you shoulder through the crowds also getting their selfie on to do so.
Recommendation: 5/5. I mean I’d give 10/5 if that was possible. To see history come alive in such a way is amazing. The crowds might be off-putting to some, but they weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they would be. There was a moment while there that I thought, man, romance truly is dying for who is declaring their love in such a way anymore. In the hostel we stayed at, one guy described it as such, “You see a photo of the Taj Mahal and you think it’s so beautiful. Then you see it in person and it’s one-hundred times your expectations.” For, in person, you see the intricacy of the design, you see the flowers and vines carved into the stones winding up large archways.
*Note: Here, foreign visitors pay 1,000 rupees for entrance (by far the most expensive of the attractions we visited). It’s called having a High-Quality ticket. If you see a large line at the gate, keep going further up to get to the actual ticket purchasing box. That long line is for the Indian nationals who have already purchased their tickets and are waiting to go through security. The High-Quality ticket gives you the ability to bypass the impressively long lines both to enter the gardens of the Taj Mahal and the building itself. It also translates into being around $15 to see one of the most wondrous places on the planet (according to UNESCO). Not bad at all.
**Note: If possible, try to see the Taj on one of the moonlit visits. I’ve heard from several people that the Taj is far more beautiful in person, but it’s beauty is even more magnified in the moonlight.
***Note: Many travelers think they want to do 2 nights in Agra. However, something that I noticed was that many of the backpackers we met would book 2 nights in Agra but only stay 1 since it was possible to see the three sights within a day.