A few hours before the sunrise, when the dusty streets of Agra are still dark but starting to wake up, the first small and effective rickshaws start making their way to the Taj Mahal, passing by some villagers sleeping on their charpoy beds outside of their households.
Across the Yamuna River, you can already make out the silhouette of the world wonder a few feet away, ready to blow you away with its imposing presence as soon as the sun rises. You might find the occasional fisherman or a small herd of water buffalo when you arrive at the river, but these little details add to the experience and the overall atmosphere of Agra.
The Taj Mahal is a white marble mausoleum built in 1632 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a commemorative tomb for his favorite wife, Mumtaz. The 17-hectare complex also includes a guest house, a mosque, four minarets and formal gardens. Supposedly, the emperor intended to build a black marble replica of the Taj Mahal on the opposite side of the Yamuna River as his own mausoleum. Even though ruins of foundations have been discovered on the site, this theory has never been confirmed.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal was announced as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the organization, the structure is “the jewel of Muslim art in India”.
It’s also considered one of the best representations of India’s rich history and the biggest architectonic achievement in Indo-Islamic and Mughal architecture. Several artisans, such as stone-cutters, dome builders, masons, carvers, calligraphers, inlayers, and painters were commanded from Central Asia, Iran, and the Mogul Empire as well to work on the project.
The complex has a beautiful mix of contrasting details, such as concave and convex, solids and voids, arches and domes, that increase its aesthetic appeal. Contrast is also found in color, with lush green gardens, red paths and the blue sky above that makes the Taj Mahal change colors with it. The relief and inlay work made with precious and semi-precious stones on the marble walls also add to the monument’s beauty.
The entire structure sits on a platform surrounded by four minarets, one on each corner, also made out of white marble. These minarets slightly lean out on purpose so that, in case of an earthquake, they don’t fall on the main building.
Each face of the monument has a large arch and is embellished with calligraphy from the Koran and carvings of flowers in inlaid work. In front of the Taj, there is a huge garden complex leading to it from the main gate with elegant pools of water, making the structure look bigger and more imposing as you come closer to it.
Source by Graeme Tozer on Flickr – Under Creative Commons license
The right time to visit
The Taj Mahal looks the best during the sunrise or sunset, when the sky changes colors from dim blue to rose gold and orange, making the structure mirror the colors and turn into a creamy white. Some visitors come out disappointed after touring the monument at midday when the walls reflect the intense sun rays and look blinding white.
We recommend visiting the Taj Mahal at different times and even over several days if your schedule and budget allow it. At the end of the day, you can still see the structure from across the river for free and you only have to pay if you want to enter the actual building grounds.
How to get there and where to stay
You can reach Agra by plane or train from New Delhi, even though the latter is filled with pickpockets. The busy streets of Taj Ganj outside of the main gate went from being the home of the artisans that built the monument to a backpacker ghetto where you can find cheap accommodation.
However, if you’re looking for a higher-end stay, you can always go for the luxurious Amarvilas hotel that offers stunning views of the Taj from every room. You can also get one of the best views from the rooftop restaurant in the Shanti Lodge.
If you’re interested in visiting other destinations, we suggest going to the fort in Agra, where Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned after his son dethroned him, and the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri.
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