Morning at the Taj Mahal in India and the fog hangs over the iconic structure like a lace veil. The crowds are few at this early morning hour, lending a sense of calm and serenity to my first visit to this man-made wonder of the world. The perfectly manicured gardens lead up to the blindingly white mausoleum where Emperor Shah Jahan and his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, rest in peace.
I learn that Mahal—who died in childbirth at the ripe age of 38 after giving birth to 14 children—asked her Emperor for three things upon her death bed. The first was that Jahan never re-marry (a relatively easy ask considering he had a slew of mistresses), the second was that the Emperor cared for their 14 children, and the last wish was that he construct a monument in honor of their love. Emperor Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal to be built as a mausoleum for his late wife and to be a symbol of their marital devotion. Once the Emperor passed away at the age of 74, his tomb was placed alongside Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal, first and foremost, is a love story. It is a mausoleum where two lovers—parted by death—now spend eternity reunited. It’s surreal to be here; surreal like stepping into a familiar dream and experiencing it with all five senses for the first time. The morning breeze as it sweeps across the gardens, the sparkle of light as it bounces off the reflecting pools, the cool touch of marble, the fragrant smell of flowers—it’s an immersive experience to stand before the Taj Mahal.
Seeing the Taj Mahal stirs up feelings of love and gratitude within me. I find a place to sit and stare up at its white marbled glory, now growing brighter as the morning sun makes its way across the sky. At this moment I feel as if I am consumed with love for those back home: my family, my friends, the love of my life. I may not have the means to construct a Taj Mahal for those I love in my own life, but I hope the bottomless gratitude I feel for them does not go unnoticed.
Visiting the Taj Mahal for the first time is not as simple as walking through the gate. There are entrances to avoid and tips to know to make the most of your first-time visit to this gorgeous monument. From sidestepping the South Gate to tips on getting the best photography, read on for what to know before you go to the Taj Mahal.
When to Visit the Taj Mahal
It is best to visit in the early morning hours (before 8 am) to beat the crowds. The Taj Mahal ticket booth opens at 6 am, but lines start forming well before that. Try and get in line between 5 am and 5:15 am. Sure, this might sound early but you’ll see wrap-around lines forming by 5:45 am. As a heads up, the ticket booth is about a one-mile walk from the entrance to the Taj Mahal. To avoid the walk, you can hire one of the many rickshaw drivers waiting by the ticket booths.
Choose Your Entrance Gate Wisely
There are a few different entry gates. The three gates are the East Gate, West Gate, and the South Gate. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to avoid the South Gate as it’s located next to a market and tends to draw pushy street hawkers who target the tourists standing in line. The South Gate also doesn’t open until 8 am, so if you’re planning to get to the Taj Mahal early, you can cross this entrance off your list.
When visiting, know that there is a women’s and men’s line at the gates, which means you’ll be temporarily separated from your party. Make a plan to meet on the other side of the line and, be fair warned, the women’s line (true to form) takes longer than the men’s. It’s worth mentioning that foreigners are expected to pay 1,000 rupees for entry, while Indian nationals pay around 20 rupees.
What to Bring and Wear
Early morning at the Taj Mahal will prove chilly, so bring a shawl to wrap around your shoulders (or a jacket for gentlemen). For women, a dress code isn’t enforced but it is considered respectful to cover your shoulders. For photographs, consider wearing bright colors as they pop against the white marble of the Taj Mahal and look awesome in pictures. As a rule of thumb, you should always have a water bottle and bug spray wherever you go in India.
What to Expect
The Taj Mahal is everything you expect it to be: large, stunning, breathtaking, beautiful. Take your time exploring the gardens and enjoying the view of the Taj Mahal from the front and back. While the front is the view, the back of the Taj Mahal is also as stunning as it sits on the Yamuna River. The inside of the Taj Mahal, on the other hand, is a little underwhelming. When going inside, expect a small circular space that is rather cramped and crowded.