The Taj Mahal will not disappoint you. It’s one of the most iconic structures in the whole world and you absolutely must visit when you travel to India.
I highly recommend taking the time to overnight in Agra. Here’s how I’d do it if I were you:
Depart Delhi in the late morning to dodge the rush hour traffic. There’s no real way to completely miss a traffic jam in Delhi, but that’s part of the fun of it. Sometimes the traffic looks pretty chaotic to a westerner, but remember – there are rules to the road in India, you just don’t know them.
When you arrive in Agra in the afternoon, stop at your hotel to check in for the night and freshen up. There are a ton of hotels in the area that can meet your needs.
Give yourself a few hours before sunset to begin your tour of the Agra Fort. This amazing structure has been standing for hundreds of years and gone through many iterations and expansions.
This is one place a guide is worth hiring. The guide can tell you the history and lore behind the fort. The stories, whether completely true or not, will capture your imagination. As your guide leads you through the fort, telling stories of royal family betrayals, famously huge diamonds, and true loves found and lost, you’ll catch glimpses of the nearby Taj Mahal through the parapets and windows.
The stories help set the stage for the monumental achievement and emotional setpiece that would become the Taj Mahal, and the anticipation of finally visiting will be at an all-time high.
After the Agra Fort, head back to your hotel for an early dinner and evening in.
The next morning, plan to leave your hotel about thirty minutes before the sun rises. The entrance to the Taj Mahal opens at sunrise and there will probably be a bit a line. There is security and I recommend bringing minimal personal items with you – just a camera if possible.
Wallet with some spare local cash
Wear comfortable walking shoes (sandals can work well though)
Not everyone knows this, but there are actually many impressive structures surrounding the famous white tomb. They’re all worth exploring, but I think it’s worth heading straight for the main event first. The lighting is perfect at sunrise for all your photos and the day won’t be as oppressively hot as usual yet. Plus, though there will be other people there with you at sunrise no matter the time of day or season, it will be less crowded right at sunrise.
Things to notice and appreciate
Take note of the symmetry of the building and entire complex. Look closely at the handcarved precious inlaid stones on the walls.
Note how some of the stonework is done to provide an illusion of perfect vertical shapes while actually climbing toward the sky at an angle.
Reread the story of lost love while actually on the grounds.
Be sure to travel behind the building to look across the water at what some believe to be the ruins of a second mirrored black Taj Mahal.
Opt to take off your shoes rather than use the foot coverings at this holy site. The smooth stone on your bare foot in the cool of the morning cannot be replicated anywhere else.
Once you’ve taken your time at the Taj, meander back through the gardens. Explore the rose colored mosques on either side.
And eventually make your way back to your hotel for a late breakfast before checking out and heading back up to Delhi with the best photos, stories, and experiences Agra can offer.
Heading to India? Andrew W Lyon Travel can help coordinate your trip to the Taj Mahal and all around this beautiful, expansive country. Comment below and we'll be in touch!