What is widely considered as the most beautiful building in the world, Taj Mahal is located in the historical city of Agra. Called as the "symbol of love", it was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Every year visitors numbering more than the entire population of Agra passes through the magnificent gates to catch a glimpse of this breathtaking monument, and only a few leave disappointed. Shah Jahan said about the Taj that it made "the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes".
The Taj Mahal stands for the Crown of Palaces in the Persian language. It rises from the dust-beaten earth of Uttar Pradesh, but even the wildest imaginations leave visitors underprepared for this world wonder. It is a breath stealing moment when the gates of this monument are traversed, and the Taj Mahal comes into focus. It is considered as the finest example of Mughal architecture and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Covering a land over 60 bighas, the Taj Mahal was constructed using white marble obtained from Makrana in Rajasthan.
Rabindranath Tagore described it as "a teardrop in the cheek of eternity" while Rudyard Keepling said it is "the embodiment of all things pure". It took almost 17 years to complete the construction of the Taj Mahal, and it was finally completed by 1653. The tomb is laid out in a rectangular shape, and that can be approached through a massive gateway which has an arch and alcoves on either side of it. The Taj, so majestic from the exterior, has equally splendid artistic work done in the interiors. There are water channels and fountains in the entrance which makes the monument even more spectacular. Simply said, it is the most beautiful building in the world, and it's impossible to see it without feeling wonderstruck!
The Taj Mahal remains open every day from sunrise to sunset. However, it is closed every Friday to anyone not attending prayers at the mosque.
The entrance fee for the five main sights of Agra - Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Akbar's Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri and Itimad-Ud-Dulah's Tomb - is made up of charges from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Agra Development Board (ADA). The entry ticket to Taj Mahal costs INR 750, out of which INR 500 is a special ADA ticket. It gives you savings on the other four sights when visited on the same day. It will save you INR 50 at Agra Fort and INR 10 each at the other three monuments. You can buy this ADA ticket from any of the five sights.
The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Her death left the emperor completely heartbroken, and his hair is said to have turned grey overnight. The construction of the Taj began in 1632. Th main building was completed in eight years, but the whole complex was not completed until 1653. Soon after the construction was completed, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in the Agra Fort. For the rest of his life, he could only gaze at his wondrous creation through a window. Shah Jahan died in 1666, after which his mortal remains were buried here alongside Mumtaz.
Over 20,000 people from all over Indian and Central Asia worked on this striking building. Specialists were brought from as far away as Europe who produced the beautiful marble screens and marble inlay (pietra dura) which is made of thousands of semi precious stones. Taj Mahal was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. It looks as pristine today as it was first constructed. The monument underwent a massive restoration project in the early 20th century.
The Taj Mahal can be accessed through east, west and south gates. Inside the grounds, the ornamental gardens are set on the classic Mughal charbagh lines (formal Persian garden). The monument stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the garden, facing its back to the Yamuna River. Its raised position is a masterstroke design as it leaves the sky as its only backdrop. Each corner of the platform is graced with 40m high white minarets. Taj itself is made of semi-translucent white marble, inlaid with thousands of semi precious stones and carved with flowers. The four indistinguishable faces of the Taj are in perfect symmetry, featuring impressive vaulted arches containing pietra dura scrollwork and the quotations from the Quran. The whole structure is topped off by four small domes.
The cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal lies directly below the main dome. It is an elaborate false tomb which is surrounded by an elegant marble screen inlaid with various types of semi precious stones. , offsetting the symmetry of the Taj. The light enters the central chamber through finely cut marble screens. These tombs are false tombs as the real tombs of Mumtaz Mahal, and Shah Jahan lies in a locked room below the main chamber.
The complex houses a red sandstone mosque to the west which is a significant gathering place for the Muslims residing in Agra. There is an identical building to the east, the Jawab, which was built to maintain symmetry. Within the Taj lies the small Taj Museum which houses many original Mughal miniature paintings. Its primary attraction is a pair of 17th-century ivory portrait of the emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. It also has some Caledon plates which are said to split into pieces or change colour if the food served on them contains poison.
There is a well-publicized theory that Taj Mahal was a Shiva Temple built in the 12th century which was later converted into the memorial for Mumtaz Mahal. This theory was developed by Purushottam Nagesh Oak. He filed a petition to have the sealed basement rooms open to prove his theory, but it was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2000. Another story is famous as The Black Taj Mahal. Many people believed that Shah Jahan planned to build an alter image of the monument in black marble on its opposite side, the work for which began before he was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb. Extensive excavations were carried out at Mehtab Bagh, but no traces were found of any such construction.
The famous legend related to the Taj Mahal is the mutilation of the craftsmen who constructed it. It is believed that on the completion of the construction, Shah Jahan ordered the hands of the project's craftsmen to be chopped off so that no other building in the world could be this beautiful again. However, there is no historical evidence to support this theory.
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The best time to visit Taj Mahal is unarguably the sunrise when it looks the most atmospheric. This is also the most comfortable time to visit because of fewer crowds. Another magical time to visit the Taj is the sunset. You can also visit it for five nights around the full moon. The entry tickets for this time is limited though, and it must be bought a day in advance from the Archaeological Survey of India office
Reaching Taj Mahal and getting around the city can be done in tongas, electric buses and tempo. There are also auto rickshaws and state buses. In order to minimise pollution effects on the monument, the vehicles are not allowed in the vicinity of Taj and the vehicles need to park in the parking lots which is at a short distance from the mausoleum. There are non-electric tourist buses for the visitors from the parking lot.
Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort are quite close to each other, and if it's not too sunny you can just walk between the two. Otherwise, there are a lot of autos and battery-powered rickshaws plying between the two major monuments which charge a minimal amount.
1. Taj Mahal can be accessed through three gates. Tour groups enter through the east and west gates and independent travelers through the south gates. The east gate has the shortest queues. There are separate lines for men and women at all the three gates.
2. Cameras and videos are permitted. However, photography is prohibited inside the mausoleum itself.
3. Don't forget to retrieve your free bottle of water (500ml) and shoe covers which are included in the ticket price.
4. You can store your luggage for free beside the ticket offices and also pick up an audio guide for INR 118.
5. Visitors are allowed to use free Wi-Fi internet service inside the compound for half an hour, and then they will be charged at INR 30 per hour after the half hour is complete.
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A place that makes you fall in love with it every time you visit. Do visit early in the morning around sunrise or if u r lucky visit on a full moon night (ticket cost 510 for night viewing). Huge rush for night viewing. Head to deviram sweets after the visit for sumptuous breakfast of puri sabzi and jalebi.