8 Things to know about seeing this Wonder of the World
Of all the historic sites that you’ll see in India, the Taj Mahal is the most pristine and memorable. Built by Emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj is a mausoleum for his second and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to the couple’s fourteenth child. In all, more than 20,000 workers spent 20 years building this monument to love. While the gleaming white marble is striking, the Taj’s real beauty lies in the details that only can be seen close up, like the in-laid, semi-precious gem stones that form intricate floral designs or the verses from the Quran inscribed on the arched entrances to the mausoleum.
Some 2 to 4 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. Before you go, here are 8 things to know about seeing this Wonder of the World.
1/Buy same-day tickets
You can buy your tickets at some hotels on the morning of your Taj Mahal visit. Otherwise, buy tickets when you arrive at the window for foreign visitors; get the “high value ticket” to skip the longest lines. Foreigner cost: Youth (15 & under) Free; Adult around $17; foreigners pay more than Indian residents.
2/Arrive early for iconic photo
When I advise earlier, I mean crack-of-dawn early. Gates open at 6 a.m.; you’ll want to be in the foreign visitors’ queue by 5:15 a.m. If you want photos with as few people as possible, make a beeline to the top of the reflecting pool. There’ll likely be other people trying to get the same iconic shot, so be patient. For more expert tips on getting great photos, click here.
KidTripster Tip: If you’ve hired a guide, which I do recommend, ask him to begin the tour after you’ve gotten the reflecting pool photos.
KidTripster Tip: Photography is prohibited inside the main mausoleum.
KidTripster Tip: While early morning photos will have fewer tourists in them, light conditions are not optimal. Plan to take photos again in about 1 to 2 hours to capture a rosier-colored Taj Mahal. Twilight is another good time for photos.
3/Leave nearly everything behind at the hotel
To get through the entrance line more quickly, familiarize yourself with the long list of prohibited items in advance of your visit. The following items are strictly prohibited: ammunitions, batteries (including spare batteries for your camera), eatables (including toffees), firearms, headphones, knives, liquor, tobacco products, mobile chargers, electronics (except cameras), tripods, and video cameras. Cell phones must be turned off; phones are banned from night viewings.
Bottled water is allowed. Shoes can be worn. However, when you step up to the main mausoleum, you’ll need to wear shoe covers (provided) or go barefoot. Avoid carrying big bags to decrease your time in the security line.
4/Arrive by non-motorized transportation
No motorized vehicles are allowed within a 500-meter radius of the Taj Mahal. Instead you can arrive by battery-powered bus or golf cart, horse-draw tonga or rickshaws.
There are three gates for entering the Taj Mahal complex: the East, West, and South Gates. In my experience, the least busy tends to be the East Gate followed by the South Gate.
6/Hire a guide
Only hire a guide that shows an official identity card. Negotiate the length of your tour and fee upfront. Also, make sure the guide gears the tour to kids. If he's getting to long-winded, let him know. You’re the one paying for the service. And don’t feel rushed. Take your time to explore and snap photos.
KidTripster Tip: While your guide may know all the best photo locations, don’t count on him for taking stellar family pictures. Take plenty of family photos yourself, even if that means that you’re not in them. Also, check your camera settings when the guide returns your camera. Our guide inadvertently changed a setting. I didn’t catch in until more than halfway through the tour; half of our photos were completely unuseable.
KidTripster Tip: If your guide offers to take you to a workshop to see how artisans do semi-precious gem work like their ancestors who worked during the Taj Mahal’s construction, don’t go. It’s really just a ploy to get you to buy gem-encrusted marble work. While the 5-minute demonstration is interesting, the 20-minute high-pressure pitch to buy is very uncomfortable.
7/Don't show up on Fridays
The Taj Mahal is open from Saturday through Thursday from sunrise to sunset at the East and West Gates; the South Gate is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The complex is closed to visitors on Fridays. There’s no limit to how long you can visit during operating hours. I found that 2 to 3 hours is plenty, especially with kids.
8/Check on night viewing
Night viewing is available five days a month - the night of the full moon, two nights before the full moon, and two nights after the full moon - from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Tickets are available 24 hours in advance from the booking counter at the Archeological Survey of India (22 Mail Rd.). Only eight groups of 50 people are allowed inside for a period of 30 minutes for a total of 400 people each night. There is no night viewing on Fridays or during the month of Ramadan. Foreigner cost: Youth (under 3) Free; Youth (3-15) about $8; Adult about $12. Like regular admission, foreigners pay more than Indian residents.
KidTripster Tip: If you have a choice, select the later time slots when the moon is higher in the sky.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah is married to a first-generation Indian-American. This trip was the family’s first opportunity to connect with their Indian heritage.