India Bucket List: Visit the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is the most iconic structure in India, and considered to be a jewel of Muslim art.


DSC_3201 (2)It is also one of the Seven Wonders of the New World, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.DSC_3210The Taj Mahal is actually a mausoleum that was constructed by a 17th century Mughal emperor, as the final resting place for his favorite wife. DSC_3220His wife’s tomb is at the heart of this 42-acre complex, set amidst a verdant, royal garden, home to many parakeets, macaques and plumeria trees. DSC_3214DSC_3259DSC_3262DSC_3271DSC_3273DSC_3285Architecturally speaking, the Taj Mahal is made of white marble. It took 22 years, one billion dollars, and over 20,000 laborers, painters, stone cutters, and artists to build it! 😮DSC_3238It’s even said to be the inspiration for Disney’s Aladdin. 0d9c451b8165f453aa41ba4be54c07e9At the top of the tomb is a magnificent dome, and is surrounded by four minaret towers as well. DSC_3197DSC_3217DSC_3255The exterior is decorated with either calligraphy or plant motifs.DSC_3251Aside the Taj Mahal is also a functioning mosque.DSC_3218DSC_3233DSC_3227DSC_3223DSC_3237DSC_3229

Did you know?

The Taj Mahal sits next to the Yamuna River, and the structure is actually cracking at an alarming rate due to its submerged wooden foundations, which are apparently rotting.  DSC_3253

Plan your visit:

I recommend visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise. The ticket counter opens up an hour beforehand, and the gate opens up 30 minutes before sunrise.

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Tickets cost 1,000 rupees (15 USD) for foreigners. With your ticket, you also get a free bottle of water and shoe covers, which you must wear when you enter both the mosque and mausoleum.

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Visitors also undergo a very thorough security scan, and there are many items which are prohibited. Personally, they confiscated my bag of chips and a random plastic bag I had, and made me store them in a locker.

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I visited the Taj Mahal with a Romanian girl I met at my hostel who was also on her own. Untitled

Even at this early hour, there were plenty of other tourists visiting the site too.

DSC_3294I did manage to get a few solo shots in front of the Taj Mahal, but I think as the day went on, this would be nearly impossible, considering as many as 70,000 people visit this site each day! 😮
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The Taj Mahal has an easy-to-read complex map, which makes exploration on your own a possibility, although there are guides for hire there as well.
DSC_3277Overall, this place definitely lived up to the hype and I would highly recommend adding it to anyone’s travel bucket list! 😉
DSC_3280After visiting the Taj Mahal, it was only 8 AM, so we walked back to town to figure out some others things to do.DSC_3299DSC_3300
What else to do in Agra?
I’ll be honest, Agra is not the most picturesque city to visit.DSC_3322DSC_3321DSC_3302DSC_3326DSC_3328It makes sense that many people come here as a day trip to see the Taj Mahal and leave. :/DSC_3320DSC_3304DSC_3308DSC_3324

I will say though, that if you do have some time to spare, I would recommend visiting the cafe, Sheroes’ Hangout.

Sheroes’ Hangout

DSC_3310The cafe is actually a social project, to support women who have been victims of an acid attack. These women are SHE-HEROES, hence the name Sheroes. 😀
ssThe place has become a safe haven for survivors to communicate and empower themselves by learning service skills. They serve a full menu of food and drinks, and you pay as much as you’d like. Your donation helps to rehabilitate these survivors, and finance their business as well.

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curried dal with rice, peas, and paneer cheese

Getting there:

My journey from Delhi to Agra was an adventure in itself. First, I had to get from my hostel to the railway station at 5:30 AM. Basically I looked up the metro times and it said on the website they opened at 5 AM. I even double-checked with my hostel. Sure enough, they were closed at 5 AM. As I stood there with my three large bags on the street in the night trying to figure out what to do, I started talking with an Indian guy smoking a cigarette. He seemed nice enough. I asked him about metro times, and he said it was around 6:15 AM, which would make me miss my train. I figured I had to take a tuk-tuk then, and asked him how much he would pay, so I didn’t get screwed over on the rate. He started to ask me where I was from, and I was in no mood to have a conversation. I said, I just need to get to the railway station. I started to cross the road and look for a tuk-tuk, but he stopped me and offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle. I asked how much, and he said, you are a guest here, I don’t want anything. With that I got on the back of his bike with my three bags. His friend actually tried to get on as well, but I didn’t see that happening unless he sat on someone’s shoulders. Finally adjusted, he turned on the engine and took off…in the wrong direction. I told him we needed to go the other way, and he said, actually I need to stop somewhere and ask how to get there. I said, no you don’t. I have google maps and started to direct him toward the station. He asked me lots of random questions like if I had a boyfriend and if I had a tattoo. I really didn’t mind chatting as long as we got to the station OK. When we finally arrived I took a photo with him and he gave me a kiss on my hand. I had survived so far. Hah! 😛UntitledFrom there I had to figure out which platform to wait on for my train. Of course, there was no board with the platforms listed. I asked two different workers who told me two different platforms, which was comforting. Hah! Finally, this woman, who noticed I looked frustrated, asked if I needed help. I told her my train number and she simply found my platform on this app called, Where is my Train. So crazy! It seems like you really need a smart phone here, or you will definitely be out of the loop. She directed me to lucky platform number 13, and I was finally on my way to Agra. 😉UntitledUntitledThe train was not too bad, since there were fans and windows to let in a cool breeze. The place became a madhouse at one point though, with people crammed in the aisles standing and I seemed to be the only foreigner in sight, which made me the focus of everyone’s gaze. Hah! Nobody checked my ticket either.

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the spacious train car before a mad rush people came on

The train actually took an hour longer than projected, but at least we had finally arrived in Agra. From there, I had to take a tuk-tuk to my hostel. Luckily, there is a government-operated stand, which avoids the hassle of haggling for a price with the driver. The 30-minute journey cost 150 rupees, or about 2.25 USD.
UntitledMy tuk-tuk driver was Bobby. He bought his tuk-tuk for seven thousand dollars, and has rave reviews on TripAdvisor for his kind and honest service.UntitledUntitled
UntitledHe even has this booklet where visitors can leave comments about their journey with him. 🙂Untitled

Accommodation:

While in Agra I stayed at Bedweiser Backpackers Hostel. The staff was friendly and the WiFi was fast, but the bathrooms were super gross.DSC_3329

Cost: 5 USD/ night

Anyway, that wraps up my time in Agra. Up next I’ll be heading to Varanasi. Stay tuned to hear all about it! Until then! 😀

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