The Taj Mahal, built in 1653 by Shah Jehan as a monument to his late wife Mumtaz, is the undisputed icon of India. You can hardly resist the urge to go if you’re in the vicinity (and here, “the vicinity” essentially means anywhere in the country — which is a very large area, if you didn’t already know).
Here are some things you might want to know before you visit.
1. There are different prices for different people.
Understandably, given the disparity in income for locals compared to foreign visitors, the price of entering the Taj Mahal is different depending on where you’re from. For locals, it’s just 40 rupees; for those from SAARC and BIMSTEC countries, it’s 530 rupees; for the rest, it’s 1000 rupees.
Still, only about $15 to see one of the most elaborately constructed and beautiful palaces in the world seems fair. And paying more for your ticket has its perks too. Foreigners get to skip the long-ass local queue and get a bottle of water and a pair of shoe covers thrown in with the price of the ticket.
2. If you’re staying a couple of days, see the Taj last.
Your entrance ticket for the Taj gets you a discount at the other Agra attractions, like the glorious Agra Fort. However, once you’ve been stamped into the Taj, you have to use the discount within the day — and depending on your plans, this might mean a bit of a rush.
If you’re taking your time in Agra, you can buy your ticket for the Taj, then spend the day at the other attractions in the city, using the discount. Then you can come back to the Taj at your leisure, as your ticket is only date-stamped upon entry.
3. There are several different entrances.
Three gates exist to enter the Taj Mahal: East, West, and South. The website recommends to go to the South gate to avoid the crowds — but the reality is, you’re probably going to meet with some crowds whichever way you go in.
4. Don’t try to visit on a Friday.
It may be one of the biggest tourist draws in the entire country (or possibly in the entire world), but nothing’s going to get in the way of Friday prayers. The Taj is closed on Fridays, so plan your visit accordingly.
5. But if you time your trip carefully, visit during a full moon.
As if a trip to the Taj wasn’t going to be special enough, about once a month it is opened for a special viewing in the silvery light of the full moon. These viewings are available for two days before and after the moon is at its zenith, but if one of these days is a Friday then, of course, it will still not be open.
There are limited spots available for these rare occasions, and they have to be booked in advance online — but it would be a pretty awesome thing to see if you can.
6. Or on the rare occasion when entry is free.
It’s free to visit the Taj on the morning of Eid (there are two in the year, one around November and one in August), and during World Heritage Week. If you’re lucky (or savvy) you can take advantage of this — though bear in mind it might be even busier than usual during these times.
But hey, it’s a busy place anyway.
7. Sunrise is a good time to see the Taj in all its glory — but sunset might actually be the better choice.
Many tourists get up at the crack of dawn and rush to see it in the golden early morning light — and hopefully, avoid the crowds and the oppressive heat. However, depending on the time of year, you might be disappointed with what you see. In the winter months (roughly late November to early February), thick fog often settles on the landscape in the mornings, making for less-than-epic views.
Instead, opt to go later in the day, around sunset, when the fog is more likely to have cleared (and the heat and the crowds have too).
8. You don’t actually have to stay in Agra (and there’s not a whole lot else to do).
Agra itself, as many people might tell you, doesn’t have much going for it apart from the obvious tourist attractions. That is, once you’ve visited the Taj and the Agra Fort, you’ll be about ready to leave.
Luckily, you can do that if you want to — the trains run early from Jaipur and Delhi, and it’s just a couple of hours’ journey from either. If you choose to, you can make the return trip in a day, and just extend your stay in either nearby city for a night.
This does mean, however, that you will probably miss out on the opportunity to see it at sunrise or sunset.
9. You can get a pretty good view for way less at the gardens around the corner.
It’s unlikely that you will want to miss out on seeing the palace up close, but if you are really scraping by on a low budget, it is possible to see the Taj from another perspective. Across the Yamuna River is Mehtab Bagh, a large garden complex. Entry to the gardens will still cost you, but the price is way lower, at just 200 rupees for foreigners.