Because many Trinis at home and abroad claim Indian roots, India is a popular destination. For many, it’s a dream to visit the “motherland,” the home of ancestors who came to the Caribbean to work on sugarcane fields as indentured laborers. The Taj Mahal is usually on their bucket list.
Commissioned in 1632 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to memorialize the death of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj is now a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the seven new Wonders of the World. Although the white marble mausoleum, the mirror-image mosques, and manicured grounds are stunning, here are some insider tips to help you better enjoy the Taj Mahal.
1. Go at sunrise or at night.
The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, about 200 miles from Delhi. Agra is an old, chaotic, and expensive city and it’s not worth staying here overnight. Instead, take a day trip from Delhi. If you can get there for sunrise, even better: fewer crowds, better views. The gates open at 6:00 and close at 19:00. The Taj is also open for night viewing on the day of a full moon as well as two days before and after the full moon. P.S. The attraction closes on Fridays and during Ramadan when the complex opens for Muslim worship.
2. How to get there.
The drive along the privately-owned, 165 kilometer-long Yamuna Expressway from Delhi will be smooth but long. The six-lane tolled highway of “golden miles” leads straight to Agra so take your camera, some tunes, or a book to help pass the time. You will stop for breakfast. Don’t dawdle. The longer you stay, the more tourists will pile into the restaurant. Remember to carry a small packet of tissues or toilet paper to the bathroom. Always.
3. You don’t always need a guide.
You don’t need to hire a guide but you can if you really want to. At any of the four gates to the Taj Mahal, you will be harassed by touts and vendors who will push all kinds of souvenirs in your face: snow globes, flutes, postcards, and key chains. Don’t engage. Just keep walking.
4. Dress for the weather.
When I visited during the off-peak season and post-monsoon, it was still unbearably hot and humid. Dress in loose, cotton clothes, wear sunglasses, and ration your water supply. A bandanna or handkerchief will come in handy to mop the sweat off your brow.
5. How to get in.
For the tourist admission price, you get a souvenir bag, small bottle of water, and some disposable shoe covers. Before you enter the compound, you will have to undergo a routine security check. There are separate lines for men and women. The guards will check your bags for lighters, sharp objects, flammable stuff, food, mints, books, newspapers etc. Water in transparent bottles, cameras, mobile phones, and small purses are allowed. However, you can’t enter with a big bag or tripod. Also, you cannot take public transportation straight to the mausoleum. Instead, you can walk from the visitor parking lot or use the electric bus or golf carts provided by the visitor center.
6. How to survive the photogs.
When you enter the grounds, ignore the “photographers” with Nikons around their necks. They make all the tourists pose for the same awkward shot. For example, they will take a picture of you appearing to touch the tip of the Taj Mahal’s onion dome and will do the same for everyone else. Boring!
7. Keep calm.
Don’t get angry with the crowds. Although I visited during the off-peak season, it was still swarming with visitors, especially locals. Get used to hearing the security guards blow their whistles sharply when they want people to clear off or move along. Walk away from the stereotypical spots to get different angles. Or, surrender to the crowds and inject local flavor into your pictures. After all, good travel photography should reflect the reality rather than the fantasy of a place.
8. Don’t get into a debate about marble.
Although it was brought in from Makrana, Rajasthan, the local government calls it Agra marble. P.S. Real marble is translucent and allows light to shine through.
9. Use those shoe covers (you paid for them!)
Slip those shoe covers over your shoes before entering the mausoleum. Why go through all that trouble? Let me tell you why. When I was leaving the tomb, I saw two men arguing because one of them had stolen the other person’s shoes. Who wants to deal with that hassle? After you leave the building, you can just throw the shoe covers away.
10. You are not allowed to take photos inside the main building.
Inside the monument, you will see marble tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife. These are empty. The bodies are buried at a much lower level, away from the public gaze.
11. Just do the Taj Mahal.
If you choose to hire a local guide, don’t mindlessly agree to go everywhere he recommends. For example, he may want to take you to a jewelry shop to show you the star of India or to a workshop to show you Agra marble. Don’t feel pressured to buy since the guide usually has an arrangement with the business owners to receive a commission on anything you purchase.
Photos: © Live Lyfe Photography
Did I miss anything? If you’d like to share your own Taj Mahal tips, feel free to add them in the comment box below!
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