The city of Agra is home of the iconic monument of India, which is none other than the Taj Mahal. This majestic building, entirely built by hand, is dedicated to Mumtaz Mahal, wife of the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Symbol of eternal love, this architectural work welcomes more than 7 million tourists every year and It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole site is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
In the sixteenth century, the Mughal empire that reigned in North India had already lost its power and territories. Shah Jahan, son of Emperor Jahangir, displayed great skill both in war and in politics. Thus, he allowed his father to enlarge his territories. Upon the death of Emperor Jahangir, Shah Jahan succeeded him and became the fifth emperor of the Mughal empire. From then on, he married three women. It was said that the last of the three, Mumtaz Mahal, was his favorite. That is why when she died in childbirth in 1931, he ordered the construction of a mausoleum so that she rested in peace eternally, on the banks of the Yamuna.
The construction of the entire Taj Mahal site lasted 16 years, including 11 years for the main mausoleum. The construction began in 1631, and ended in 1648. Some parts of the site were added after the initial construction, this is particularly the case of the mosque.
In the Islamic world of the time, credit for the architecture of a monument belonged to the one who had ordered its construction, and not to the architect himself. Thus, the name and the number of architects who thought the Taj Mahal does not appear precisely in the scriptures, but it was reported that Shah Jahan had hired several architects in order not to be mistaken, and the principal architect would have been Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Each had a specialization and a specific role in construction management that required nearly 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants to complete it.
When Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, a war broke out between his sons to succeed him. It is his third son Aurangzeb who will win the battle. Upon his arrival in power, he locked up his father Shah Jahan at Agra Fort, until his death eight years later, in 1666. His body was then simply transported to the Taj Mahal where he was placed at next to his late wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Throughout its existence and in spite of the different conflicts marching through the centuries, the Taj Mahal was always protected. This is why the mausoleum, as we see it today, is largely identical to that of the sixteenth century.
Visit the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal does not only include the main mausoleum, but it is a huge site where you can wander and visit different buildings and gardens. To make the most of your visit, count between 3h and 4h. Do not hesitate to take your time and rest a few minutes in the gardens, in order to fully appreciate the view offered on the magnificent mausoleum.
The mausoleum of the Taj Mahal is the most perfect example of Mughal architecture, where one finds Islamic, Persian and Indian influences. It is an octagonal white marble building with 4 main sides. Minarets are at the four ends surrounding the mausoleum. The building is perfectly symmetrical. Whichever side it is observed, it is identical. The main faces all have a huge porch called iwan. At the top is an equally impressive dome. The decoration of flowers and calligraphy engraved and carved on the walls of the facade show the Islamic belonging of this monument. Also, by observing carefully, you will be able to see the semi-precious stones which are encrusted there.
The Taj Mahal also has 4 gardens, always forming a perfect symmetry. These gardens together form a square divided by channels oriented towards the 4 cardinal points. The central part of the gardens includes a terrace and a large marble fountain. Each garden is divided by 4 paths, thus delimiting 16 lawns where flowers, trees and groves are spread. The perfect symmetry and floral and animal decoration that can be found in these gardens correspond to the notion of Paradise in Islam.
The mosque is located west of the Taj Mahal Terrace towards Mecca. It is a red sandstone building inlaid with white marble, and topped with 3 white domes on the flat roof. The decorations include verses from the Koran. In front of the mosque, east of the mausoleum and for reasons of symmetry, an identical building stands. However, it is not a mosque, but the guest house, because it is not directed to Mecca. It served as a place to welcome guests on the anniversaries of the death of Mumtaz Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is also home to a museum known as "Jal Mahal". Created in 1982, it is on the west side of the complex, in the gardens. You will find three galleries in addition to the main hall and where are highlighted various exhibitions related to the construction of the Taj Mahal. You can see antique pieces, manuscripts, calligraphy, utensils of everyday life of the time, but especially the plans and drawings of the Taj Mahal. You will also see paintings by Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal in the main hall of the museum.
Best time to visit
The best time to fully enjoy the Taj Mahal is between October and March. Temperatures are mild and will fluctuate between 22 ° C and 32 ° C. Summer is very hot, so avoid visiting during this period if you can not stand the heat. Finally, the monsoon starts towards July to finish in September.
Schedules and entrance fees
The Taj Mahal is open every day of the week, from dawn to sunset (between 6am and 7pm). It closes however on Friday for the control of the site, but is accessible on Friday afternoon for practitioners wishing to go to the Taj mosque for prayer. The entrance fees are as follows:
For Indians: 40 Rs.
For foreign tourists: 1000 Rs.
For citizens of countries belonging to SAARC or BIMSTEC: 530 Rs.
Note: Entrance fees do not apply to children under 15, whether Indian or foreign.
How to get there ?
Agra is just over 200km from Delhi. To get there, there are several means of transportation available. By train, you will reach the city in 2 hours, but delays and walkabouts are to be expected. There are two trains to make the journey: the Taj Express and Bhopal Shatabdi Express on which you can board in Delhi station. By road, surely the most convenient way, you will reach Agra in 5 hours by renting a car or a taxi for the day. Finally, there are buses traveling from Delhi to Agra in just over 5 hours. They are 7 or 8 a day.
If you opt for public transport, you will arrive in the city center. The Taj Mahal is then 4km from here. The best way to reach the site is to ride in a rickshaw that will slip more easily between cars, or you may decide to take a cab.