EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING THE TAJ MAHAL IN 2020
OUR VERY DETAILED GUIDE TO VISITING THE TAJ MAHAL AND AGRA, INDIA
THIS IS PART ONE OF A TWO-PART AGRA POST.
THIS POST IS ALL ABOUT VISITING THE TAJ MAHAL.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON AGRA FORT, AGRA THINGS TO DO AND AGRA PLACES TO EAT:
Best known for the incredible Taj Mahal – one of the New Seven Wonders of the World – the huge Indian city of Agra is most often visited as a part of the Golden Triangle.
Whilst the Taj Mahal is certainly India’s most famous building, Agra is also visited for another incredible sight: Agra Fort. These two attractions are certainly the most famous of Agra, and the reason that so many thousands of tourists end up in Agra every day.
So, the Taj Mahal...
WHERE? – AGRA, NORTHERN INDIA (UTTAR PRADESH)
WHAT IS IT? – A MAUSOLEUM BUILT IN 1643, BY EMPEROR SHAH JAHAN FOR MUMTAZ MAHAL – HIS WIFE AND MOTHER OF HIS 14 CHILDREN.
WHAT DOES IT COST? – 1300 RUPEES PER PERSON (FOREIGN TOURIST – AS OF 2020)
WHAT’S THE DRESS CODE? – CONSERVATIVE: COVER SHOULDERS, KNEES AND CHEST
BEST TIME OF DAY – SUNRISE OR SUNSET
BEST TIME OF YEAR – NOVEMBER TO MARCH
BEFORE YOU GO
BEST TIME OF YEAR
The best time of year to visit Agra is between November and March. This is when the heat has cooled off considerably from the summer months, and the monsoon rains are well and truly gone.
April to June are the hottest months in Agra. However, it can be hot from April, all the way up until September. July to September also happen to be the monsoon season in Agra. This means that you can expect daily rains and, whilst it may be a little cooler, it can be very humid. In particular, August sees the highest amount of rainfall during this season.
October can be pleasant, but still a little too warm for most tourists during the day (highs of 34° celsius). It’s more pleasant than the summer months, but high daytime temperatures could still make it uncomfortable, if you’re not used to the heat.
Note: It can get really cold in the early hours of the morning and late hours of the evening in the winter months (November – March). Make sure to bring warm layers if travelling during this time, and if you’re visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise, make sure you dress appropriately for the colder weather (lows of 6° celsius).
CHECK THE WEATHER
This may sounds really obvious, but the what the weather is doing can make such an enormous difference to the kind of experience you will have at the Taj Mahal. If you have the ability to be flexible, that will help a huge amount. Being able to sit around in Agra for a couple of days whilst the rain passes, or the fog clears, can mean that your experience at the Taj Mahal is more amazing.
The best season to visit Agra is November – March (see above). But, unfortunately, early mornings in the months of December to January can be misty and foggy. The thick layer of fog can interrupt views of the Taj Mahal, so it’s better to get there a little later, when the mist has cleared a little. Alternatively, you can wait in town for a few days until a clearer day. Obviously, this isn’t an option for a lot of people, but if you’re super flexible with your travel schedule, it’s a perfectly viable option.
Another way around this would be to plan your travel schedule around the weather. If you’re checking forecasts regularly, you could manage to get a cracking, clear day with pure sunshine. Just remember that, sometimes, the weather forecast doesn’t always know about the low level fog and mist (so it might say it’s going to be clear, but in actuality, it’s pretty darn foggy).
We visited in January 2020, and it rained for 4 days straight. We extended our stay at our guesthouse by another 2 nights, and waited for good weather. On the day we eventually went in to see the Taj Mahal, there was a thin fog, but the weather quickly cleared up, and we were treated to perfect sunshine for the rest of the day! Worth it!
CHECK THE PRICE
The price of a foreigners entry ticket has increased significantly over the last couple of years, almost doubling from 750 rupees in 2015, to 1300 rupees in 2019.
This price increase was to “limit the footfall” inside the grounds. The idea was that a price increase would “cut down the number of visitors to the mausoleum by 15 – 20%”. That may or may not be the case, but the price for an Indian national to enter the mausoleum is still at 250 rupees each (50 rupees if they choose not to go INSIDE the mausoleum – as of 2020). So, take from that what you wish.
So, our advice would be to check the official website before you turn up at the ticket counter. We read a lot of confusing things online about ticket prices, and you don’t want any nasty surprises when you go to hand over your cash at the ticket counter.
Note: You can get into the grounds, and view the mausoleum from the grounds outside for 1100 rupees each. However, it is another (optional) 200 rupees to get inside the mausoleum, making the total 1300 rupees each. Personally, I would recommend just paying that extra 200 rupees, even if you’re on a tight budget. It’s only a small fraction of what you would have already paid to get into the grounds, and it does make it a little bit more special.
BEST TIME OF DAY
SUNRISE – By far the best time of day to visit the Taj Mahal. Most visitors won’t want to get up early enough to view the sunrise from inside the grounds, so there will be SIGNIFICANTLY fewer people at this time. Gates open 30 minutes before sunrise, so make sure to get there early enough to be one of the first few people inside.
We arrived around 7.15am (sunrise was at 7.10am) and already the whole place was packed. We managed to get a few photos with few people in them, but ultimately, we were a little too late. Aim to be one of the first few in the queue, so you can run in and take your photos before anyone else gets there.
Note: From December to January/February, early morning in Agra can be covered in fog/mist. Bear this in mind when planning a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal, as the fog can obscure the view significantly.
SUNSET – Sunset is the next best time to visit the Taj Mahal. There will be A LOT more people around, but the light will be amazing. If there is a lot of fog in the mornings on your visit, then sunset is a great time to get clear pictures, and see the Taj Mahal in beautiful sunset light.
Polluting vehicles are not allowed within 500m of the Taj Mahal grounds. This means that any form of transport (tuktuk, taxi, motorbike taxi) that you get to the gate, will not actually take you all the way up to the gate. Allow another 10 minutes of walking to reach the ticket counter/gate.
Alternatively, with every purchase of a ‘foreigner ticket’, there is the option to take one of the ‘electric cars’ (golf cart type vehicles), free of charge. These depart from the road approaching the East Gate, and ferry passengers to the East Gate ticket counter.
Allow the extra time to get the electric car or walk the extra distance. It took us around 10 minutes to walk from where the tuktuk dropped us, to the East Gate. If you get a cycle rickshaw, they will take you all the way, but will inevitably be slower than a regular tuktuk.
COST: A tuktuk from the backpacker area near the East Gate Road (about a 25 minute walk from the East Gate) cost us 40 rupees for 2. The drivers will try to tell you that you must pay per person, and won’t tell you that they’re not taking you all the way there (until they drop you off in the road, and tell you this is as far a they can go).
WHEN IS IT OPEN?
The Taj Mahal is closed every Friday. It is open during daylight hours, every other day.
The opening times are: 30 minutes before sunrise, until 30 minutes before sunset. Check the sunrise and sunset times on Google before your visit, for the most accurate times.
The ticket counters at both the Eastern and Western Gates are open between 1 hour before sunrise, and 45 minutes before sunset.
WHILST YOU’RE THERE
WHAT’S INCLUDED WITH THE TICKET
Upon purchase of your ticket into the Taj Mahal, you’ll be instructed to walk to another counter. Here, you will be given shoe covers (thin, white socks that stretch over your shoes for entry into the mausoleum), and a small 500ml bottle of water.
WHAT TO BRING
As there is such an extensive list of prohibited items, I would recommend only bringing the essentials. As the ticket comes with a free bottle of water, there is no need to bring one (unless you’re visiting in the summer months, when it is uncomfortably hot). No food is allowed into the Taj Mahal, and anything electrical other than a mobile phone or a camera will not be allowed inside either.
So, bring a camera, your phone, and a pair of sunglasses (if it’s sunny). Bring a small bag if you need to, but remember that there is an airport style security check before you go in, so (if you’re on a tight time schedule) don’t bring anything that might hold you up at security.
NOTE: Like most things in India, there seemed to be a very relaxed feel about security here. So, they may or may not enforce all of the rules stated above.
WHAT NOT TO BRING
There is a large list of things that can’t be taken into the Taj Mahal. You can find the full list here. Alternatively, there are large signs posted along the road leading to the East Gate of the Taj Mahal in Agra. These signs display images of items that are prohibited inside the Taj Mahal.
There is a cloakroom located at the East Gate (and West Gate), where you can temporarily store any prohibited items. Alternatively, there is a luggage storage/cloakroom available at most train stations in Agra, where you can store any large backpacks if you are just visiting Agra for the day.
Some examples of prohibited items are: food, cigarettes/tobacco items, headphones, knives or weapons, electric goods (except cameras) and tripods.
BRINGING A BACKPACK
There is an airport style security check at each gate entering the Taj Mahal, so it is recommended that you don’t bring any large backpacks/bags and/or anything unnecessary. During peak times, the security can back up, with huge numbers of people waiting in line. Therefore, in order to speed up the process (and not spend your morning waiting in a huge queue), it is recommended that you leave any large luggage at your hotel (or in the lockers/cloakroom at the train station, if you’re visiting for just one day), and only bring what you need.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?
The best advice for this topic is: dress modestly. Although there is no dress code for the Taj Mahal, there is certain cultural expectations here. If you dress with your shoulders, knees and/or chest out, you’ll be stared at (and receive more than your fair share of disapproving looks). My advice would be to play it safe, and cover up completely.
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to wear a headscarf and full length trousers and shirts, but it does mean being respectful of local customs. Don’t wear hot pants and a vest, just be mindful of what’s acceptable here.
Our recommendations: If it’s really hot, make sure you’re wearing something light and floaty. Long dresses work well, just make sure they cover your knees and your shoulders (and don’t have your boobs hanging out). Long skirts are also good, with either a floaty shirt of some kind, or a t-shirt with short sleeves (no straps).
In the winter, sunrise can get really cold, so wear lots of layers. Long, tight pants can draw some unwanted attention, but we’ve found them to be acceptable almost everywhere (we’re often found sporting a pair of yoga pants when we’re not sure what to wear). Fleeces, sweatshirts and coats are also pretty much a requirement in the early mornings in Agra.
Note: Remember that the Taj Mahal is a religious site, and that there are mosques inside the the Taj Mahal complex, so dressing conservatively is encouraged.
GETTING A GUIDE
There are a lot of ‘guides’ hanging around outside the Eastern Gate, the ticket counters and even inside the complex. These people will try to show you a FAKE badge and tell you that they will show you around for anything from 100 rupees to 500 rupees. Many will even offer to guide you for free (with the purchase of your ticket).
These people are not official guides, and should not be treated as such. This is a scam, and these people are not official guides. An official, approved guide will charge around 900 rupees.
The main advantage to hiring one of these fake ‘guides’, is that they will take your photo in various locations around the Taj Mahal. They may offer up some advice about the history of the Taj Mahal, but rest assured that their main purpose for most people, is taking their photos (and telling them how to pose: both of you standing on a bench, with arms connecting in a heart shape over the Taj Mahal behind you, anyone?).
So, if you like the sound of that, then definitely get one of these ‘guides’. Just know that they’re not what they are posing as, and that you shouldn’t be paying more than a couple of hundred rupees for their services.
HOW LONG DO I GET?
When we received our ticket receipt, it noted that we were only allowed 3 hours and 10 minutes inside the Taj Mahal. Now, we didn’t test this theory (we only spent about 2 hours inside), so we can’t comment on whether or not it is factually true.
However, the time on the ticket was wrong (by about 20 minutes), and it took about 10 minutes to get through security and into the grounds. Therefore, if you really are tied to the time limit on the printed ticket, you’d probably end up with more like 2 hours and 30 minutes. Just something to bear in mind if you’re planning on staying a while. My advice would be to ask at the ticket counter when purchasing the tickets, if you’re at all worried.
Note: As well as a paper ticket receipt, you will also receive a small, blue chip-coin, which is scanned at the entrance barrier, and then inserted into the exit barrier. This will have your entrance (and ticket purchase) time on it, and is how the time limit COULD be enforced.
WHERE ARE THE BEST PHOTOGRAPH SPOTS?
# 1 : The classic shot of the Taj Mahal is usually taken from the entrance of the Great Gate. Just after you walk through the Gate, you’ll see the water. Here is where most of the iconic Taj Mahal photographs are taken.
# 2 : The Taj Mahal Garden, in the centre of the complex, is where some of the best photos are taken. There is a small platform, and just below, facing the Taj Mahal, there is a little surface by the water for people to stand. If you choose to have your photo taken here, you can ask your ‘guide’ to take it from the platform. You also don’t need to be here early, as the crowds are not as visible (there is a queue of people lining up to have their photo taken here, so no one will be in your way as you take your snaps).
# 3 : The archways of the Kau Ban Mosque are some of the most Instgrammed photos of the Taj Mahal. If you go inside the arches (make sure to the of your shoes here, or put your shoe covers on), and look out toward the Taj Mahal, you can get some amazing shots (our personal favourite being silhouettes of people). Again, ask your guide to take your photo if you need to.
# 4 : After walking up the stairs and onto the Taj Mahal itself, there are some very large doorways to the left and right of the entrance to the mausoleum. These are very big and impressive, and we enjoyed sitting there and having our photo taken to give a sense of the enormous scale of the Taj Mahal.
OTHER FACTS/ THINGS TO CONSIDER
- There is no OFFICIAL dress code for the Taj Mahal. However, it is generally accepted that you must dress appropriately for the culture and area of the world you are in. Therefore, no tight outfits, no revealing outfits, and shoulders, knees and chests must be covered. However, you can THEORETICALLY dress however you want, despite the Taj Mahal being a religious site (with mosques inside the Taj Mahal complex). Just be prepared for lots of stares (if dressed inappropriately), and disapproving looks!
- Wear something bright! Your pictures will look a lot better if you’re wearing a bright outfit. You’ll stand out a lot more, as the Taj Mahal itself is made of white marble.
- You will get stared at. If you’re tall, short, white, black, blonde, brunette, curly haired, straight haired… it doesn’t really matter. If you don’t look like the locals, they are going to stare. A LOT. Get ready to have your photograph taken by everyone, and everyone will probably ask for selfies with you. Note: you can say no.
- You cannot take any photographs inside the mausoleum itself. You can take as many as you want outside (see our ‘top photo spots’ above), but inside, you can’t take any. There is also no shouting or loud talking inside the mausoleum (although a lot of the local guides were ignoring this and talking VERY loudly to their tour groups).
- You must wear the shoe covers inside the mausoleum, or – alternatively – there are free shoe racks by the mausoleum.
- We took our time walking around, but only spent around 2 hours here. We explored both inside and outside the mausoleum, and took our time taking photographs. I would allow a similar amount of time if you are without a guide, maybe more (3 hours) if you are with one.
- Most people enter at the East Gate, as this is closest to the majority of the hotels and hostels/guesthouses. If you’re trying to get there before anyone else (at sunrise), then maybe consider making your way to the Western Gate, or staying in a hotel closer to the Western Gate, as this is the less popular of the two.
- The security check was really quick early morning. We went straight through with no hassles. If you’re carrying bigger bags, expect to take longer, and if you arrive later in the day, expect the same. (NOTE: the security was typical Indian style, and very relaxed, so you may find that you have no issues at all, even if you’re carrying a prohibited item).
- Only use pre-arranged and approved guides, unless you just want a personal camera holder. A lot of ‘guides’ will hang around outside the Eastern Gate, the ticket counters and even inside the complex. These people will usually show a FAKE badge and tell you that they will show you around for free (with the purchase of your ticket). This is a scam, and these people are not official guides. An official, approved guide will charge around 900 rupees.
OUR PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
LAPTOP – Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
SMALL CAMERA – Olympus OMD- E-M10 Mark II
ZOOM LENS – Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm Lens
DSLR BODY – Canon 60D
WIDE ANGLE LENS – Sigma 10-20mm Lens
DRONE – DJI Mavic Pro
ACTION CAMERA – GoPro Hero 7 Black Edition
MICROPHONE – Rode VideoMicro
CAMERA BAG – Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Agra, and in particular, the Taj Mahal. If you are headed to India, this famous mausoleum HAS to be on your list of things to see. It really is worth visiting Agra, even if just to see the Taj Mahal.
If you’re headed anywhere else in India after Agra, check out our guide to Indian sleeper buses here. For more information on how to get up to one year on an Indian e-visa (for just $40), see our post detailing how!
I hope this has helped with planning your visit to the Taj Mahal.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
If you are headed to Agra, view our PART TWO post on Agra, and find out all about visiting the Agra Fort, Agra places to eat, and other things to do in Agra.
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