When we decided to go to the night viewing, we had no idea what time we would be getting tickets. They could have been anywhere from 8:30 until 12 midnight. While midnight is considered a desirable time, the moon is higher in the sky putting out more light, it wasn’t desirable since we wanted to leave the hotel at 6am the next morning.
None of the hotel restaurants opened until 6am so we left before we had a chance to get anything to eat, but when you are on vacation, it never hurts to skip a meal once in a while, plus we were expected to be back in our room by 10 am in time for an early lunch or late breakfast.
Agra’s streets were fairly empty at 6am as we left the Doubletree and headed to the Taj Mahal, less than 10 minutes away. Having visited the Taj the night before we were aware of all the restrictions and even though they’re not quite as restrictive during the day we opted to leave most of our stuff in the bus anyway. The biggest difference between night and day are an absolute ban on any bags and mobile phones, while both are permitted during the daytime hours.
Once again we arrived at the Eastern Gate Ticket office, which is a small building where they sell tickets. Included in the price of our ticket is a bottle of water and shoe covers we would need to wear when we went inside the Taj Mahal itself. Since we already bought tickets at Fort Agra, we were able to bypass this line and go directly to the counter to get our free water and shoe covers. While touring the Taj Mahal we saw numerous signs directly people with High Value Tickets to go this way or that way – as opposed to people with General Value Tickets. Foreigners are required to purchase a High Value Ticket for 740Rs ($11.22 USD) while Indian citizens can pay a General Value ticket for 20Rs or about 30 cents USD. High Value Ticket Holders get diverted to different lines that are generally shorter and other special preferences.
From the ticket office building to the Taj Mahal security entrance is about ½ mile. You can either walk, wait for a free shuttle bus or take a Bicycle Rickshaw for 50 Rs (75 cents USD). We chose to take a Rickshaw simply for the experience and it was much like a Pedi- Cab that you see in various cities in the USA. The Rickshaw dropped us off near the entrance where we went thru the standard Agra monument security check. Since this is the Taj Mahal, they take the inspections more seriously and there is a separate line for men and women, since men can be frisked in public while women are always frisked inside a small tent, out of view, by a female security guard.
- NOTE: The tickets issued for night viewing are printed with your name so you can’t scalp them or let someone else use them. They do check your passport very carefully against the name on your ticket. So don’t forget to print some ID when you go to the night viewing. ID is not required for the daytime viewing as the tickets are not specific to an individual. You can also use the Western Gate or the Southern Gate, but the eastern gate can accommodate larger vehicles and has parking which is why I think most tourists end up using the eastern gate. If you are in a sedan, you may have more options.
We arrived at the security entrance around 6:45 am to find the line was about 15 minutes long, it grew even longer as we stood there. But when we left the Taj Mahal around 9:45, the line was non-existent and the Taj Mahal looked about the same as it did at 6:45. Consider waiting until around 8 am or so as I suspect you will avoid the rush and also the picture spots inside will be less crowded. People come early thinking that the sun will rise over the Taj Mahal for a beautiful picture, but the main viewing angle, the reflecting pool, runs North South, so the sun will rise off to the right side regardless.
If you don’t have a bag/purse you will be able to skip the secondary screening of people with bags and save 5 to 10 minutes by avoiding this line. Many women didn’t realize they could skip this second line if they didn’t have a bag, so pay attention once you get frisked and walk around the bag/purse inspection line if you don’t have a bag/purse. We did observe two girls with a Portugal flag in their bag being politely ask to return the flag to their car, not sure how they got thru the bag check in the first place.
After we passed thru the eastern gate security we walked a couple hundred yards to the main gate building which is quite beautiful in its own right. Up to now we couldn’t see the Taj Mahal as we were too close and it is hidden behind other building. When we finally walked north toward the entrance to the Taj Mahal we were able to see it for the first time thru the opening in the main gate building. At first we could only see the bottom part of the Taj Mahal in the distance, but as we got closer, the complete Taj Mahal comes into view framed by the opening in the Main Gate building. At this point it almost looks like a photograph off in the distance and only when we passed thru the Main Gate Building could we see the complete Taj Mahal, with the morning sun glistening off the familiar dome.
You can’t help but stare for a few minutes as you absorb the scene you have seen so many times before in photographs. The building is beautiful and serene and creates a sense of wonder as you try to absorb this amazing creation a mere 500 meters away. I have been to many temples, churches and mosques over the years and this is at the top of that list rivalled closely by the interior of St Peters Basilica. We recently toured Angkor Wat and that structure, while impressive, is really not in the same league as the Taj Mahal.
We would spend the next 3 hours slowly walking to and from this magnificent structure, taking photographs all along the way. It was a little crowded early, but never so crowed you couldn’t wait for a moment to get a clear picture. An hour later it was even less crowded and some of the popular photo spots were almost empty. We were told that it picks up again in the afternoon and around sunset it can be insanely crowded. As the sun won’t set behind the Taj, I don’t think that the lighting would be much different than in the morning when the crowds are much less.
As we continued our walk toward the Taj Mahal we stopped for some photos by some local professional who are selling them on speculation, much like they do on the ship. I was a little suspicious at first, but our guide said they were good and wanted no money up front – only after we saw the pictures and then they were only 100 Rs or about $1.50 USD for a 6 x 8. Not a bad price after we have been used to buying them from the photo shop on the ship. I would encourage you to take advantage of them, only if your guide recommends, as the pictures we bought were pretty good. I will post some later when I get back to my scanner on the ship. If they want money up front, avoid them, as the licensed photographers only work on speculation. They will meet you afterwards outside the gate with your pictures – don’t worry – they WILL find you.
Our guide knew all the spots to take the classic Taj Mahal Photos, including the one where you appear to be holding the Taj Mahal by the dome. A little corny, but we did it anyway.
As we approached the Taj Mahal, we were diverted to the left since we were High Value Ticket holders. We avoided mixing in with locals, not that we would mind, but the people who run the place seem to make sure the “High Value Ticket Holders” are treated differently. This is where you either take off your shoes, as I did, or put on the shoe covers you received back when you bought your ticket. If you lost your cover you can buy another from a man selling them nearby who will also help you take then on and off – the price is either 10Rs or 20Rs.
- NOTE: You will find it useful to have a handful of 10 and 20 Rs notes to use for small purchases or to give as tips for minor services like having someone help take your shoe covers off.
Going inside the Taj requires climbing about 50 steps, not too bad, but be ready. While there are ramps to get around most of the monument, wheel chairs are not allowed onto the Taj Mahal itself. This may change and I am not totally tuned into accessibility requirements, but if this is a requirement for you, make sure you investigate thoroughly in advance.
Some people waited to take off their shoes once they reached the top of the steps rather than at the bottom. As we were leaving, were heard a series of thuds as we watched the guards tossing all the shoes over the railing from the top of the stairs onto the lower level 22 feet below.
On the way back to the entrance we lingered again at some different view spots for pictures and after 3 hours from when we entered we were back outside the grounds. The photographer who took our pictures inside found our group and we bought all 7 pictures for about $10 USD.
We were back in our Hotel shortly and had about 90 minutes to eat breakfast, freshen up and get checked out to meet our driver at 11:30 am to continue our tour with a visit to the Baby Taj and then the Mehtab Bagh (which is a park on the Yamuna River where we could look south and see the Taj from a different perspective.
The Baby Taj was built a few years before they started working on the Taj Mahal and only took 6 years as opposed to the 22 years for the Taj. This tomb represents a transition of Mughal architecture where everything was built in red sandstone to the second phase where they used white marble which is best realized with the Taj Mahal. After we saw the Taj Mahal, nothing else really compares despite this being a beautiful building in its own right. We spent about 1 hour wandering thru the tomb and the surrounding grounds.
Our final stop before heading back to Delhi would be a park called Mehtab Bagh, which provided different views of the Taj Mahal from the other side of the Yamuna River. Since the Taj is completely symmetrical, the building looks the same, but the background and sun angles are different. I recommend stopping here to complete your Taj Mahal Experience.
On our way back to our bus, we noticed a group of 4 young boys playing a game of cricket amidst the dusty fields, scrub brush and tangled trees. There were using a pile of bricks as wickers and were having a wonderful time chasing the ball thru the brush and trees after it was hit. One of the people in our group is still in his twenties so he couldn’t resist asking them if he could take a turn as the batsman and see if he could hit the ball. He managed to nail the first ball sending it soaring into the brush, but the next few pitches were harder and more bouncing making them difficult to hit squarely. It was great fun to watch and have one of us take part in a pickup cricket game . It reminded me of how we would play baseball is strange conditions when growing up in the USA.
As I mentioned earlier, yesterday was the eve of the Holi Holiday. Today many people were celebrating Holi Day by tossing balloons filled with colored dye, powder and other substances. Road side vendors are selling color filled balloons for this purpose and occasionally we saw a group of people frolicking and tossing color balloons at their friends or passersby’s. If you didn’t want to get colorized, you best stay clear of people who were tossing the colors as anyone in the area was considered fair game. (At first Judy thought it would be fun to join the celebration. She changed her mind when she found out that the colors don’t wash out of clothes and stay on the skin and hair for up to a week)
Even though today was a dry day to honor the holiday – no alcohol served – many young men were in a festive mood and managed to get quite drunk. On one occasion we saw them start to fight amongst the selves outside a road side shop. A few minutes later, the local police arrived, carrying some long sticks but we didn’t hang around to see how it ended. The police appeared to be in no mood for playing around and were probably ready to use their long sticks to quickly restore order if necessary.
Our drive back to New Delhi was the reverse of our trip down to Agra yesterday. More of the same all the way back, but because of the Holiday, the roads were almost deserted in Delhi and we made great time driving thru the city to our hotel “The Le Meridien” near central New Delhi. If I had to do it over again, I would probably go back to the Hilton Garden Inn in Saket as there was much more going on right outside the hotel. New Delhi is not like Paris where you will want to wander about interesting streets and parks. Unfortunately whenever you venture outside, you will soon be solicited for rides in Tuk Tuk’s, donations, and everything else imaginable, and you will be followed continuously, which doesn’t make you want to spend much time strolling the streets – at least not here. There may be other spots or times when it is OK.
We were in our rooms by about 7pm and stayed put getting some rest until the next morning.This entry was posted in Uncategorized