Posted by: Tommy | April 3, 2011

The Taj Mahal

We almost didn’t go to the Taj Mahal.  Yeah, we know – it’s the most famous building…the most famous thing, period, in India.  And initially, we planned on going.  But the more we talked to people, the more we heard that it wasn’t worth it.  Agra is a giant tourist trap, the Taj is expensive, the Indians there are pushy (unlike the rest of India, surprisingly) and there’s nothing else to see there.  We went anyway, mostly because the train schedule worked and we might have regretted it to be so close and not make it.  And what we found out…all the things we heard are true – and it was still worth it.

We arrived in Agra on an overnight train from Sawai Madhopur (tiger safari place).  We thought we might be able to go straight from the train to the Taj (sunrise is supposed to be the best time to see it) but our train was delayed.  We ended up getting in at 7am.  We checked into a hotel that was the #1 recommendation by the guide book.  Like the rest of Agra, it was grimy, overpriced and didn’t smell great.  After 5 weeks of eating Indian food, we headed to Cafe Coffee Day (aka Indian Starbucks) for muffins.  I like Indian food – we regularly seek it out in Dallas – but it gets a little one note after a while (like anything) and doesn’t make a good breakfast in the first place.

We talked about going to the Taj the following morning at sunrise, but when we walked by after breakfast there was no line.  Hey, let’s go right now.  We went back to the hotel to drop off our bag (no bags allowed) and they informed us that you have to buy tickets for the Taj. At the ticket office, not the gate.  Which is a 20 minute walk.  Hmm, seems like a stupid system.  But whatever, we’d decided to go, so we walked to the ticket office.  We were shocked to find out that it costs 750 Rupees ($16.50) each.  That might seem reasonable to someone in the States, but it’s a fortune in India.  Most tourist attractions are 100-200 Rupees and include an audio guide or something.  But we were already there, so we paid it.  1500 R is actually more than our daily budget in India – we’ve been very comfortable on 1350 per day.

Yeah, Agra is all the things we heard about – it smells, the people are constantly trying to screw you on every purchase, the Taj is expensive and if that’s the best hotel I’d hate to see the worst.  But the Taj delivered.  You walk through the entry gate and get your first glimpse of the huge (it was much larger than I expected) white dome.  The pristine garden leads your eye straight to the dome and makes it impossible not to be impressed.  It’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen – I guess Notre Dame (or maybe the Tower in Austin, glowing orange with a giant 1 on it) would be second but it’s not close.

The Taj Mahal

We walked around the building, took 150 pictures and went inside and looked at the tombs.  The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emporer when his favorite wife died to be her tomb.  Eventually, his son usurped his throne, killed him and buried the former emporer beside her in the Taj as well.  It was actually not the most expensive thing that particular emporer commissioned – he had a throne built that was solid gold with precious stones, including a 191 carat diamond (at the time, the largest in the world) that cost twice as much as the Taj.  Twice as much! For a chair!

After walking around, seeing the Taj from every conceivable angle, we were asked by an American couple to take a few of them together.  We took theirs, they took ours and then we started talking.  It turns out they have been living in Thailand and traveling all over Southeast Asia for the last year.  Anna had just started trip research for that leg of our trip and had a ton of questions.  They had 2 weeks left in India and were going to Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur – where we’d just left.  We ended up sitting in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, talking to some New Yorkers, for 3 hours.  We made plans to meet up later and share a cab across the river to view the Taj at sunset from a different vantage point. 

There wasn’t much else to do in Agra.  We ate lunch, we did some laundry and we worked on some stuff online.  The Taj view from the river was ok, but Agra is so polluted and smoggy that the sunset didn’t have much effect.  A clearer sky would really help.  We left the next morning on the train for Delhi and the next part of our journey.  If I were advising people in the same situation, I’d probably tell them the same thing – if you missed it, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  I’m glad we went, though – but I’ll never go back.

Us, at the Taj


  1. ok – this is a bit weird to read about you being at the Taj but seeing Anna in church today. How does one do that?

  2. By scheduling blog posts in advance. Because we were both going to be without internet for a while (and frequently internet is hard to find, we write a lot of stuff when we have internet and just space it out for posting. We were at the Taj about 2 weeks ago.

  3. There are some things you just have to see and I am sure this is one of them. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. It sounds amazing. I am glad you didn’t have to stay there long.

  4. where are your shoes, Tommy?

  5. […] 0 minutes for the entire day, so it qualifies. Tommy’s Top 5 Coolest Sites: Petra Ta Prohm Taj Mahal Sossusvlei Bethlehem Anna’s Top 5 Coolest Sites: Kremlin Pyramids Stations of the Cross […]

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