The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum of white marble, built between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife. Taj Mahal means "Crown Palace"; one of the wife's names was Mumtaz Mahal, "Ornament of the Palace". The Taj is one of the most well preserved and architecturally beautiful tombs in the world, one of the masterpieces of Indian Muslim architecture, and one of the great sites of the world's heritage.
The Taj has a life of its own that leaps out of marble, provided you understand that it is a monument of love. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore called it "a teardrop on the cheek of eternity", while the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold, said it was "Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones." It is a celebration of woman built in marble and that’s the way to appreciate it.
Despite being one of the most photographed edifices in the world and being instantly recognisable, its physical presence is awe-inspiring. Not everything is in the photos. The grounds of the complex include several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools, and extensive ornamental gardens with flowering trees and bushes, and a small gift shop. The Taj framed by trees and reflected in a pool is amazing. Close up, large parts of the building are covered with inlaid stonework.
There is an apocryphal tale that Shah Jahan planned to build an exact copy out of black marble on the opposite side of the river. His plans were foiled by his son, who murdered three elder brothers and overthrew his father to acquire the throne. Shah Jahan is now buried alongside his wife in the Taj Mahal.
If you're taking a camera, beware that because the Taj is white your camera may underexpose your photos. If it's a film camera you won't find out until it's too late. Overexposure by 1 or 2 stops is recommended.
The Taj is open from 6 AM to 7:30 PM every day except Friday. Entry costs Rs. 250 (plus levy) for foreigners and Rs. 20 for Indians. Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds, and plan to visit the Taj at least two different times during the day (dusk and dawn are best) in order to experience the full effect of changing sunlight on the amazing building. It is also utterly stunning under a full moon.
The Taj is located pretty much in the middle of town. Expect a line to get into the grounds. There are three gates. The western gate is the main gate where most tourists enter. A large number of people turn up on weekends and public holidays and entry through the western gate may take hours. The southern and eastern gates are much less busy and should be tried on such days.
Security is tight, so leave behind any pocketknives, as well as chewing gum, cigarettes, or anything that could mark the building. Cell phones are allowed inside the complex, providing they are on silent. Guidebooks are to be left at the booths on either side of the entrances. Do this before you get into the line to get in.
There are night viewing sessions on the nights of a full moon and the two days before and after (so five days in total). Exceptions are Fridays (the Muslim sabbath) and the month of Ramadan.