The magical Taj Mahal

What can I say about a monument that is recognized globally as an icon of splendour and eternal love?

How do you photograph one of the most recognized structures in the world?

The only thing I can say is this – Despite all the hype. Despite the high expectations. Despite the disappointments of the previous night (see below)… as soon as I walked through the west gate… I was enchanted by the magic of the Taj Mahal.

There is so much more to it than the white marble tomb. The monument is an integrated complex of structures, each beautiful layer peeling away to reveal another… The outer bazaar area, the grand red sandstone Gateway, the Charbagh (gardens), the mosque and the jawab flanking the mausoleum and even the symmetrically planned Mehtab Bagh (the moonlit gardens) across the Yamuna . And of course the pièce de résistance (which you wont find in photographs) – the intricately carved marble jalis and the gorgeous inlay work with precious and semi precious stones that adorns the inner sanctum containing the cenotaphs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan.

Here’s my attempt at different views of the “crown of palaces”…

When I started doing some research for our trip to Agra, I learned that for 5 nights a month, on and around the full moon, the Taj Mahal is open for moonlight viewing. And was delighted to discover that the dates of our trip happened to coincide with such a period. However, some last minute glitches laid our plans awash. Then we managed to wrangle an invitation to a location that offered a lovely view of the monument, but unfortunately weather played spoilsport…it was windy, drizzling in bits and the moon was mostly hidden behind the clouds.  Long story short, I did not end up getting any half decent night shot.

But, for those of you who might want to witness this wonder under the moonlight, here is some information on the night viewing (that I wish I had known before my trip):

  • Night viewing is allowed on the night of the full moon, two nights before and two nights after, except on Fridays and during the month of Ramzan. Dates are provided on the UP tourism website, but may change slightly (the website doesn’t seem to be updated often), so best to check closer to your date of travel.
  • Viewing is in half an hour slots starting from 8:30pm, ending at 12:30 am. Only 50 tickets are available per slot, making a total of 400 per night. Bear in mind that the moon may not be in an ideal position to cast a glow on the structure, during your chosen timeslot.
  • Tickets can only be purchased only 24 hours in advance (not earlier and also not on the day itself). It is best to book through the concierge of the hotel you are staying at, or a tour agent.
  • A copy of your photo ID, details of name, date of  birth and nationality is required to be submitted to the Archeological Survey of India for purchasing the tickets. Their office hours are 10am-6pm.
  • Cost for Indians is INR 510 and INR 750 for foreigners and tickets are not transferable. They can be cancelled up till 1 pm on the day of viewing.
  • Viewing is only allowed from the first platform, which is close to the main Gateway. Cameras are allowed but tripods are not.
  • You are required to arrive at least half an hour before your allotted time slot.
  • In you don’t want to or aren’t able to purchase the moonlight viewing tickets, there are several hotels in the vicinity that offer a view of the Taj, which you could stay in or have a meal at, to enjoy its night time glory.

P.S. The overcast sky didn’t do much good for my images the next morning either, but at least we got pleasant weather in which to soak in the magnificence of the place at a leisurely pace. I would highly recommend a visit at sunrise to avoid heavy crowds.

P.P.S. All images unedited, and straight from the camera.