Visiting the Taj Mahal has been a lifelong dream for me, so you can imagine how excited I was to visit last week as part of a small group tour with TD Active Holidays. Before visiting the Taj Mahal for the first time, I was pretty clueless about the best time to visit, how strict they are about letting people in and what the best times to visit are. I actually hoped to see the Taj Mahal at sunset but turns out due to haze and pollution in Agra, and the direction in which the sun sets in relation to the Taj Mahal, sunset isn’t really a good time to visit.
Visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise
Sunrise is by far the best time to visit the Taj Mahal. Not just because the early morning light turns the dome of the temple a soft, golden colour, but because this is the time when there are the least amount of tourists and if you get in early enough, you might even get some perfect portraits with no people in them.
There’s also something magical about watching the sun rise behind the Taj Mahal, a building that symbolises one of the greatest true love stories ever told. I’m sure other times of day can be nice too, and if you’re travelling to the Taj Mahal with kids, for example, getting up at the crack of dawn might not be an option.
Best time to arrive at the Taj Mahal
While I’m sure it’s clear to you by now that sunrise is the best time to visit, I want to emphasise that the earlier you get there, the better. I didn’t realise how tight security would be, and how long the queue to get i would be so early in the morning. It’s honestly like going through security at the airport, with bag and body scanners to pass through.
We arrived at the Taj Mahal at around 6am and there were already big crowds in front of us in the ticket queue. Our guide queued up to get tickets for us all, and as part of the package every one is given one bottle of water and disposable shoe covers.
What NOT to bring into the Taj Mahal
You CANNOT bring in your own water bottle into the Taj Mahal, only the water bottle supplied with your tickets. You also cannot bring in any liquids (think mosquito repellant, sunscreen, hand sanitizer etc), any food or drink or anything that isn’t really needed. No lighters, no cigarettes. Seriously just bring your camera, phone, spare lens and that’s it. They are also very strict about professional photography and videos so best to leave the tripod at home. We were told selfie sticks were prohibited but there were quite a few tourists inside using there.
The smaller your bag, the quicker you get in. They actually have two queues at one stage – one for people with hand bags and small rucksacks and one for people with no bags at all. If you want to get those perfect photos, bring AS LITTLE as possible.
How to get into the Taj Mahal
One you’ve got your ticket, shoe covers and water, you join one of 4 queues. One for male foreigners, one for female foreigners, one for female locals, one for male locals. Queue takes about 10 – 15 minutes at sunrise and probably much longer later in the day. You walk through a body scanner, a woman pats you down, your bags get scanned, and then your free to check out the Taj Mahal for as long a you like. In my case….RUN to get that shot before the crowds arrive!
Photographing the Taj Mahal
Perfect reflection shots
Once you walk through the main gates, you will no doubt stand in awe for a few moments at your first glimpse go one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. it really is a sight to behold, so beautiful and so perfect that it actually looks photoshopped no matter what angle you look at it from! You can get some nice shots from this raised platform but to get those much coveted reflection shots you’ll need to walk down into the gardens, into the middle of the ground and crouch down by the blue-tinted ponds and play around with angles until you find that perfect shot. The first pond has a fence around it so you can’t take photos too close to the water, but the second pond, in front of the famous “Princess Diana bench” has no fence and it the perfect place to get photos. If you’re early enough, you can get shots with no tourists. If you’re planning on visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise, these shots are a must!
Through the golden arches
My next stop was the red mosque to the left of the Taj Mahal. if you’re here early enough, just as the sun is rising in the distance, the perfect rays shine right into the arches on the mosque. The arches frame the Taj Mahal perfectly and you can always find a perfect symmetry shot. This is where I took one of my favourite shots of the day.
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Get up close
Many photographers are so fixated on photographing the Taj from a distance, they forget to get a little closer and appreciated the details of this architectural masterpiece. While you can’t take shots inside, you can take them outside the main dome which is a stunning building that has to be seen up close to be fully appreciated. The tiles, the arches, the white dome. lovers sitting around admiring the world’s greatest love story, people crying at the sight of a symbol that have longed to see all their lives.
As one of the most photographed buildings in the world, it can be difficult to take a photo that doesn’t look like every other shot of the Taj Mahal. Try walking around and thinking outside the box. Make use of the gardens, the unique flowers that bloom and even that thick haze from the pollution that can make for an atmospheric shot. The river at the back of the Taj Mahal can also make for a nice backdrop for pics.
From the Mehtab Bagh park
If you have some spare time in Agra, I recommend going to Mehtab Bagh park for sunset. This park is across the river from the back of the Taj Mahal and is a fun place to get more unique shots of the temple. Sadly the river water has receded in recent years which means you can no longer get those perfect river reflection shots that photographers in the past were able to shoot. The park is a relaxing place to spend an hour or two, there are trees, gardens and perfectly planted flower beds to help frame your alternative photo of the Taj Mahal. There were many women walking around carrying heavy loads on their heads. We stopped to talk to a few and for a small donation they allowed us to photograph them and even posed for some portraits.