Waking Up To The Taj Mahal

Ticket guy at Taj Mahal: You have to pay 1,000 rupees for the ticket madam.

Me: But….that’s the foreigners ticket price. The Indian ticket is 40 rupees.

Guy: Yes.

Me: But I’m Indian.

Guy: How do I know that? You look like you could be a foreigner.

Me: But…what? We’re literally the same race! What?!

Guy: Can you prove you are Indian?

Me: But… main Chennai mein rehti hoon, kaun si bhasha samajhte hain aap? Naan Chennai le indhu vandirukein. Tamil Nadu India le iruku, theriyuma ungalku?

Guy: Whatever. Can you prove you are an Indian citizen?

Me: I have a PAN card…

Guy: I need to see your passport.

Me: Who brings their passport to the Taj! I’ve left it in the hotel!

Guy: Have you got your Aadhaar Card?

Me: ….no?

Guy: In that case please pay 1,000 rupees for a foreigner ticket.

I had been up since 4am to catch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, managed to wake a sleepy auto driver to take me there in the dark, got to the counter well before it opened, and was mighty proud to be the first in the Indian ladies queue. There are 4 queues – Indian men, Indian women, foreign men, foreign women. Besides me, there were some scruffy hippie Aussie tourists who looked like they had camped outside the Taj to be able to beat the morning lines.

The encounter with the ticket guy made for a rather sour beginning to my first experience of the Taj Mahal – and I knew this could probably be the only time I ever came. My guess is that they get a whole lot of Indian-origin foreign citizens who try to get away with paying the measly Indian rate, which is why I was questioned. Fortunately I had a scanned copy of my passport on my phone, and they finally gave me a 40 rupee ticket when people behind me began getting a bit agitated.

The previous evening, we had caught a glimpse of the world-famous structure from the hotel roof. Not the best first impression!

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The East and West Gates open at 6.30am – we queued at the ticket counter (which opens at 5.45) on the East Gate, which is about 1 kilometre from the actual gate into the monument. Once you’ve purchased your tickets, you get a water bottle and shoe covers which you are to use to hold your footwear before you step on the marble. Then, it’s absolute madness as you have to either leg it to the gate, or take one of the rickshaws/electric golf buggies there. There are no systems or queues or signs, and you just have to rush past others to get a seat on the buggy for 50 rupees per person.

At this point, the Aussies had started to have a tiny panic attack, because they searched for a queue or someone to tell them what to do.

Once you get to the gate, you queue once again in 4 separate lines, and security comes along to punch your tickets and check your belongings. Remember you cannot carry sharp objects or food, so only take the bare minimum you need to.

Once again, I got asked if I was Indian, but they let me through when I spoke to them in rapid Hindi. Then the gate opens at 6.30 – but wait, there’s more security and you have to put your bags through a scanner. The sun had already risen by now and the English lads alongside me were beginning to showcase their swear-y vocabulary.

Then they ran like the wind to get pictures of the Taj before other people could ruin their shots. And even though I was one of the first people in,  I was too late.

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The Taj Mahal is an indescribably beautiful structure. How much Shah Jahan must have loved his wife! This mausoleum is the crowning glory of Mughal architecture. It’s been designed to inspire awe, and it does exactly that. Its impressive beauty is in its symmetry, geometry, scale, surrounding features, fountains and gardens. Watching the rising sun light it up is completely worth the early morning hassle.

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We downloaded the Taj audio tour from AudioCompass which gave us the ability to wander around at our own pace. We took a good three hours admiring the various structures, architectural details and unique marble inlay work.taj6 taj9 taj15 taj16 taj19 taj20

The most exciting part was the troop of monkeys that decide to vandalise the fountains, shake out the trees and rummage through the gardens, while the gardeners chased after them with sticks!

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Quick notes:

  • Carry a government ID that also has your address on it – this is only for Indian citizens. Foreigners pay a 1,000 rupees to get in, no questions asked.
  • Security is very strict so only carry absolute essentials. Cameras are allowed, but videography is restricted.
  • It is worth paying the professional photographers who you will see walking around with DSLR cameras 100 rupees per photo – they know all the perfect spots and poses, and you will save tons of time figuring out the perfect picture.
  • Waking up at 4am sounds painful, but it’s the TAJ MAHAL! You’re probably not going to see it twice, so just wake up early to catch the sunrise.
  • Check weather before you travel – if it’s hazy you will see nothing.
  • You can go right inside to see the elaborate marble sarcophagi of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, but you cannot take pictures of them.
  • Do NOT take pictures of the soldiers who guard the monument, no matter how handsome they are. They WILL come after you, and they WILL make you delete the pics. If you resist, they will take your camera away.
  • The five star hotels may be able to assist you with a ticket, or you may be able to buy one a day in advance to avoid ticket queues.
  • Do not fall for the “Night View of the Taj” promotions. This is what you will get.

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