Many people have tried to describe the Taj Mahal’s beauty. Shah Jahan, the building creator said: “it made the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.” Rudyard Kipling said “It is the embodiment of all things pure” and Rabindranath Tagore described it as a “teardrop on the cheek of eternity.”
Although this may seem like hyperbole, If you were to ask me what I considered to be the most beautiful building I have ever seen, there would be no contest; the Taj Mahal reigns supreme. I’m not alone in this. Each year, over 4 million tourists pass through the complex’s enormous, red sandstone gates in order to catch a glimpse of India’s most visited tourist site and I’m sure that they would tell you the same.
Most visitors already know the story of the Taj’s construction; Built by Shah Jahan in 1631 as a memorial for his 3rd wife who died in childbirth, the main mausoleum took just 8 years to complete, but it wasn’t until 1653 that the finishing touches were added to the complex as a whole. Because of this, it is often described as the world’s greatest monument to love. However, what most people don’t know is that you don’t necessarily have to enter the complex itself to get a great view of the buildings glistening white onion dome. If you want photographs or viewpoints of the Taj Mahal that are a little unique, here are my favorite alternative spots to visit in order to see the white-marble masterpiece.
One of the most mesmerizing views of the Taj Mahal is from the Mehtab Bagh gardens on the Yamuna river’s north bank. Mehtab Bagh is beautiful; a long, lush green lawn dotted with flowering bushes designed to mirror the Taj Mahal’s own decorative gardens. Legend says that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan long planned an exact copy of the Taj to be built in the spot as a tomb for himself, only made entirely of black marble. The idea originates from the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveler who visited Agra in 1665. It was suggested that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangzeb before it could be built.
The perfect time to visit is just before sunset, settling in for a view of the Taj as daylight fades, casting an orangy pink glow on the building’s marble dome. I spent a beautiful evening, sat in complete silence with dozens of other people, gazing in awe at history’s greatest monument to love.
Although it is only a few hundred meters from Agra’s center, getting there and back is a 16 km round trip, taking 20 minutes each way and costing around 150 rupees on an overpriced tuk-tuk. It requires traveling a few kilometers west of the city, crossing the Ambedkar bridge, and then making your way back eastwards to the Taj Mahal viewpoint.
Opening Hours: 6 am – 6 pm
Entry fee: 100 Rs
Aside from the Taj, Agra’s most impressive structure is this red sandstone relic of the Mughal era. Its construction began along the banks of the Yamuna in 1565 by Emperor Akbar and was later embellished with white marble by his grandson, Shah Jahan. What was once a sprawling, a military fortress was transformed into a palace during his reign.
What will strike you most about the fort is its scale. It is 2.5km in circumference and the walls get as high as 20m at some points. Once you get inside, the interior is as impressive as the outer walls. Here you will find stunning structures such as the Shish Mahal (mirror palace), Khas Mahal, Diwan-e-Khas (hall of private audiences), Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) and Nagina Masjid (Gem/Jewel mosque). My advice would be to spend an entire morning or afternoon wandering the various buildings to get everything you can out of your visit. Just make sure to peek out of the rampart windows to catch a distant glimpse of the Taj Mahal.
Opening Hours: 6 am – 6 pm
Entry Fee: 550 Rupees
From the Trails of the Taj Nature Walk
Just a short walk from the Taj Mahal down the East Gate Road sits this lush expanse of parkland, crisscrossed by walking trails, picnic spots and viewpoints. The nature reserve covers 70 acres, stretching from the road towards the banks of the Yamuna and you can expect it to be fairly quiet compared to the rest of Agra if it is a little peace and tranquillity that you’re looking for. I only spotted two other couples walking the trail while I was there.
While it is great for twitchers and nature lovers, the real attraction is the various vantage points dotted around the park, allowing them to see the Taj Mahal from a unique perspective. It’s possible to spend a whole morning exploring the different paths but I found that an hour was enough time.
Opening Hours: 7 am – 6 pm
Entry Fee: 100 Rs. for foreigners, 20 Rs for Indians.
From a Boat on the Yamuna River
It’s the view that you see in most guidebooks or articles; the sun setting over the Taj Mahal while a boatman punts his way across the Yamuna in a wooden boat with the great white onion dome reflecting in the calm waters. Officially, it’s illegal for tourists to take a boat ride on the Yamuna. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, you just have to know where to look and who to ask. After all, who would want to miss out on the best view of the Taj Mahal just for the sake of a few rules?
Most hostels in and around Agra offer this tour (200-250 Rs per person) but I found that the best way is to do it yourself from Dusshera ghat. To reach Dusshera ghat, head to the Taj Mahal’s east gate from Taj East Gate Road and, as soon as you pass the ticket office, take a right and follow the Taj’s perimeter wall all the way to the waterfront. As boat rides are not advertised, it is best to ask around at the jetty to see if anyone will take you. When I visited, there were a few policemen on the jetty but they didn’t seem to mind me hopping aboard a boat. For the best view of the Taj, visit at sunset or sunrise.
We paid 100 rupees (around £1.10) each for a 15 – 20-minute ride.
Check out this blog post for a detailed account of how to take a sunset boat ride at the Taj Mahal.
From a Rooftop Cafe or Restaurant
While it took many tuk-tuk rides, entrance fees and bartering with local boat owners to find all of the best viewpoints of the Taj Mahal, I needed really have bothered. One of the best spots for viewing the famous mausoleum is right in the center of the city, the Taj Ganj, an area popular for budget accommodation. Many of the hotels in this neighborhood have rooftop terraces and cafes, meaning you can grab a coffee and enjoy an unparalleled view of the Taj and the Great Gate. I tried the rooftop of Hotel Saniya Palace and the view was spectacular. The majority of the restaurants around Taj Ganj don’t carry an alcohol license, however, if you ask nicely they will soon find you an ice-cold beer. Just be warned, the food probably won’t live up to the view.