A date with the Taj Mahal at Sunrise in Agra

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Uttar Pradesh | 71

If it is your first time in India, there is no missing the Taj Mahal. For that matter, for those of us in India, if you are in Agra, there is no missing this monument either, even if you have seen it umpteen times. Naturally, if our last stop of the Indo-Nepal Road trip Indo-Nepal Road trip was Agra, the Taj Mahal was an obvious thing to do. The question was when to see it – early morning or late night for that night was a full moon night. I was okay with either as long as I saw the Agra Fort as a prelude to the epic monument.

One of the Golden Pavilions along the Anguri Bagh of Agra Fort

The debate among my co-travelers continued on the best time to see the Taj . The issue settled with the fact that we were late to get the limited tickets sold to witness the romance of the full moon and Taj Mahal. It was clear that I was going to have a Sunrise Date with the Taj this time. This was all well for not only did I have the perfect date with it but with all the privacy I could get. There was no one between us – just me and the Taj Mahal in the first ray of light.

Am I exaggerating? Hell no! Best I share the tale with you of my date with the Taj Mahal at Sunrise. However, first an introduction to my date.

History of Taj Mahal

Most of us know the story of Taj Mahal – An emperor – Shah Jahan who built it for his wife – Mumtaz Mahal, after her death. She actually died elsewhere (Zainabad Gardens of Burhanpur) and was later moved to Agra. She died after giving birth to 14 children and after the Emperor made this monument of love, he was imprisoned by his son at the Agra Fort, where he spent 8 years of his life gazing at the Taj Mahal, before he died. I can go into details but I think given the popularity of the story, it is best to just list down some facts about my date – the Taj Mahal.

A glimpse of the Taj Mahal from the Khas Mahal Jhali windows at Agra Fort
  • The Taj Mahal is built of white Marble that was brought in from Makrana in Rajasthan.
  • Semi Precious jewels were imported from several places to be included into the floral motifs of Taj – Sapphires, Lapis Lazuli, Jade and Crystal – from China and other places in Asia.
  • It took 20,000 artisans, under the guidance of Ustad Ahmad Lahori to build the Taj Mahal.
  • The UNESCO world heritage site is one of the 7 Wonders of the World
  • It took almost 17 years to build this entire 42 acre complex of Taj Mahal

Ther are plenty of controversies and myths centered around the Taj Mahal. However, I for one, am not going to dwell on those for I want to just relive that amazing time that I had with the monument. So, without much ado – let’s get on with my story.

The Prologue to my visit to the Taj Mahal

They say “whatever happens, happens for the best”.  It was good that we missed our tickets for the midnight romance with the Taj for that night, the full moon hid behind the clouds. Unseasonal showers ended up messing the show and the worse part of it, there was a complete blackout in Agra with the electricity getting affected. Peak Summer season had us toss and turn in our beds for even the generator did not work.

The Oyo Homes in Agra

It was destiny to ensure that I got all the privacy that I needed for my morning tryst. The next morning we were to gather around by 4 am but only Sudipto my fellow blogger and me, were up and ready to go. The rest of them and the Agra visitors decided to sleep it for it was only then that the power was restored. “Perfect” I said to myself as I hopped onto an auto that left us at the ticketing counter of the Taj Mahal.

Bleary Eyed Queue to the Taj Mahal

The pathway to Taj Mahal from the Ticket office

Getting the tickets was a piece of cake for the window had just opened and everyone was busy rubbing their eyes. We were warned about not carrying any bags or tripods and after a quick check, Sudipto and me made our way to the Eastern gate on a battery operated vehicle. The cool morning breeze did little to clear my bleary eyes and I almost sleepwalked into the Ladies queue only to realize that I was the first in line. Wait! Did I say first?

Adrenaline Jolt at the first sight of the Taj Mahal

A view of the Jilan Khana area of the Taj Mahal from the gate

It was almost as if destiny favored me – as if Taj Mahal wanted that space with me only. And that realization had me wide awake for the moment the gate opened and the security check done, I rushed along the large courtyard called the Jilan Khana, focused on getting to the main gateway called the Darwaza-i-Rauza to capture just the hero of the place – the Taj Mahal.

Darwaza-i-Rauza of Taj Mahal
The grand gate to the Taj Mahal - Darwaza-i- Rauza

Tada! I was literally the first to greet Taj Mahal that day except that I just stopped dumbfounded at its first sight from the gateway. For once, I forgot my camera. I just gazed at that monument of love – the white against the blue sky with shades of pink as the first rays of light fell on it. It was the Moment – where it was just Taj Mahal and me and no one else.

The first glimpse of the Taj Mahal

I crashed back to reality as another visitor rushed passed me to the vantage point past the Darwaza-i-Rauza. I remembered that I needed to capture that moment quickly before the rest rushed in and thus, came on my “Shutterbug Mode”.

Taj Mahal in the first burst of light from Darwaza-i-Rauza

Don’t miss the optical illusion that you can experience as you go past the gate. The Taj suddenly shrinks as you go closer.

A walk through the Char Bagh of Taj Mahal

There was that strange irritation and a frenzy that I felt as the crowd poured in. It was like an intrusion to that special moment where the Taj Mahal was only for me. I felt this urge to beat the crowd and get my intimate moments before they reached the actual Mausoleum. And so I did.

Charbagh with the perfect reflection of the Taj Mahal at dawn

The manicured lawns of the Taj Mahal were based on the Persian gardens called the Char Bagh. They were used by Babur and later in various other places like the Humayun’s tomb in Delhi. In fact, a lot of the design of the Taj Mahal was inspired by Humayun’s tomb. Though one major difference here was that unlike the typical Char Bagh where the tomb is the center of the 4 pathways in the garden (4 = Char in Hindi) , this one had the tomb placed at the end, by the river Yamuna. Instead, at the center of the pathway was a raised marble platform with a pool that had this perfect reflection of the Taj Mahal.

A little vintage with this view of Taj Mahal from the central fountain of Bagh-i-firdaus-a'in

The concept of Char Bagh is that of the gardens of Eden with each of the channels of fountains (called Chabutara) represent the rivers of Paradise. Char Bagh is the general terminology for these kinds of gardens but the one in Taj Mahal is specifically referred to as the Bagh-i-Firdaus-a’in. It was not just the Taj Mahal that looked gorgeous, but even the Darwaza-i-Rauza that looked stunning from here.

Darwaza-i-Rauza of Taj Mahal with its reflection

I could have sat on that marble bench and gazed at the Taj Mahal just as its creator Shah Jahan must have but the frenzy to get closer before the others do, had me on my feet. I edged past the pool in the center to the grand Marble platform where the Taj stood a little fractured – one of its minarets had scaffoldings as it was undergoing renovation.

Getting past the crowd to capture the Taj Mahal at dawn

Circling Around the Taj Mahal

The blush of pink as I gazed at the Taj Mahal from the ground

Climbing up the raised platform, I gazed out at the Taj who blushed pink at the sight of me and the rising sun. It was funny as to how it had suddenly changed its colors and magical too, in some way. I continued my conversation with it as I circled around the marble wonder, capturing its intricate qualities at the base level. Mind you, I still had to climb the raised marble platform for right now, I was just on the red sandstone one.

Taj Mahal as seen from the Mihman Khana

The Mihman Khana or the Guesthouse was where I wandered, taking in the walls and ceiling of the guest house of the Taj Mahal. This is where princes and visitors came in when they wanted to pay their respect to the Taj. The walls were intricated with their red floral carvings and I could have explored some more but my attention kept getting diverted to the Taj.

Mihman Khana of the Taj Mahal
Inside the Mihmaan Khana
Circling around the Taj Mahal

I circled around to the other side to find a symmetrical building that was the Taj Mahal Mosque. This is faced Mecca as was the norm. The truth as I discovered was that this was where Mumtaz Mahal’s body was kept before she was shifted to her rightful place in the Taj Mahal. The pool before the Mosque was kept for ablutions and just to maintain the symmetry, a similar building was made on the opposite side – the one that I had already explored – the Mihman Khana.

The Taj Mahal mosque on the West of the monument with its pool for ablutions before a prayer

Paying respect to the couple

The main mausoleum at the Taj

I really could not wait any longer and thus, climbed up the raised marble platform to be with the Taj. I thought I would be calm but somehow being there and touching those walls complete with their floral artwork and gemstone inlays, got my heart fluttering. It was somehow more beautiful than what I remembered from my last visit. Or was it just the fact that it was the morning light that made it so. It did not matter somehow at that time, as I continued capturing the moment into my camera.

Close-up of one of the Minarets of the Taj Mahal
Marble engravings along the wall of Taj
Gem stone inlays and Floral motifs along the walls of the Taj Mahal

I kept away my camera as I entered the Mausoleum to pay my respects to its creator and his muse. Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal lay there in their graves finally at peace. The real graves at a lower level are not open for general public else, I would have loved to go there in person. For now, I had to be content with the ones at this level . A silent prayer said, I circled around the tomb. The outer chambers on the east were lit up brilliantly with the sunrise creeping in and a kind security guard allowed me one picture on my mobile before I stepped out of the tomb.

Outer chambers of the tomb

By this time the sun had risen completely and the crowd had started thickening. With the invasion of our privacy, it was time to exit the Taj Premises and find another spot where we could just be alone.

The crowd at the time I exited the Taj Mahal

A romantic ride on Yamuna with the Taj Mahal

Our troop had discovered that we could do a short ride on the Yamuna to capture the glory of Taj. And so, Sudipto and I exited the main gates of Taj to make our way to the river shore. A quick call to the boatman, we waited there for our ride. Lucky for us that it had rained the previous night and there was enough water to float on. Our boatman took us to the center of the river from where I could see the Taj Mahal in all its glory.

Taj Mahal from the Yamuna River

Shining in the sun, with a little yellow now, contrasted by its two red sandstone neighbors – Mihman Khana and the Mosque, the Taj Mahal gazed back at me for those last few moments. Though there were three of us on the boat – the boatman, Sudipto and me, no words were exchanged. It seemed as if for that moment, time stood still and each of us was having our own intimate moment with the Taj.

An intimate moment with just the Taj and me along the River Yamuna

It truly was destiny as I got the right light, the right reflection and the right angle to capture those last few moments of my Sunrise date with the Taj. The magic was broken when the boatman headed back to the shore and I wistfully bid goodbye to the stunner. The moment stayed with me for the rest of the day as we left Agra for Delhi. We had finally closed our magical Indo-Nepal trip with a bang and with that high of the crowd-free date with the Taj.

Let me know how you found this crowd-free visit of mine to be. Check out the FB live video below that I took on my visit here. And don’t forget to pin this to your board so that you know how to get here in time for your own intimate date with the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal

Getting here:

  • Agra is well connected by air, railway and road to the rest of the world.
  • The Taj Mahal in Agra is the center point and getting here is not difficult. Every auto, taxi or bus in Agra will get you here. For a map coordinate, click here.

Travel Tips:

  • Click this for the official website of the Taj. You can get all the latest information including the ticket rates through the site.You can even book your tickets online.
  • The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, even if it is a full moon night. For more information on which nights it is open, refer to the website mentioned above.
  • Here are the Full Moon night information for Taj.
  • The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is early morning. This can help you avoid the crowds. Make sure you are in the queue before 5 am. The Taj Mahal opens with the first rays of light.
  • Guides are available on request at the Taj Mahal. Alternately you can take an audio tour of the same.
  • For photography from Yamuna, you will need to get in touch with the boatmen at Mahtab Bagh, that is on the opposite back of the Taj Mahal.
  • Do not carry any bags or tripods with you. Water in clear water bottles is the only thing that is allowed. Cameras are allowed as well.
  • Expect a diverse light requirement scenario when shooting at Dawn. A lot depends on your luck, for some days are quite foggy and some as clear as I got. Remember to be quick with your settings for the changes in light are quite swift as is the ever-floating crowd.

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