The Taj Mahal in Agra is one of India’s biggest tourist attractions. It is a beautiful building recognized as one of the wonders of the world. It is also a great place to people watch. People from all over the world visit the site. I happily agree to pose in pictures for those not accustomed to seeing ivory skinned westerners from America. Traveling to the Taj Mahal by train is easy, especially from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.
At the airport near Terminal 3 you can purchase a train token and board the Metro to the New Delhi Station (NDLS). The airport Metro train arrives every 10 minutes and takes approximately 22 minutes to reach NDLS. Security precautions require scanning your bags. At the New Delhi station, board the Bhopal Shatabdi Express. If all goes well you will reach Agra in approximately two hours.
Purchase your train ticket to Agra in advance. The Bhopal Shatabdi Express train #1202 is scheduled to leave daily at 6:00 a.m. from New Delhi station and arrive in Agra Cantt (AGC) at 7:57 a.m. Choosing AC1 class gets me a reserved seat in an air-conditioned car for a cost of Rs 1000 (Indian Rupees) or U.S. $15. The train is comfortable and quick. Included in the fare is breakfast chosen from a menu and served at your seat. Passengers receive an Indian Times newspaper and outlets to charge phones are available. Well-dressed attendants answer questions and check seat reservations.
During the train ride I watch the sunrise light up the countryside. The high-speed train makes its way through layers of morning mist. It passes fields, farms, and villages to reach Agra (AGC station) on time. If an early morning train doesn’t work for you there are other trains later in the day. However, they make more stops and take longer.
Before going to the Taj Mahal, which is closed on Fridays so plan accordingly, I head to Sikandra. It’s a suburb of Agra where the tomb of Mughal emperor Akbar stands on acres of green grass.
Palm trees line a wide red sandstone walkway that leads to the grand south entrance. In the trees bright green parakeets hop on branches. Songs of Islam can be heard from a building nearby. Four white marble minarets point to the sky. Inside, an old man demonstrates the acoustics quality with a chant that echoes through the building.
Nearby is the UNESCO World Heritage site that Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore describes this way: “The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.” The river he refers to is the Yamuna.
Bring as few belongings as possible when visiting the Taj Mahal. Security is tight due to terrorist threats. You can purchase a foreign tourist ticket at one of the three gate entrances for Rs 1000. It is estimated that 40,000 people visit the Taj Mahal daily between the viewing hours of sunrise and sunset. The entry lines are not long in late afternoon when I visit.
The massive scale of the white marble building surprises me. It dwarfs the human body. Inside the mausoleum is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the third and favorite wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. You can learn more about the Taj Mahal story at the India government official website.
I linger on a bench until sunset when the light on the building is soft and beautiful. The reflection pond mirrors the building’s image. Surrounded by well-maintained gardens, the Taj Mahal is a peaceful place. There are no commercial ventures selling souvenirs or plastic replicas of the building.
In the evening, I witness a pre-wedding street parade with the groom atop a horse surrounded by family, friends and merriment. He is making his way to meet the bride. The next day I visit Agra Fort where I get a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal at a distance from Shah Jahan’s palace bedroom. It is then that I feel the grief of a 17th century Mughal emperor.