Full Synopsis Detailing Our Sunrise Tour of the Taj Mahal: What I Loved & What I Didn’t.
Updated: Apr 16, 2018
First things first - do your research to find out how you want to see the Taj Mahal. In the day, morning, moonlight tour? Do you want to be in a group, have a private guide, or do your own thing? What day do you want to go on? Did you know the Taj Mahal is closed every Friday?
Tye and I chose to do a private guide with a sunrise tour. We chose this because, we were traveling from New Delhi and didn't want to take 3 hours of public transportation. We just want to be able to relax in a car and not have to worry about figuring out train or bus schedules. We also chose a sunrise tour to avoid the heat and more importantly, to avoid the crowd. But the coolest thing about a sunrise tour is that you get to see the Taj change colors. With a white marble, at sunrise the Taj looks pink and orange, but as the sun rises you see it change to a blinding stark white. All of which are breathtakingly beautiful.
So, a sunrise tour of the Taj Mahal, what does that all entail traveling from New Delhi? The sunrise tour means you get to the Taj right when the gates open at 6:00 am. The Taj is located in the city of Agra which is 3 hours south of New Delhi. So that means that our driver picked us up at 2:30 am to get us there on time. The time seems awful, but let’s be honest, we were already experiencing jet lag, and we were too excited to care anyway.
Our driver was very punctual, courteous, had good English, car was air conditioned, clean, and he had bottles of water to give us throughout the day which was fantastic. The drive was a little sketchy. Its a straight shot highway, with no street lamps. So the road wasn’t illuminated in any way. We could only see as far as the headlights would shine. Tye and I opted to take a quick nap and try to get some shut eye before the long day ahead.
We were suddenly woken up by a heavy push on the breaks. A trailer carrying bricks had broken on the road there was bricks scattered everywhere. Had the trailer been properly equipped with tail lights and the road illuminated we would have seen the accident way before we approached it. But our driver was very attentive and stopped with plenty of time to spare, we were able to sneak by the accident and be on our way.
Once arriving to Agra we stopped at a very luxurious hotel to go to the bathroom, freshen up, and meet our tour guide. I was a little thrown off that our driver and our tour guide were 2 different people but nevertheless they had everything planned out accordingly and all was well. So our tour guide hopped in our car and the driver took us to the Taj.
The Taj Mahal is actually in this huge park complex so you can’t exactly see it from the road or anything like that. It’s about a half mile to the gate so, you can either pay to take a rikshaw down to the gate or walk down. Our guide recommended that we walk down to experience everything, and then take the rikshaw up the hill at then end since we would be exhausted from walking around. We followed his lead and thought his recommendation was perfect.
He showed us were to stand in line at the gate, while he went to buy the tickets. I thought that was convenient since we killed two birds with one stone, and he did all the talking at the ticket stand. When you are standing in line at the gate, they separate you into male and female lines. No frisking or anything of that nature involved. That’s just how they make the lines. Once your ticket is scanned, you do have to go through a metal detector, and your bags are checked. Do your research on what is and is not allowed. They are pretty strict. No backpacks, tripods, food etc. Tye had his camera bag and that was barely small enough.
As you walk in you will find long paths of walkways with large courtyard walls surrounding the Taj Mahal complex. You walk through a series of walled arch ways before you enter into the huge, open courtyard of the Taj Mahal. Here is where our tour guide excelled. He was a retired college history professor who gave tours in his free time just to make some money on the side. He was so knowledgeable and his English was very good. He told us so many facts and interesting stories that you wouldn't be able to imagine from a book. He was very energetic and enthusiastic. He wanted to make sure we walked away with great photos. He would say “stand here, pose like this, do that” all while taking our pictures. I thought it was fun and silly, but Tye could have done without haha.
Fair warning, even at 6:00am there were still hundreds of people. Better than thousands I guess. You can’t blame it for being one of the wonders of the world. People are patient and let you take turns in the most iconic places, which is nice.
We took a slow stroll down the sidewalks, intently listening to our guide. He took us up to the main platform of the Taj and this is where you are given little cotton shoe covers. This is one of the misconceptions of the Taj. People are concerned that you have to take your shoes off and leave them outside of the Taj, then have to be fearful of it someone is going to take your shoes or not. That how it used to be, but now they have these convenient little shoe slips. Yes, they look dorky, but it beats having to go barefoot the rest of the day because your shoes got stolen.
Inside you see the replica coffins (the real ones are in dwellings under the Taj) and get to observe the impeccable details of the Taj. It’s really a masterpiece and the best well preserved of all the wonders.
Our guide walked us through the Taj, told his history, and then let us have an hour of free time to walk the complex and take pictures of our own. Which we were grateful for. Know that there are two buildings, one on either side of the Taj, and are definitely worth exploring. They have their own beauty too. Make sure to take a moment to sit in one of the park benches. Just to sit, and look at the Taj and its beauty. A picture can only do so much. I highly encourage you to just sit for a minute to take it all in and remember the moment. It was one of my favorite things I did.
Our guide was right were he said he was going to be after the hour. As we were walking out of the courtyard he was very diligent in explaining to us that there were going to be children that would try to sell us stuff, but to just keep your head down and keep walking. He said if you pull out your wallet, they will try and pickpocket, steal, and just push at you harder. That advice I really appreciated.
We hopped on a rikshaw and enjoyed the breeze as we made our way up the hill back to where all the vehicles were. Our driver was patiently waiting and he took us all back to the luxurious hotel we stopped at once before where we had a buffet lunch of traditional Indian food. It was delicious!
Next, our guide took us to Agra Fort. This complex was right off the road, and easy to maneuver. Our guide explained that this is where the royal family and army lived. He walked us through the complex to see the Taj Mahal from across the river which was pretty cool.
After the walk through Agra Fort, our guide gave us the option to go to a textile shop, a marble shop, both, or none. Since this a surprise add on for free, we thought we would just pick one and then make our way back since we were exhausted. It’s a ploy to help the local businesses, thats why its not disclosed in the tour description. But we chose to check out the marble shop because they make marble figurines in that same way workers did when they built the Taj, we thought it was be interesting to see so we checked it out. We got some history and watched some people carve the marble pieces which we thought was pretty interesting. Then we were taken to this big showroom of all the marble items they have made and were for sale. He gave us his shpeal and showed us around. The items were absolutely beautiful but way out of my price range. A small plate was 200 dollars. When we were finished walking around we said we were ready to leave. At this point we didn’t buy anything. Then he said, let me show you the back room. He walked us through a hidden door, and showed us were all the little trinkets and figurines were. They want you to think that what is in the main room is all that available, so you’ll spend money on something much more expensive. When we walked us to the small room, I found a little marble elephant with beautiful detailing. He was 40 dollars. Still expensive but way more in my budget. So we got the little guy and we went on our way.
Back to the hotel we went to drop off our tour guide. We thanked him, and gave him a tip for his time. We settled in for the 3 hour drive back, and it was much smoother this time since you could see everything. We arrived back at our hotel at about 4:00 pm and tipped our driver as well.
So in all, it was about a 14 hour tour. I loved seeing the Taj early. To see the colors change, to beat the heat, and the crowds. I loved we had a private car. I felt safe and it was so nice escaping the heat to the air conditioning. We loved our day, and would highly recommend our itinerary to anyone seeing the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.