Travel Icons… by the Back Door
Taj Mahal – Agra, India
Visitors per year: Around 7 million
Rising over the Yamuna River, the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal – a marble marvel better known as the Taj Mahal – is one of the grandest gestures of love in history. It was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the remains of his wife, took 20 years to build and is now one of the most-visited sites in the world.
Front door: Tourist season peaks between October and mid-March, when the weather cools. But it never really drops off, and around 60,000 people visit every day (entry from 750INR/£8), turning up in large flag-waving tours or individually, except on Fridays when it’s closed to all except worshippers at the on-site mosque.
Back door: The best way to minimize the crowds is to start early – and the dawn rouge on the Taj Mahal’s white marble is beautiful. Most visitors arrive via train from Delhi (2.5hr), so staying in Agra helps. The budget-priced Shanti Lodge (Chowk Kagjiyan, south gate) has good views of the Taj Mahal from its rooftop, while the five-star Oberoi Amarvilas (oberoihotels.com) has plenty of pricier rooms that offer the same.
“The Taj Mahal gets visitors from dawn to dusk every day, but the best time to avoid the crowds is at sunrise. Enter through the east gate – it’s less busy. For a good viewing spot, walk to the mosque – the rising sun is spotted between the last two minarets – or head to the Yamuna River. Shooting the palace through the elephant grass offers a different perspective.
“Alternatively, escape the crowds entirely across the Yamuna River at Mehtab Bagh. This charbagh (garden) complex is the best spot to watch the sun rising over the Taj in peace.
“For dusk, head towards the Rest House in the east of the Taj Mahal grounds (the red sandstone building on the right, if you’re facing east); its arches offer the widest and most beautiful view of the sunset. Or if you’re outside the complex, walk from the east gate away from the crowds and down to the river, which offers good views.”