i had visited the taj mahal when i was 11 and remembered it as a tall and pretty monument. but, as the years passed, i always wondered whether it was really that gorgeous or was it just the hype around it? when i pushed for a visit, i was worried in one quiet corner of my head… worried that my husband wouldn’t really think it was THAT beautiful… you know how we tend to rave about something, expectations build up, and the person we hyped it to says ‘ah, thats all… didn’t think it was that great..” fingers crossed in anticipation and nervousness, the plan to visit taj was fixed.
as i went about googling to see if there was anything else we could do in agra post fatehpur sikri and taj mahal, i came across some information that ended up dictating our holiday planning.
you can visit the taj at night.
yes you can, in the moonlight, with all other lights off and limited crowd. are you getting the picture? you can almost share taj with just 30 – 40 other people at one time in the silence and quiet of the night.. its a 30 minute slot!
imagine this beautiful building in moonlight, or should i say moon-glow? how gorgeous would that be!! brilliant, my head replied.
then, as with all things me, i pushed it further… what about taj in the full moon light? beauty in white competing with another glorious beauty in white…
and that was it. the plan – to visit taj on a full-moon night... excited, i booked the tickets, told our hotel to arrange for two tickets for ‘taj night viewing’ and after a long journey there from bombay to delhi to agra, we had reached the city of the taj mahal.
i booked the 8.30 slot for two reasons:
1) i wanted to get in as early as i could so i wasn’t groggy and feeling sleep deprived
2) north india has a severe fog problem during winter, so i wanted to get in and get out before the fog covered it all…
the cab driver was instructed to find out which gate we needed to reach – only one gate is open for this viewing at night, so we needed to reach the right one…
during the day, we went around and saw fatehpur-sikri; studiously avoiding the taj, we didn’t even look for the taj on the horizon! we wanted to see it bathed in moonlight for the first time on the trip.
dinner done, sweaters worn, shawls wrapped around… we were there in december and it was cooooolllllldd!
but as luck would have it, we went to the wrong gate… irritation was quick to take over and the driver got a few angry words from me… we rushed to the other gate, and ran into the main reception area. we had made it just in time… phew!
we passed through security, all bags checked, then were instructed that no mobiles allowed inside the taj. i kept the phones in a locker and kept the key safely in my pocket. then entered the waiting room… a bunch of people sat around impatiently, there was a nervous tension in the air. then a brisk looking security guard walked and said, “get into the van”… queue formed, we slowly exited from another gate and out into the open air again. two minivans were already full, we got into the third, sitting towards the back of it…
the van started slowly and sped towards the next gate with a thunderous noise that paused only at the gate… an expectant silence filled the van, one mother could be heard telling her child in a whisper to zip up his jacket. and silence. the van slowed down and went through a naka bandi and then finally stopped with a small screech at the gate of the taj. a silent file of people got out and made their way out, we were instructed, ‘just 30 minutes.’
we entered the taj after one more security check… the multiple security lending an air of seriousness to the otherwise joyful & inviting quest – taj at night.
impatience as i walked up the cobble stone path, turned into the main darwaja or doorway… and then, there she stood… elegant, beautiful and peaceful…
but the moon didn’t seem fine? almost like there was a tiny dark edge at one side… and the dark edge was slowly growing…. some whispers ran through the group, and then the loud voices informed us uninformed ones… ‘lunar eclipse, tonight…. total lunar eclipse..’
we stood there, a group of 40 of us who had planned this night and braved the distance and the security checks… we stood there watching the moon get covered and the taj, eclipsed. the optimistic ones hoped the eclipse would get over soon, the realistic ones enjoyed the taj in the minimum light and the pessimistic ones said, ‘chae, after all that…’
30 minutes later we made our way out… we watched the taj at night alright, right through a total lunar eclipse! of all the things i had planned, i hadn’t checked this!
on a good note, we did see the taj the next day and here are some pictures from that experience… the taj mahal is breathtakingly beautiful and brilliant in broad day light! if you plan to visit, do the night trip!
nitty gritty details:
taj mahal is in agra, UP. you can reach agra by flight from delhi or by train. it is also a 4 – 5 hour road trip from delhi, nice roads… if you are staying in the west of delhi, there is a new highway which gets you to agra in two hours – do check about that!
the night viewing is open for five nights in a month, two nights before the full moon, the full moon night and two nights after that. for more details visit this website: http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_whs_agratajmahal_night.asp.
the tickets need to be bought 2 days in advance, ask your hotel to do so. the prices are different for indian nationals and foreigners, you will need to send a pdf of your passport – relevant pages.
the night viewing is a must-do. the taj mahal is crowded with people and noise during the day… for some quiet time with the monument the night viewing is a must-do…
and, let me say it out loud, please check the lunar eclipse calendar before you plan!