My 5th Wonder of the World...
Day 34: It's been a dramatic 24 hours but Jess is a Wanderer (despite all odds) made it to the Taj Mahal and what a stunning piece of architecture it is!
The ticket office opens at 5:40am and 'foreigners' tickets are 1000RS. Not bad for around £11 to see one of the World's 7 Wonders. As a foreigner, tickets include a bottle of water and some funky looking shoe covers for when you enter inside the mausoleum. You are also entitled to transfer to the East Gate entrance from the ticket office using a free shuttle on a golf buggy. It's not a bad deal at all.
Make sure you arrive at the ticket office within plenty of time as the queue was already fairly long at 5:20am. We arrived at 5:10 and were first in line at the 'ladies foreigners' kiosk. They do accept cards or cash - only found this out after running back to our hotel for cash at 5am with the fear that they wouldn't accept Visa. It's all OK, I can officially confirm that in October 2017, they do.
We walked down the promenade with the masses on foot, in rickshaws or tuk-tuks towards the East Gate. Access is from sunrise - sunset, which today meant that the doors opened at around 6:15. Waiting in line, visitors are split according to foreigners and Indians - male and female. Regardless of gender, everyone stands sweating profusely. Not sure I've ever been so sweaty from just standing! It was gross. Or rather, I was gross! Finally, everyone goes through a scanner and receives a pat-down. Following that, all bags are searched. My advice: do not take a bag with you, just carry whatever you need and you'll overtake a whole lot of people. And feel pretty smug about it too!
There was a smidge of restoration work going on at the main entrance to the complex but you can still admire the architecture here. There was no work on the actual Taj Mahal itself taking place.
Stampede! Once through the gate, things got crazy. There were so many people pushing and shoving trying to get the 'perfect shot'. We spent just over two hours at the complex and it was very clear that any angle or position can lead to 'the perfect photo' if you're willing to be patient and wait for the crowds to clear.
When we left at 9am after almost three hours inside (totally hot and sweaty), there was no queue whatsoever on the outside yet inside was as steadily busy as it was when we arrived.
I took photos with and without people to show that getting there super early is not actually necessary. Had I known this, I definitely would have opted for more than the four hours sleep that I had. These two photos below were taken in less than five minutes of each other with no photoshop used to remove anyone! What is it they say? Patience is a virtue?
Entry to the mausoleum was permitted but no photographs were allowed. People were rushed through by whistle-blowing police officers allowing no time to admire the artwork or intricate carvings. We had to wear special foot-covers which were included in the ticket and really attractive.
It was deadly hot inside so perhaps they were thinking of all the dehydrated people they'd be picking up off the floor if we weren't rushed through!
It felt a real shame to be in such an incredible place yet be surrounded by more selfie-sticks than interested visitors. And the arrogance of some of those visitors! You would not believe the lengths people go to for 'the shot'. I was physically sat on at one point by a lady who deemed her photograph to be more important than mine. Yes, I was messing with my camera settings but there was plenty of room for us both to take a picture at the same time but... nope, I was kicked out. And in true British style, of course, I relented, got up and moved away. To be honest, I was too hot anyway so I was happy to finish.
All in all, I didn't really know what to expect of the complex but it truly is a fascinating piece of architecture. The love story behind the building is very sad and a true testament of a chap's love for his wife. However, being there, I felt that everyone was out to get 'that picture' and there was very little appreciation for the site itself. I've been extremely lucky to see some incredible touristic places around the world without the crowds and this was, by far, the busiest place I've ever visited. My advice: go in the middle of the day when the early birds have left and there's a more chilled feel to the place.