If you’re planning a trip to India, then the Taj Mahal is usually the first place most people want to see… but if you’ve already seen it hundreds of times on social media, is it worth it? Is the Taj Mahal overrated or is it still the #1 destination in India?
The Taj Mahal is not overrated. On Tripadvisor, only 5% of the 31,574 reviews are “Poor” or “Terrible” and 95% are “Excellent.” According to the Social Engagement Index 2019, it’s the most popular Wonder of the World.
But some tourists have claimed it’s overrated. The Taj Mahal does have some downsides too, which we’ll cover in this article. I hope to convince you to still check it out and show you how you can maximize your positive experiences, so you can leave this Wonder of the World as blown away as I was.
Why Is the Taj Mahal Important?
Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.”Sir Edwin Arnold
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built this tomb for his second and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It took about 20,000 workers, 1,000 elephants, and 22 years to build the complex. The estimated cost was 32 million rupees and today that would be 70 billion rupees or $196 million dollars!
Built of white marble to a height of 240 ft (73 m) with four slightly-leaning minarets, the Taj Mahal is a breathtaking building.
The Taj is pinkish in the morning, milky white in the evening and golden when the moon shines.Anonymous
The white marble has a translucent quality that changes color to reflect the light. Because so much white marble was needed, it had to be brought from a number of countries.
Inlaid in the white marble was once 28 different types of precious and semi-precious stones. Even though many of the precious stones were looted during the Rebellion of 1857, you can imagine how they might have sparkled in the light!
The marble work was so detailed and perfection was expected, so if an artisan made a mistake, the block had to be destroyed and he’d have to start again.
A massive marble structure, without weight, as if formed of ether, perfectly rational and at the same time entirely decorative, it is perhaps the greatest artwork which the forming spirit of mankind has ever brought forth.Count Hermann Keyserling
Surround the tomb are four pillars that look slightly off. If you look closer, you’ll notice they are slanting away from the Taj. An ingenious idea in case of an earthquake, the towering minarets would topple away from the precious building instead of destroying it.
The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.Rabindranath Tagore
As you walk around the grounds, you’ll notice the tomb is the same on all sides and it looks symmetrical from anywhere in the garden. I’m no engineer or architect, but why does it look so perfect no matter where I am on the grounds?
It’s hard for me to imagine how someone would think this building was overrated.
As we strolled into the arched entrance of the Taj Mahal grounds, there was palpable excitement in the air and among the crowds near me. People strolling with their eyes wide with awe.
Just outside the arch, lines of crowds were stopped with their phones and cameras in the air. Click, click, click. A crowd formed around a couple who was proposing. He slips a ring on her finger, she says yes, and the crowd claps. He looks towards everyone with a big smile and hugs his future wife.
To help you have a great time though, let’s consider the downsides of the Taj Mahal so you can have realistic expectations.
The Taj Mahal gets between 7 and 8 million tourists each year, according to the official website. Since it’s closed on Fridays, this means that there is an average of 23,961 tourists each day.
On the grounds, there are a few very popular places to take photographs which can get crowded. It can be difficult to take a photo without someone else taking one in your shot.
Or you’ll have to wait in line to snap your photograph. My mom and aunt accidentally cut in the line, and I thought an Italian woman was going to start a fistfight. 😬
I actually didn’t mind the crowds though. It felt like we were having a communal experience and I enjoyed seeing the people taking photos of themselves. Everyone was happily chatting away with friends and family about the monument. It was a lot of fun actually.
Is the Taj Mahal Discoloured?
The white marble of the Taj Mahal is sensitive to pollution and has been soiled and yellowed over time. But it was cleaned for the first time in 2018 and is now regularly maintained.
But a number of factors have been cited as causing the discolouration:
- An oil refinery in a nearby city
- The sulfation rate
- Meteorological parameters
- Air and dust pollution
- The level of sulfur dioxide concentrations
Dust pollution has cited being the most responsible for the discoloration of the surface of the marble though.
Burning dung cakes (a popular form of fuel for cooking) was also banned in the city limits since it was cited as another reason that might increase the rate of discolouration.
But the marble looks beautifully white to me. In 2018, the Taj Mahal was deeply cleaned for the first time.
You’ve Already Seen It on Social Media?
The Taj Mahal is the most popular Wonder of the World, according a study by Taxi2Airport.
The Taj Mahal has:
- 1,228,357 Tags on Instagram (#tajmahal)
- 929,544 Likes on Facebook
- 179,187 Followers on Twitter
- 1,505 Pins on Pinterest
Plus, there are currently 31,574 reviews on TripAdvisor (95% are Excellent).
We’ve all seen it hundreds of times on our Facebook and Instagram.
If you wanted you could even take a 360-degree tour of the Taj Mahal that was pretty good.
Even though I knew all that and was NOT expecting to love the Taj Mahal… it instantly took my breath away. I had such a good time taking photos and exploring the grounds.
Traffic on the nearby roads can make it difficult to get to the Taj Mahal. The monument is next to the Yumana River and is about 4 km (2.5 miles) from downtown Agra.
With the river on one side and all the tourists descending on the monument, it’s in a weird spot and you could find yourself in traffic for hours as you get close.
Of course, you can avoid this by booking a hotel near the grounds like I did.
We had dinner at the Oberoi Amarvilas and it’s the nicest hotel in town and not far from the Taj. If you want views of the Taj from your window, a luxurious pool to relax in afterward, and a dinner that will blow your tastebuds away… this is the place for you. (Click here to check the price on Booking.com, I love Booking.com because for many hotels you can reserve your room without putting any money down).
I stayed close to the Oberoi at the Hotel Atulyaa Taj and it was completely comfortable. We had views of the Taj from the roof, a rooftop pool, and a nice breakfast buffet.
We walked to the Taj Mahal in 10 minutes.
The Pushy Touts
Like any tourist destination in India, you are going to run into plenty of salesman trying to get you to buy from their shop near the Taj.
Most of them are harmless if you ignore them or firmly say “no.”
There was a rare case of a Swiss couple being assaulted by 5 young men near another tourist destination Fatehpur Sikri in 2017.
After that, the government cracked down and arrested 50 touts at Agra’s tourist destinations including the Taj Mahal.
Tips for Travelers Visiting the Taj Mahal
I hope knowing the downsides can help you better enjoy your experience. Here are some other tips I have used and also learned from other experienced travelers:
- Be creative with your photography ideas: You are going to want to remember this day. Your friends will ask. Maybe your kids will ask. Don’t get boring photographs, and it can be hard since so many photographs have been taken of this place. To inspire you, I collaborated with other photographers and models and found 30 examples of creative photography ideas.
- Visit at sunrise: You might get lucky and get a beautiful pink sky as I did. There will also be fewer tourists, although it’s still going to be crowded.
- Hire a guide: It’s nice to hear the love story from a professional as you stroll the grounds. Plus, you can learn lots of cool facts about the Taj… for instance, did you know that Shah Jahan did NOT cut off the hands of the workers after they built the tomb, as the popular myth says.
The Taj Mahal is NOT overrated according to most tourists. But there are big crowds, touts, and traffic. The monument is kept clean and beautiful, so even if you’ve already seen it on social media a lot, it won’t compare to standing under its impressive domes. To enjoy it, get inspiration from creative photography ideas, go in the morning, and hire a good guide.
If you are looking for ideas for photos, check out my 30 Creative Photography Ideas at the Taj Mahal. I include a lot of examples to inspire you and either way I hope you have a great time!