By Nidhi Kirpal Jayadevan
India’s primary education board NCERT has decided to eliminate the contribution of Mughal rulers from high-school history books from the next academic session. The decision is perplexing considering the assimilation of Mughal culture in Indian lifestyle, art, cuisine and architecture. Let’s just take one example: how do the esteemed NCERT academicians plan to grapple with the existence of a single monument, the Taj Mahal, which is so intrinsically entwined with India’s very identity, both at home and globally?
Speaking of the canonical monument of love (thank you, Mughals!), my family’s annual trip back to India from the US over the winter holidays was extra special. This time around, the icing on the cake for us was a much-anticipated visit to the coveted Taj Mahal, which was very much a part of school curriculums in our time.
Growing up in India, I had the opportunity of living in Agra for a few years. Over three decades ago, as a bored tween, I had seen the Taj with minimal appreciation for this awe-inspiring monument. The visit was rather chaotic, with crowded, disorganised long lines, and generally a logistical nightmare. But pleasantly, that wasn’t the case circa January 2023!
Although some of our friends did sadly encounter the pain of packed lines and overall mayhem – which honestly, dilutes the incredible experience of viewing this marble wonder – it seems we did a few things right that made our visit relatively streamlined.
So, if you’re planning to visit the Taj Mahal, the tips below can be helpful. Especially during the busy-tourist-travel-holiday periods like the New Year break when the whole world seems to descend upon the monument.
1. If possible, plan your visit off ‘peak-peak’ dates
We ended up visiting the Taj Mahal on the third of January. It felt like an optimal time when we had successfully managed to dodge the Christmas and New Year crowds. Plus, it was a weekday, which may have been additionally helpful.
The Taj Mahal is never devoid of crowds, especially during the sunny winters. But going on a weekday post the true holiday rush felt calm and less frenzied for sure.
2. Go in the afternoon
Visiting the monument in the afternoon was helpful in a couple of ways. Since we visited post lunch, no one was ‘hangry’ and the need to carry snacks was minimised. The morning smog had lifted, so we were able to get clear views of the Taj Mahal. Apparently, the smog can obscure visibility, especially from the gardens, and cast a hazy cloud around the monument, which can be quite a bummer!
3. Buy tickets in advance
If you can, purchasing tickets in advance is recommended. These can be bought through the Archeological Survey of India site. Kids are free. Having a ticket in hand (a printout or a QR code on your cellphone) is very helpful in skipping at least one long line, which already makes the trip more streamlined.
4. Invest in a good guide, if possible
For us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime family visit to the Taj Mahal. So, we hired a knowledgeable guide who offered all the essential and fun details pertaining to the monument. Guides also get priority, which means as visitors you get into special (read: shorter) lines. Think of the TSA-pre type privileges at US airports!
Plus, guides nowadays are pretty adept at photography and are able to snap iconic “Insta-worthy” Taj Mahal photos. Our guide most certainly was. Which meant we didn’t entertain the hoard of vendors promising memorable photos for an additional fee!
5. Keep some change
The Indian government is making a concerted effort to preserve the monument and is taking positive steps to that end. For instance, cars and taxis are permitted only till a certain point, after which visitors need to either walk or take electric buggies to the Taj Mahal.
While walking is very doable, if you choose to ride, make sure you have a few 50- and 100-rupee notes to cover that fee. Additionally, I was personally excited to use some of that change to buy souvenirs and trinkets from the numerous hawkers along the way!
6. Mask up
Visitors are required to wear masks. Make sure you have them on you and are wearing them. There’s a strict ‘no-mask no-entry’ policy.
7. Make security check simple
There’s a comprehensive security check before entering the monument, for good reason. Food is not allowed, so make sure all edibles are consumed prior, or are left behind in your vehicle. Also, if you can, try not to carry a handbag and accommodate essentials like a wallet, cellphone, keys and so on, in your jacket pocket. Handbags are checked in a separate line, which makes the entry that much more time consuming and cumbersome.
8. Watch out for monkeys!
Given the high human footfall and all the crumbs and goodies they leave behind, it’s no wonder that monkeys are emboldened and miss no opportunity in grabbing anything that seem like delectable grub from visitors! As mentioned previously, make sure to carry no food, and don’t engage with monkeys. We were specifically asked not to make eye contact with them ‘at any cost’!
9. Enjoy and take in the sounds and sights of this amazing monument
Revel in the architectural wonder that is the Taj Mahal. Marvel at its impeccable symmetry, from Mumtaz’s filigree-ensconced tomb to the four gates. Lose yourself in the beautifully laid out 16 gardens and 53 fountains. Keep in mind that this manmade marble wonder was completed in 1653. Notice the 22 domes (chhatris) on the gates – firmly reminding us of the 22 long years of blood, sweat, and grit it took to build it. Examine the intricate inlay patterns that look effortlessly ‘painted’ though they are colourful semi-precious stones perfectly cut and etched into the white marble…
We feel so thankful for this memorable trip, and to briefly be a part of this immortal, eternal monument of love, elegance, and eloquence. Indeed, as Tagore said, “The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time.”
The beauty of this monument has endured through hundreds of years and several kingdoms and governments. Editing textbooks will hardly dent its transcendent place in India’s history.
Nidhi Kirpal Jayadevan is a former communications professional and full-time mother of two young, high-energy boys based in Seattle, US.
hello fellow Bloggers
The decision made by NCERT to eliminate the contribution of Mughal rulers from high-school history books is concerning. However, it is heartening to see writers like Nidhi Kirpal Jayadevan highlight the importance of Mughal culture in Indian lifestyle, art, cuisine, and architecture. It is essential that we acknowledge and appreciate the diverse cultural influences that have shaped India’s identity. The Taj Mahal, a symbol of love and an iconic monument, is just one example of the Mughal’s legacy. It is imperative that we continue to educate ourselves and future generations about the rich history of India, including the contributions of the Mughal rulers.
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