Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to visit Taj Mahal by moonlight (or not!)

Many tourists tell me they're super excited about visiting the Taj at moonlight. It sounds fantastic, doesn't it? I usually talk them out of it, because I don't think its a good idea (see end of article for my advice). But if you do want to go, here are the details:

When is it open
The Taj Mahal is open for viewing by moonlight for 5 nights each month. These 5 nights include the full moon night, as well as two nights before and two nights after the full moon night. 

If any of these 5 dates fall on a Friday, there will not be any moonlight viewing on that night. In addition the Taj is also closed in the daytime on all Fridays.

There is also no moonlight visit during the month of Ramzan.

The full moon dates for Apr 2015 - Mar 2016 (the Indian financial year) are below:
  • Saturday April 4
  • Monday May 4
  • Tuesday Jun 2
  • Friday July 31 
  • Saturday August 29
  • Monday September 28
  • Tuesday October 27
  • Wednesday November 25
  • Friday December 25
  • Saturday January 23
  • Monday February 22
  • Wednesday March 23
I'll say this again: Please note that you can view the Taj 2 nights before, and 2 nights after these dates. But if any of the 5 days falls on a Friday, you cannot view on that day. So for example, in April, the full moon night is Saturday April 4, so you can view on April 2, 4, 5 and 6, but not on April 3 which is a Friday.

In the list above, there is no viewing date in first week of July due to Ramzan (which is celebrated between 19th June to 18th July).

How does the viewing happen:
Only 400 people are allowed to view the monument per night.

Entry is allowed in 8 batches of 50 people each, beginning at 8:30 p.m. and ending at 12:00 midnight.

Each group has only 30 minutes.

You cannot go up to the famous big white tomb building. Access is allowed only until the Red Sandstone Platform of the main gate. I have shown in the picture below, what this main gate looks like.
Source: Air Pano

Video cameras, tripods, mobile phones, cigarettes and hand bags are NOT permitted. Only handheld still cameras and binoculars are permitted without any extra charge. Security is very strict, and there are full body checks

Buying tickets:
Tickets for moonlight viewing are issued a day in advance, from the counter at the Archaeological Survey of India Agra office (22, The Mall, Agra 282001). They cannot be bought on the same day.

The counter is open from 10 am until 5 pm, however tickets are sold on a first-come-first-serve basis and get sold out pretty quickly. As I said earlier, only 400 tickets are available for a day.  To avoid crowds and security issues, there is a rationing system. They allot tickets starting with the first batch (8:30 pm batch).

To buy the ticket, you have to fill an application form. For overseas visitors to India, this includes providing a scanned copy of the id page of your passport with Name, Gender, Passport Number, Age, Nationality. For Indian visitors, the form asks for scanned copy of any valid ID Proof, as well as details such as Full Name, Age and Gender. Tickets are non-transferable. They are computer-generated and include these identity details.

The current rates for entrance tickets (as of Feb 2015) are below:
  • Adults: Foreigners Rs  750/-, Indians Rs  510/-
  • Children (3 to 15 years):  Foreigners Rs 500/-, Indians Rs  500/-
If you are going with a licensed guide, then there is no free ticket for the guide. The guide also needs to buy a ticket. If you wish to cancel a ticket, you can do so before 1 p.m. of the date of viewing. There will be a 25% cancellation charge.

You are supposed to show up at the Shilpgram Parking 30 minutes before the timeslot allotted to you. Your documents and ticket will be inspected and then you will be taken by battery-operated vehicle to the Taj. There is no charge for this vehicle ride.

My advice
Avoid the moonlight viewing, unless the ASI changes their rules and actually allows access to the white marble building. The beauty of the Taj is best seen in daylight, in my view, when you can get close to the monument, and go right into the building.

Source: A blog by Clayfied College students
In winter, visibility is poor at night, it is foggy and you cannot see much. It is also very cold. In the monsoons, rain may result in poor overall moonlight experience.

This is not a particularly romantic experience, especially the security process and being herded together with 48 other people on the platform. If you go with high expectations, you will be disappointed.

I've included a real-life view of what the Taj looks like by moonlight. It's from a trip report by some college students from Australia. There are lots of (photoshopped) fancy photos of the Taj at moonlight on the internet.

If you do want go for the moonlight view, then the important thing to note while planning your trip is that you still need to go again the next day to actually see the Taj. So plan to spend more time in Agra (ideally 2 nights) and make sure you are ready to spend again on the ticket.

If you have to buy the ticket yourselves:
Day 1 - Delhi to Agra (4hrs) by road. Buy the moonlight viewing ticket, visit Agra Fort, Itmad-ud-daulah's Tomb, Sikandra. See sunset view of Taj from Mehtab Bagh on the other side of river.  Overnight Agra
Day 2 - Visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Return and rest. Visit Fatehpur Sikri. Return and have dinner. Go for the moonlight view. Overnight Agra
Day 3 - Late breakfast and depart from Agra

If you have someone to buy the ticket for you:
Day 1 - Delhi to Agra (4hrs) by road. Visit Agra Fort, Itmad-ud-daulah's Tomb, Sikandra. See sunset view of Taj from Mehtab Bagh on the other side of river.  Moonlight view of Taj. Overnight Agra
Day 2 - Visit the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri; depart from Agra.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your article. I was about to embark on the difficult process of trying to purchase tickets but I, like I'm sure many other, had a romantic notion of walking around and having the day experience, only in cooler weather under moonlight.


Deepa said...

That's how it should be. We should be able to see this beautiful monument, in the moonlight, quiet and calm and gorgeous. I think that was perhaps only possible for some lucky people who lived in gentler more peaceful times.

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