I am not a morning person.
When I arrived in Agra from Delhi, my plan was to get a leisurely night’s sleep in my hostel and then roll over to the neighboring Taj Mahal after an indulgent Indian brunch.
When I told my plan to the other travelers in my hostel, they burst into laughter.
You see, everyone knows that it’s best to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise.
Everyone except me, that is.
There are so many reasons to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise, and I knew about none of them. As was explained to me, the main reason to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise is to get spectacular shots of the white marble building with few or no tourists in front. However, it’s also best to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise because the temperatures are cooler and more comfortable.
So, suddenly, it was 10:00 pm and I was scrambling to get ready for an early-morning visit to the Taj Mahal. Eight hours sleep? In my dreams.
Now, a few days later, I am writing this guide to visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise for people like me, who aren’t morning people and who need every last minute of sleep possible. If you follow my advice during your Agra trip planning and during your visit to the Taj Mahal, I promise that you will maximize both your sleep and your Taj Mahal tour!
#1 – Choose the Best Hotel for the Taj Mahal
Planning for your Taj Mahal sunrise visit should start before you arrive in Agra. For a truly efficient visit, book your accommodation at one of the hotels in Agra that are close to the Taj Mahal entrance gates. Here are some options:
- Joey’s Hostel in Agra – I stayed here when I visited the Taj Mahal. I booked a private double room because I wanted the freedom to go to bed early, and wake up early, without worrying about other people in a dorm room. It’s only five minutes from the East Gate, and it has a rooftop with a spectacular view of the Taj Mahal (shown above).
- Hotel Atulyaa Taj – If you don’t want to stay in a hostel, this hotel is the closest option to the East Gate that still has decent reviews. It’s a ten-minute walk from the East Gate.
- Hotel Sidharta in Agra – On the other side, this is your best option for entering via the West Gate to catch the sun rising in the east. It’s five minutes from the entrance.
#2 – Buy Your Tickets Online
Of all the tips in this post, this one is the most important. Do not waste your precious morning time queuing to buy a ticket (and then queuing again to enter the grounds!). Instead, buy your ticket online one or two days in advance.
It sounds crazy, but the official website for Taj Mahal tickets online is https://asi.payumoney.com/. I didn’t believe that a site with this name could possibly be real, but I promise that at the time I visited (October 2019) this was the real ticket website and the ticket I bought here was valid. It’s a bit rustic, so make sure you’ve got a good internet connection and be prepared to try two or three times before it works.
You’ll notice that you can’t buy a ticket for Fridays, as the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. Select a different day and choose the earliest opening time. While you’ll want to get there right at the opening hour, if you do happen to oversleep your ticket permits entry within three hours of the stated time (so if your ticket is for 6:00 am, you can enter any time before 9:00 am). There is no limit to how long you can stay inside the Taj Mahal.
You can print your ticket, or you can just show the ticket and the QR code on your phone.
You will also have the option of buying a ticket with or without the mausoleum visit. I suggest buying the ticket that includes the mausoleum, as it also gives you access to the upper terrace in front of the Taj Mahal. If you don’t buy it, but change your mind later, you can pay 200 INR cash for a supplementary ticket once you’re inside.
#3 – Get Organized the Night Before
The bigger your bag, the longer you’ll wait in the security screening line at the Taj Mahal. If you enter without a bag, or with a very small bag, you’ll be waived right through the security line and into the grounds. Personally, I brought a wristlet that was just big enough for my phone and a little bit of money, and I carried my camera around my neck.
There are a number of items that are prohibited inside the Taj Mahal. Don’t bring your tripod (selfie sticks were fine during my visit… not that I carry one!), power banks, cigarettes, food or any drinks other than one 500 ml bottle of water. If you accidentally pack something that is prohibited, you’ll be asked to leave your items in a locker… while everyone else is entering ahead of you!
#4 – Leave Just Early Enough
Theoretically, the Taj Mahal is open from sunrise to sunset. In practice, this means that the gates open at 6:00 am daily. To avoid a long queue, I recommend arriving at the East Gate or West Gate no later than 5:30 am. Personally, I left Joey’s Hostel at 5:25 am. By the time I arrived at the Taj Mahal at 5:30, there were about twenty people already in line: sixteen were part of one tour group, and there were two other couples. By 5:40 there were more than a hundred people in line, and by 6:00 I would estimate that there were about 250 people in the East Gate line.
#5 – Get in the Correct Line
Entrance lines at the Taj Mahal are separated into Indian men, Indian women, foreign men and foreign women. Make sure to get in the correct queue when you arrive at the gates.
#6 – Go Forth, Photographer!
If you’ve followed my tips above, you’ll be one of the first visitors into the Taj Mahal at sunrise. You’ll be at the front of the queue and you’ll breeze through security… and then it’s time to go, go, go! If you want those spectacular photos with few (or no!) people, keep moving at a good clip and stay a few steps in front of the people behind you.
The first popular photo spot is on the platform in the center of the intersecting fountains, so head there first to get your full-frontal Taj Mahal shots.
From there, if it’s a clear day, you can try going towards the West Gate to grab some shots of the sun as it rises in the east. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to frame your shot through one of the arches in the gate.
Once you’ve covered the ground level, show your combination ticket to enter the upper terrace. Each side of the Taj Mahal is as beautiful as the front, so you can now grab some east-facing and west-facing shots from the terrace before the crowds arrive.
#7 – Save the Mausoleum for Last
The inside of the mausoleum isn’t particularly interesting for tourists, and since photography is prohibited inside I can’t show you just how little there is to see. Basically, you’ll be herded by guards in a circular path around a heavily-gated room housing replicas of the tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. The real tombs are in the basement, far from tourists’ prying eyes.
#8 – Leave by Lunch
The Taj Mahal at sunrise is spectacular, particularly when you are one of the first people into the grounds to see and photograph this Wonder of the World. It’s definitely worth a visit, but you don’t need to spend an entire day here. If you enter right at 6:00 am to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise, you can expect to be finished your visit within two or three hours. By 10:00 it will be uncomfortably hot, so please, arrive early and make the most of the cool morning temperatures!
Note: The day of my visit to the Taj Mahal was unusually hazy. To show the beautiful colors you may see during your sunrise at the Taj Mahal, I have included a combination of my own photos and stock photos throughout this post. I’m sure you can tell which are which!
I recommend combining your Taj Mahal trip with a visit to Keoladeo National Park, a world-class bird sanctuary that is only fifty kilometers away from Agra.