When we were planning on visiting the Taj Mahal with kids, I have to admit I was a little anxious about taking the kids to India. The media can portray India as dangerous and dirty and that you’ll likely get sick from the food. They don’t really paint a pretty picture or encourage you to take your kids there. This post will provide useful facts about India for kids, particularly focusing on the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal location is close to the city of Agra, the historic capital city of India.
This is quite sad, as in our experience my anxiety was totally unfounded. I was luckly enough to be in contact with a British expat @travelynnfamily on Instagram and was able to discuss a few of my concerns. Jenny has a great post on tips for travelling to India with kids which is very helpful for first time visitors. This put my mind at ease substantially and gave me the confidence to go forward with our plans. We had planned to take the train from Jaipur to Agra but as I’ll explain later we had to change these plans. If you are planning on travelling via rail my guide to booking the train in India online will be helpful.
We are normally independent travellers, reason being that travelling with 5 is expensive enough without adding on tours and guide costs. A couple of times I’ve been disappointed that we didn’t have a guide because at some places you can really benefit from a good one. Our trip to Angkor Wat is a good example of that. I hadn’t booked one there because I hadn’t researched it before arriving and was overwhelmed with everyone approaching us when we arrived so I just said no to everyone.
While in Agra we stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Agra and this was 2 kms from the Taj Mahal and in a great location.
This time I was determined not to let that happen again and when we decided to visit the Taj Mahal I started researching tour guides on Trip Advisor. There are heaps to choose from but my theory is to go to the one with the most reviews and then read the most recent 15-20. If there are a couple of bad reviews I’m not too concerned as long at the majority are excellent.
You can also make sure that the service has comments from a variety of different nationalities. Australian’s are a pretty easy going bunch so if I see a few good reviews from other Aussies, I’m pretty happy that the tour guide will be fairly reasonable. I look for reviews from different english speaking countries as well, as that will indicate that the tour guide has a reasonable grasp of the English language.
This is where things got a bit messy and I have to admit I came unstuck here. In Agra booking a tour guide doesn’t necessarily mean you have a driver. For us, this got lost in translation and somehow I missed that we needed to book both separately or advise the tour guide that we would need one so he could organise it for us.
You can always grab a tuk-tuk but, depending on yours and the kids tolerance for heat, you may find that you want to be able to hop into an air conditioned car after being out exploring in the heat.
We had a 13 hour flight delay which meant that we would miss our train from Jaipur to Agra. While in transit I had to organise last minute transfers between the cities. I also had to change our full day Agra tour to two half day tours which is where some of the confusion came from. After realising that we didn’t have a driver, our guide attempted to find us one but it was the beginning of the peak season so he was unable to find one. Luckily he was happy to drive us in his personal vehicle which turned out to be fantastic for us.
Our guide was Kishore Gupta. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
Click the link to read Kishore’s reviews on Trip Advisor. I made contact with Kishore online and he was very responsive. He was flexible with all the changes I had to make due to the flight delays and he was great with the kids. I highly recommend Kishore and I think you’ll find him a great choice for your Taj Mahal visit.
Costs vary but on this occasion we paid INR3000, that’s equates to A$60 which I think is reasonable for 5 people. That included visiting the Agra Fort the evening before, we had two half days with Kishore which were included in the one price. After the Agra Fort, Kishore took us to a garden on the other side of the river behind the Taj Mahal to watch the sunset. He also took us for a drive around Agra before heading back to our hotel to wait for our transfer back to Jaipur.
The Taj Mahal opens at sunrise or sometime close to that and closes at sunset. The approximate time frames for Taj Mahal visiting hours are 6.00am until 6.30pm. Be mindful when travelling to the Taj Mahal that it’s closed to tourists on Fridays , although it is open to Muslims for afternoon prayers.
You are able to visit the Taj Mahal at night, you must purchase your tickets 24 hours prior from the Taj Mahal ticketing booth and note that camera’s are not allowed at night.
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is sunrise. While the sun does not rise behind the building for the perfect golden sunrise shot, the sun rises to the side of the monument and bathes it in a beautiful glow. It’s also the least busy time of day and will enable you to wander around quite freely.
Now when I say the least busy time, don’t be fooled, even though it is quoted as the least busy time, this is by Indian standards and I have to admit, its still chaotic and crazy! The whole experience is pretty overwhelming and if your worrying about getting tickets, being in the right line, what you can take in and then all the while watching your kids….. I take my hat off to you!
When we arrived there were about 150 people already in line. Kishore had a friend at the front so he gave him our money. He bought our tickets for us and handed them back to Kishore while we waited outside (it’s not what you know ). Once you have your tickets you grab a complimentary bottle of water and shoe covers from a counter on the way out. There is no orderly line and most people are not patiently waiting their turn so expect some unorganised chaos here.
Now you can make your way to the entrance. You can either walk or take a buggy down to the Taj Mahal, we took a buggy to the east gate. The west gate is the busiest and this is where most tourists are taken Hawkers attempt to sell tourists horse and carriage rides and elephant rides down to the entrance gate. The east gate is less manic and slightly more organised. Most people here have done a bit of research about which gate is best. The south gate does not open until 8am.
On arrival at the gate you are ushered into separate lines until the gates open. There are 4 lines, Indian female, foreign female, Indian male and foreign male. When the gates open you go through the security check for a pat down by security guards of the same sex and then a bag check. They are pretty thorough with the bag check so only take what you require. Women’s hand bags are fine but don’t bother with any back packs or anything like that, they won’t be allowed.
Once you clear bag inspection everyone pretty much runs to get that first glimpse of the Taj Mahal and when you do its magical! We were probably through to the Taj Mahal within the first 100 or so for that day. Having our tour guide get hold of our tickets enabled us to get through and get some great photos without the crowds. That is priceless!
I often noticed that Indian people would stare at us, particularly the kids and would walk towards us and Kishore would often speak to them in Hindi. I can only assume that he was telling them not to hassle us for for selfies. We got very little of that while we were with him. I am thankful for that because I am very soft and would stop for people if they asked but this does take away from your experience and makes the kids a little uncomfortable.
Once inside people are pushing and shoving to get photos from different vantage points, in particular at Diana’s seat. The guides look after their own clients but in an orderly manner. Your guide also doubles as a photographer as well and we have quite a few family photos from the Taj Mahal because he took them for us.
Last but not least, the best reason for having a guide is the information they provide about the area. The history of the Taj Mahal, the cultural differences and sets the scene of what it was like back in the day. This is the stuff you can’t find in a book, the stuff only locals can tell you about their city. This is what you invest in the guide for, it enriches your experience.
Our private driver drove us from Jaipur to Agra and back. This is a four and a half hour trip each way. Due to flight delays we missed a day in Agra so arrived one day and left the next day. Quite a bit of car time for three kids.
We used Agra Day Tours and our driver was Ravi Ji. Ravi was fabulous and patient with the kids. We had a break half way and stretched our legs and had a drink. Ravi even bought snacks for the kids and a couple of beers for Craig to enjoy in the car. I cannot recommend him more highly.
Cost was tricky with this one. I paid US$125 each way, about A$160. I was happy with this price for 5 people but others have told me it was very expensive. I had 2AC train tickets booked and they were a total of A$100 so for an extra A$60 we were in a comfortable car. Also I organised this from home and didn’t attempt to negotiate on price, maybe I could have. I did contact 3 other companies and they were more expensive. Maybe you could negotiate something cheaper over there if you have the time but we were time strapped and these guys were flexible when I had to change our arrangements.
The below prices are correct as at October 2017:
Kids are free, our kids were 12, 10 and 8 years old at the time of our visit, I believe kids under 15 are free.
We were time poor and everything had to go as planned or we wouldn’t have even made it to Agra. I wasn’t prepared to be so close and not get to see the Taj Mahal so I was willing to pay whatever it cost. What I paid I feel was reasonable but the hard part is knowing what to tip.
We were quite generous with our tips for both these services but at the same time we were also very happy with the service provided. Both went above and beyond what I paid them for and this made our experience so much better.
Our trip to Agra could have been a nightmare, we had 24hrs, from lunchtime and lunchtime and we had to tick off everything on my list! We even managed to purchase a white marble coffee table to bring home to remind us of the trip! We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in Agra.
While in Agra we stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton, it opened 12 months prior and has great views of the Taj Mahal from the rooftop and from some rooms. India is an amazing country and even though I wouldn’t return to the north as I’m not a fan or returning when there is other places to visit, I would love an experience such as a luxury houseboat in Kerala in the South or Holi in Mumbai or even visit one of the larger cities such as Bangalore.
Have you been to Agra? If you use these recommendations please let me know in the comments. I love to hear if I have helped someone with my information.
Sal, Craig & our 3 kids