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Photography at the Taj Mahal..Lots of questions

Spud (the travellin' tuber) Potato Head , Aug 03, 2006; 04:26 p.m.

Alright oh gurus of photo.net, I need your help.

I'll be travelling to Agra in Sepetember to photograph the Taj Mahal. I will be lugging my Mamiya RZ67 and assorted lenses.

What I need to know is this:

1) Please confirm if ANY sized tripod is allowed into the grounds of the Taj

2) If no tripods are allowed, am I allowed to bring in a bean bag?

3) All my gear is in a LowePro backpack. Am I allowed to bring that in?

4) What can I expect to pay for admission these days? $15 US ?

5) Any recommendations on overnight accommodation in Agra?

6) Does it still open at 6AM? Any way to get in earlier?

7) In September, which light is the best - morning or evening?

8) The hi speed train from Delhi will get me to the Taj too late in the morning. What is my best alternative to be there first thing in the AM?

9) How well will I manage if I'm just speaking English?

Thanks in advance for your wisdom

Responses


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Craig Ferguson , Aug 03, 2006; 08:25 p.m.

It's about 10 years since I was there, and a fair bit has changed. What I do know however is -

1)No tripods of any size allowed. You can apply can a special tripod permit from the government officials in Delhi, however this takes months to process. Sorry, I don't know which govt department is currently handling this.

2)I can't see why not.

3)You can take a camera bag in - but you have to pay extra for a camera. It's quite cheap though - not sure exactly what it is, as the price has changed a couple of times in the past 10 years.

4)I think it's 500rupees - which is about $US12. You check be able to find out easily with a google search.

5)Agra is a pretty awful city - I think the accom is probably just as bad. Can't help you there.

6)No idea.

7)Morning (less people too), but shoot at both. I believe the entrance ticket is good for the whole day, so you can leave and come back (at least it used to be.)

8)Best alternative is to stay in Agra for the night.

9)English is no problem.

You might also want to check out Agra Fort, which is nearby (and has good views of the Taj), and Fatehpur Sikri, which is a UNESCO world heritage site nearby that was the capital of the Mughal Empire for a few years, and has one of the largest mosques in India. It's quite close to Agra.

Alex Lofquist , Aug 04, 2006; 01:16 a.m.

The best place to stay in Agra used to be the Sheraton Mogul. Its interior is immaculate white marble. The grounds have beautiful gardens.

Try to get to the Taj shortly after dawn when the dust in the air gives a pink aura to the entire edifice. It used to be possible to stay on the Taj's grounds all night and view it by moonlight. I suspect that this may no longer be true.

No problem if only speaking English.

Take a mini "table-top" tripod. A bean bag would be of little value.

Don't skimp on film as this will be one of your most memorable experiences.

For a few rupees you can have a local boy ferry you across the Yumana river for non cliche' photos.

Philip Partridge , Aug 04, 2006; 04:26 a.m.

Spud,

(1) No - the Indian tourist authorities are core about this one. In some places, like the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur (suggest you also visit that if possible) you can talk them around by saying you don't want to leave your valuable 'camera stand' (Indian description for tripod) in public view. But the Taj is...different. If you have not seen it, you are in for a treat - it is way larger than one expects, and much more beautiful than expected - IMO.

You could sneak in a monopod under your top (September is still hot unfortunately). There are no tourist 'cops' following people around the mausoleum as at Mehrangarh...I bit the bullet at the Taj, left my tripod at the hotel, and used support from the edge of the built structures, seats and short fences that border the platform courtyard.

(2) A Beanbag would confuse them, which is a good state of mind for them to be in for you to succeed, so yes, a beanbag will be OK, once they check it contains no grenades, etc.

(3) Bags of that size are OK - Indians travel heavy, and it is unreasonable to stop bags being carried into the walled area. I take a small daypack everywhere in India.

(4) Admission was Rs750 last time I visited, 20 months ago. The US dollar is buying about Rs45...Indians get in for Rs20 or thereabouts. Most foreign visitors don't make too many repeat visits to the Taj.

(5) How much you wanna spend? Another dude offered his take; I travel cheap and stayed at the Tourist Rest House - costs about Rs 700-1000 for a secure, clean room with an attached bathroom with running hot water and A/C. Really good restaurant, and a great restaurant just down the road - magic thalis.

(6) The Taj is generally open from sunrise to sunset - so much more romantic than time expressed in mere hours.

(7) I believe evening light is best - storms often build in the west and produce that quintessential light that I have seen only in Indian heat and dust. Your tastes may differ, and to be truthful, I have not been there at dawn. Could be better with the crowds - the first time I went there in 1978 almost nobody was inside, despite the entry cost being cheap for all, Indians included. Not so now, but be sure to bustle around and ask ('demand', if you know India, so be emphatic) for the 'foreigners queue'. It will be far shorter.

(8) Go on one of the several Shatabdi trains in the afternoon, or go early in the day and check in, rest and eat, then go visit the wonderful and awesome Red Fort (the best one of the three of them: Agra, Delhi and Lahore) in the later afternoon - give yourself at least 2 hours - it is big and commands wonderful views of the river and Taj. There is only one other sight in the dirty, polluted sad city of Agra, and that is some way out of town, you can get a taxi for cheap, Fatehpur Sikri. Big and impressive as it is, you could skip it.

Do not take the non-Shatabdis between Delhi and Agra unless you know Indian trains reasonably well. You can also hire a long distance taxi at reasonable cost, if your visit is short you will see rural India a little, despite the burgeoning populations of the big cities - Delhi now tops 18 million I believe.

(9) Ah, I see you have not been there before. Indians speak many local languages and dialects, but use English as a lingua franca, or common language, often used as a kind of pidgin. Let me tell you this: A large number of Indians speak English better than you or I (high class folks, Brahmins and educated others), and many of the rest are easy to communicate with. Lower caste guys like autoricksaw drivers, street sweepers etc. don't know much English, but my estimate is 80% of the population are fine with it; try to use a fake Indian accent, you pick it up after a while, it helps them understand you, and speak loudly and clearly, with your mouth open when you speak.

Not wisdom, sadly - but knowledge and experience. You sound like a nice person; I hope I have been of assistance and wish you a trouble free trip. Take time out if possible in-between photo sessions and give yourself an easy time of it, eat and lie around; pretty good beer - Kingfisher and in may places, Fosters (!) for cheaper than Australia - they brew it near Mumbai. Ask your hotel wallahs to help organise travel or contact Vinstring, an outfit in Delhi I have used a lot.

Bonsignore Ezio , Aug 04, 2006; 08:30 a.m.

The only thing I can add to the many sensible suggestions you have received is this: At least by 4 months ago they were also opening at night during the full moon nights. However admittance is strongly limited (I seem to remember it was some 200-300 persons per night) and you cannot simply go there and buy a ticket, you must reserve in advance. Of course what happen is, the travel agencies and guides etc. buy all the tickets months ahead. If you are staying in a upper-level hotel they may be able to help you, otherwise you may wish consider contacting one of the many agencies. Also, if memory serves me well the night ticket costs some 10 times the normal one. I can confirm that tripods are not allowed during the normal opening times but I would certainly expect they are permissible at night otherwise nobody would want to pay the extra fee. Also please note that dawn and dusk are very short and light conditions change very rapidly. I second the suggestion of trying them both on a single ticket, but particularly at down literally every single minute will count. This means that trying to be amogst the very first people in the queue will actually matter. You may perhaps try to go there late in the evening and ask whether you can buy a ticket for the next day. Also: security is much tighter there than at many other places in India. Given that you are carrying a large photo bag you should ensure that you can open it a take out/put back all of its content quickly. By the same token: NO knifes, scissors, etc. (I's not terrorism fobia - they don't want some idiot scratching their names on the marble). And, as it was said, be prepared: it's much more beautiful that you could possibly imagine.

David Henderson , Aug 05, 2006; 10:27 a.m.

I'd add that it is possible to photograph the Taj Mahal from across the river and if you have a day or two to go at it then it is probably better to combine the "in grounds" and across the river viewpoints. From across the river you can of course use a tripod and you can get there/be there whilst the grounds are closed.

There are two ways of getting across the river. First get a taxi driver to take you. When I visited Agra in 2001 the "going rate" for a driver and car for the day was c 800 rupees which is frankly peanuts and amkes getting around much easier. You'll have to walk a few hundred yards over sand to the edge of the river from the end of the road, and you might get accosted by some people who consider that your photographs will be much improved if you include their camels- for a fee of course. More easily, if you walk down to the river from the east gate of the Taj (about 5-10 mins from recall) you'll come to a place where a boatman will ferry you across ( and back) for a negotiable fee. This puts you near the NE corner of the Taj complex, ideal for dawn.

Second, make sure you know how to get from your hotel to the gate of the Taj early in the day. I stayed in a very comfortable hotel (The Trident) but there was no line of taxis around at 5am and wouldn't be till breakfast time. Get the concierge to fix something firm up otherwise you may well waste time. I suspect this may be changeable but when I was there you could not (ie were not allowed to) travel to the east gate by car. The driver would drop you at a car park from where you could walk or get a (rather persistent) cycle rickshaw ride to the entrance. I don't know the situation at any other gate there may be.

It is much easier photographing the Taj Mahal early in the day. Huge numbers of people visit this place. Your chances of getting any sort of long view without people are not very high, but they are higher early in the day than later.

I don't really agree that the Taj is the only show in town. The Fort is very good indeed- much better than the equivalent in Delhi. The Itimad ud Daulah's tomb (often termed the baby Taj) is excellent and relatively uncrowded. Its a couple of miles or so away , again by the river. Fatehpur Sikri is beautiful, but I would check before going that there is water in the pools before you go. The water makes it. If you do have a driver between Delhi and Agra or vice versa then a stop at Mathura and a boat trip along the ghats is a great way to spend and hour or so.

Finally this. Of all the places I've been, the Delhi/Agra area has the most persistent begging, attempts to sell you things or take you places, entreaties to go into stores, claims to be your free official guide and so on. Some people will find this frustrating or even daunting.

Bob Soltis , Aug 06, 2006; 08:29 a.m.

The Sheraton is a great place to stay.

If you have the chance to ride an elephant to the Taj from the hotel, by all means do so. It's an interesting experience.

Praveen Murthy , Aug 08, 2006; 07:44 p.m.

I was there in March, and not even a very inconspicuous Hakuba monopod was allowed in. I declined to take my photo backpack because the tour I was with warned us that it would hold things up as they would be very thorough with the search, but you can probably take a photo bag in. However, without a tripod, and in sunset light, I am not sure how you will use a medium format rig. Going across the river as suggested already is a good option to avoid the hassle of no tripods. Sunset light is quite good as it strikes the Taj from the left corner as you stand facing it. There are now several 5 star hotels in Agra, and Jaypee Palace where we had lunch looked very posh, and probably with prices to match.

Karen Goss , Aug 24, 2006; 01:11 p.m.

We were at the Taj earlier this year.

1 - no tripods 2 - give it a go, though you may have to persist in explaining it 3 - the bag should be ok, but it will be searched and the guards may have problems with some of your bits, I had to argue my light meter in, just make sure to speak to someone in a higher position if you get greif from the front gate 4 - I think the entrance fee was 850 Rupees. Also, you cannot come and go, you are permitted to leave once only for a maximum of 30mins to get something to eat (or more film!) 5 - Hotel Sheila is 200 yards away from the East Gate. I would HIGHLY recommend you stay there in order to get to the ticket desk in the least time from leaving your bed! It's very cheap and clean. 6 - Yup, 6am. No way as far as I know to get in earlier, it's pretty organised with guards everywhere and the ticket guy will NOT seel a ticket until he's good and ready. Get there at 5.40am to be the first in line. We were and only managed to get two frames off each without people walking into shot. 9 - everyone in India speaks English!

It's beautiful, have a wonderful day and don't forget to take water.

Spud (the travellin' tuber) Potato Head , Sep 10, 2006; 08:43 a.m.

Thanks to everyone who contributed an answer. I just got back and can confirm the following answers are up to date as of September 6th:

1) NO 2) NO - My bean bag was bounced 3) NO - I even brought a really small collapsible bag and they wouldn't allow it. Thast being said, one of the days I was there I saw a number of others with small camera bags, so I guess it varies from guard to guard. 4) Its still 750 rupees (~$16.75 US) and thats good only for one admission. No in/out privileges. This also gets you a free 500ml bottle of water 5) I stayed at the Trident Hilton on a hotel package promotion. It included free breakfast which I wasn't able to enjoy as I was at the Taj each morning before breakfast started. Away from town though, so it was quiet. 6) Roughly. The guy started to sell tickets about 5:45/5:50, and you could go in shortly after. 7) Morning seemed best in September 8) I could have hired a driver, but it was averaging 4-5 hours to make a 200 KM trip. I elected to take the Shatadbi Express, used that afternoon for orientation, then spent the next three days shooting. 9) I got along with English OK. Many speak it, with varying degrees of success. While the people may not all know English 100%, they do all know how to say "Hello Sir", "Money", "Where you go?", "Where you from?" and "Come see my shop". One word they definitely didn't know was 'No'


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