What It’s Like To Stand There – Destination: Taj Mahal

Welcome to Part 1 in a new series at The Carey Adventures, What It’s Like To Stand There.

This series will be a group of irregular posts highlighting what is missing in photos from famous landmarks, such as the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, Petra and other well known locations. I will not only show you the beautiful viewpoints, I will describe to you what it is like to stand there, through pictures and text. To find all the posts in the series, just click here.

Sit back and enjoy our first stop in Agra, India.


Photography is illusion, an untrue, distorted view of what is. No time is that more evident than to the photographer facing the grandeur of the Taj Mahal. The beauty of the reflecting pool giving a double of an architectural marvel is jaw dropping.

What else is there to it? For starters, people.

Arriving early at the Taj Mahal is the way to go, when the gates first open and the temperatures are cool. It’s also your best chance to take a photo with the least amount of people. Let’s face it, with 2.5 million visitors a year, the grounds are swarming with people. Have a look at the main entrance arches opposite the Taj (the Taj Mahal is behind me in this picture).

Peter-West-Carey-India2012-0421-8537That’s where most people first stop and take a photo. It’s crowded. Here’s a picture closer to the steps leading down:


And looks like this when you stop to take a picture form the outside:Peter-West-Carey-India2011-1101-9873

The prime location for reflection pool images is closer in to the Taj and it too quickly fills with tourists. Do you see that reflecting pool on the right that ends in a raised dais in the image below? That’s it.


During my two visits to the grounds I have found most people polite about rotating through this location so others may take home their own copy of a classic. While I waited, I snapped this image:


Excited commotion abounds at this photo location. Instructions are being loudly voiced to move this way or that way and “Smile!” in various languages. A mix of Hindi, broken English, German and Japanese is often heard.



As serene as the reflected image is, it belays the the jubilant, party atmosphere directly behind the photographer. Laughter is my strongest memory of waiting my turn. An international language, laughter comes from the people creating ‘jump’ pictures, from kids let loose and from large groups filing by. Being early and not too hot, spirits are up and the public mood reflects that.


The trick with the Taj Mahal is to wait for the light. Getting in early is good, but depending on the time of year (I have been there in the Fall and Spring) you may have to wait an hour or two after sunrise for the best light. Taking photos too early means shadows on the minarets. But also less people and sometimes less haze.


Waiting around means things will heat up and the amount of dust will increase. Being hot in India is nothing new and the crowds here are not as bad as in the streets. That heat and dust also gets into your nose and blocks out the scant scents from the surrounding gardens. Ample unwashed visitors abound but there is enough open and moving air that it is not noticed the way it is inside Indian buses.

The platform from which to take the reflecting pool image is narrow and you will be bumped more than once while attempting a photo or just marveling at the site.

To put it mildly, this prime location is anything but the calm most images taken from it portray. I am sure there are, as with any location of this nature, times when a visitor may be all alone for upwards of 15 minutes in this location, but the norm is a steady moving crowd, all wanting the same image.

Have you been to this location at the Taj Mahal? Please share your experience in the comments section as I would love to hear other points of view.

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