I am not a fan of group tours. I loathe sitting on buses, being shuttled from location to location, on someone else’s schedule. As much as I prefer more independent travel, there are times where a local guide, and a private tour, are worth the money. Booking a private Taj Mahal tour was just such a time, and one that fit perfectly with our goal of traveling India in comfort.
I’ve always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, and it was the main reason, other than food, for why I wanted to go to India at all. This being India, though, I did not want to deal with the hassles that come with getting ourselves from Delhi to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. And, I kind of wanted a tour guide to show us around. This was a once in a lifetime visit, and I wanted to make the most of it. After all, the Taj Mahal is one of the main reasons to organize a tour of the Golden Triangle.
Private Driver From Delhi to Agra
Our driver picked us up from the JW Marriott Delhi for our Private Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Tour. We settled in for the three hour trip from Delhi to Agra, much of which occurred in an attempt to tackle the Delhi traffic. Our guide originally wanted to leave at 7am, but being a private tour, we felt we had the flexibility to request a later departure. I am not a morning person. The driver happily obliged, but it meant crawling through Monday morning Delhi traffic.
It took about 3 hours to drive to Agra from Delhi, with a quick pit stop on the way. The highway is new, well paved, and led to a comfortable trip from Delhi. Once we exited the highway in Agra, though, it was like another world.
Whereas much of Delhi is organized and developed, Agra is, well, less so. As we made our way into the center of Agra, and towards the Taj Mahal, we passed homes and store fronts, people and traffic, dogs and goats. And, it’s not possible to travel in India without encountering cows. We hadn’t seen many in Mumbai or Delhi, but in Agra, they were everywhere. They lumbered along the sides of the roads, or occasionally placed themselves within the traffic flow. The drivers just obeyed to the will of the cows, and drove around them.
We met our tour guide, Sanjay, once we reached the outskirts of Agra, and there started our private Taj Mahal tour, and our history lesson. I’ve watched travel shows and documentaries on the construction of the Taj, and even have heard the legends. Sanjay, though, wove a unique tale for the day, focusing on the power of love behind the Taj Mahal. Although at some points he layered on the love story a little thick, I appreciated his enthusiasm.
Private Dining With a View of the Taj Mahal
Another benefit of having a private Taj Mahal tour is that we were able to request a stop at our hotel in Agra before our tour really started. We were not sure how the day was going to go, and did not want our luggage, and in particular, our laptops and important items, sitting in the back of an SUV or minivan all day. If they could be safely stored at our hotel, all the better.
Our second stop was lunch on the SkyDeck at the Gateway Hotel. The hotel provides unobstructed views of the Taj Mahal in the distance, with the city of Agra in the foreground. This was our first proper view of the Taj Mahal, which looked pretty impressive, even with the hot haze that blanketed Agra.
Part of our private Taj Mahal tour included a professional photographer. He met us on the SkyDeck and we posed for some photos with the Taj in the background.
After our photo shoot, and having felt a little like celebrities, we opted to eat indoors to avoid the late summer heat on the rood top. I was thrilled when the manager offered this option because I knew we would bake on the roof top.
Instead, we were nestled into a romantic table, inside a hotel room. We dined on a royal Thali platter, in our private room, all with a view of the Taj in the distance. It felt a little strange being in the small room by ourselves, but we enjoyed the view of the Taj nonetheless.
Private Taj Mahal Tour With Paparazzi
We left the Gateway royally stuffed, but had the opportunity to walk it off, and sweat it out, when we arrived at the Taj Mahal. We had a less than celebrity entrance to the Taj, as we made our way through security. There is a separate line for women. Sanjay, our photographer, and Eric made their way through one line, and I was in the other. At the end, the lines merged into one so that bags could be scanned, in a hectic first come first serve line.
I placed my bag on the conveyor belt and when it emerged, the security personnel asked me to step in front of her so she could go through the bag. The problem was that 20 other people were surrounding this woman, also looking for their bags. No one wanted to move to let me stand directly in front of her. She kept asking me to stand closer and I kept smiling and shrugging my shoulders to imply there was no way I could push my way in. Finally, she yelled at the women in front her to move over, and it was like the seas parted to allow me in. Seconds later, I rejoined the men and we were on our way.
Once we emerged from security, Sanjay continued to share the love story of the Taj Mahal as we slowly made our way to the main event. Along the way, our professional photographer stopped us periodically to take photos. I have not had that many photos taken of us at one time since our wedding day almost 15 years ago.
There are plenty of people willing to take your photograph, for a fee, at the Taj Mahal. I felt a lot more comfortable with our professional photographer. I liked having it all sorted ahead of time, which took the stress of negotiating and haggling for a photographer onsite.
The best part: the photographer felt comfortable clearing the area around us. He asked people to move aside as he placed us on the famous Princess Diana bench, and at various other points around the property. The worst part: being posed in positions that were entirely uncomfortable for us, and a little too cheesy romantic. He was pretty easy going about it though, as we started to tell him there was no need to pose us in these ways. He even snapped some candids of us attempting to take selfies, which I think were my favorite shots.
Maybe a bit cheesy for us.
This shows perfectly our personality, and how we spend a lot of our time traveling.
After our photo shoot ended, Sanjay suggested we spend some time alone exploring, and experiencing the Taj on our own. He left us close to the entrance of the Taj itself, and explained that we needed to put some booties on our feet to walk around inside. We walked the grounds a bit more on our own, and met Sanjay after we had taken as many photos as we wanted of the Taj.
I was proud that I had made it to the Taj, particular after we procrastinated for so long about traveling to India. I was proud that I saw it in person, and I could check it off my travel to do list. I was also really happy we booked the private car and driver, and private tour guide for the entire experience, even the cheesy photo poses.
After the Taj Mahal, Sanjay offered us plenty of additional tour options, including a visit to the Agra Fort, or to do some handicraft and souvenir shopping to round out our trip. But, the monsoon weather caught up with us, and we got caught in a rain storm leaving the Taj. Once we were back in the van, we were hot and moist, and we wanted the comfort of our hotel.
We were also exhausted. The private Taj Mahal tour from Delhi is normally a round trip experience. That means a total of 6 or 7 hours in the car. I was exhausted by the end of our visit to the Taj and couldn’t imagine riding back to Delhi that night. I was thrilled we planned to stay in Agra that night.
Our driver and guide were more than happy to drive us the two kilometers back to our hotel instead of returning us to Delhi. Another key benefit of hiring a private tour guide – flexibility. Within 10 minutes from leaving the Taj, we were back at the hotel, showering, resting, and marveling at the photos we took of our private Taj Mahal tour.
We were hosted by Viator Travel on our Private Taj Mahal and Agra Fort Tour and supported by the JW Marriott Delhi Aerocity and Courtyard Marriott Agra during our stay in India, but my views are my own. A private Taj Mahal tour starts at $100 per person, and includes transport to and from Delhi.
For more information about India, see our India Travel Guide, for information on accommodations, what to eat, and tours to book.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.