Our visit to the Taj Mahal started early. We headed out at 5.15am in order to view the Taj at sunrise. Even at this time of day, when it is still dark, the streets of India are not empty. We spotted joggers, walkers, unaccompanied young children and many stray dogs.

At 5.30am it was already hot and humid, and as we queued with hundreds of others for our tickets (entry cost 1,000 rupees, around £10) one lady fainted. Our wait seemed to last an eternity, but eventually the gates opened and we started on our pilgrimage to the world’s most beautiful building!

We walked for about 10 minutes, climbed some steps, entered an archway and suddenly there it was, bang in front of us! This beautiful, white, gleaming edifice that literally took our breath away!

We’d seen many photos depicting its beauty and splendour, and they are all absolutely true. No need for photoshop here! The Taj Mahal is gorgeous and our view at sunrise, which created a hazy, pinkish hue that gradually cleared with the rising sun, was worth every minute of lost sleep!

The Taj Mahal was built in the 1600s by Shah Jahan, the fifth Moghul emperor, as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child and her dying wish was that he would care for their children and build a lasting monument to her.

The Taj’s beauty lies in its perfect symmetry and in the white marble it is constructed from. Close up, you can see that the marble is inlaid with coloured stones and the walls are covered with quotes from the Koran. Inside it is simple, with the tomb of Mumtaz positioned in the centre. Following his death, Shah Jahan’s daughter decided to place his tomb next to his wife’s, thus ‘spoiling’ the symmetry.

Six of the fourteen children survived to adulthood, but the story doesn’t have a happy ending. The third son decided to claim the empire for himself, killed his two older brothers and imprisoned his father. It was from his prison cell in Agra Fort that Shah Jahan was able to look out across the Yamuna River to the Taj.

A series of pools stretch in front of the Taj, set in lawned gardens lined with trees. The gardens are also a thing of beauty and offer some welcome shade from the blazing sun.

We ended our stay in Agra with a visit to a factory specialising in marble inlays where the girls bought miniature marble elephants. It is painstaking work, with some pieces taking months to complete. It certainly increased my appreciation of the artisanship required to build the Taj Mahal.

We left Agra at 10.30am to start our drive to Jaipur. Much as I love the Taj Mahal, I love Jaipur more. Find out why next time!