A little known prime viewing spot of the Taj Mahal exists opposite the monument on the northern shores of the Yamuna River in Agra. It is Mehtab Bagh, a centuries old garden complex, open to the public but little advertised and not easily visited for short term Agra visitors.
Translated as Moonlight Garden, Mehtab Bagh is is estimated to have been built by Emperor Babur in the early 1500’s, as the ultimate viewing place of the Taj Mahal. The Mughal garden was built to the identical width of the Taj Mahal complex and is exactly aligned with the marble mausoleum.
Picture perfect views of the Taj Mahal can easily be had from nearly every point of the garden due to the exacting build of the garden plot.
Mehtab Bagh is a charbagh complex. Char translates as 4, bagh translates as garden. Thus, it is a four compartment garden design. This classic style of Mughal garden lies within a perfect square shape. When it was originally built, it is thought that the garden exhibited walk ways, reflecting pools with fountains, and shaded pavilions nestled within trees, fragrant flowers and native shrubbery.
Lying in the flood plains of Yamuna River, Mehtab Bagh fell into a state of disrepair until the early 1990’s. The once magical garden was nearly forgotten as it sat covered in sand and wild jungle vegetation.
Restoration of Mehtab Bagh began in 1994, headed by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI). This included excavation of the 25 acre site which revealed a huge octagonal tank furnished with 25 fountains, a small central tank and a baradari on the east.
The rehabilitation of Mehtab Bagh by ASI was designed to return the garden back to its original status as a true mughal garden. ASI landscape artists painstakingly planned the replanting of trees, plants and foliage to match the original Mughal gardens of India. More than 80 types of plants adopted in Mughal horticulture can now be found in Mehtab Bagh.
A typical mughal garden is planted in such a way that tall trees are followed by short trees, which are followed then by shrubs before finally ending with flowering plants.
Tourists of Taj Mahal will read about a rumored Black Taj which is said to have had a foundation built at the site of Mehtab Bagh. Unfortunately, as much as we all love an intriguing story or the idea of dueling monuments, this has been proven untrue. Although there is a crumbled foundation directly across from the present day Taj Mahal monument, it was confirmed during excavations to be nothing more than part of the former garden complex.
A visit to the Taj Mahal is greatly enhanced by a stop at Mehtab Bagh if possible. Tourists can reach the site by tuk tuk or local taxi, however it is much easier and more comfortable by car and driver service. It is not for the faint of heart as the ride from Taj Mahal or Agra Fort to Mehtab Bagh involves crossing the city of Agra on roads that are notoriously lousy, riddled by traffic jams, blaring horns, and narrow crossings.
Most tourists visit Agra during the cooler winter months of October through March. Mornings are typically begun by strong fog in the early hours which can shroud the majestic architecture of the Taj Mahal. Starting at Mehtab Bagh is an excellent way to capture the sun breaking through the clouds before the haze of the afternoon has a chance to set. Add in a stop at Itmad-ud-Duala and Chini-Ka-Rauza, and you’ll feel as though the effort to reach this side of Agra was doubly worthwhile.
Visitors to Mehtab Bagh won’t find many other tourists. A few domestic travelers wander through the meticulously maintained paths as gardeners and various workers trim, plant, water, and tend to the sprawling vegetation. Newly rebuilt fountains are sometimes switched on giving just a hint of how glorious the original mughal garden must have been.
Young lovers can be spotted under the shade of a tree or mulling through the various flower lined lanes. Beautiful birds and other small wildlife roam freely among the dark green hue of ground cover.
Timing and Entry Fee
Mehtab Bagh is open from sunrise to sunset.
Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC* and BIMSTEC** Countries: ₹5
*Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan
**Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar
Foreign visitors: ₹100
Children up to age 15 (foreign and domestic): Free
There is no time limit to how long visitors may stay within the garden. And there are no posted rules on allowable such as eatables or drinks. Come early for sunrise shots of the Taj Mahal, stay for a picnic, and watch the afternoon set before capturing a sunset photo.
Don’t expect a grand entrance on the scale of say Agra Fort or the Taj Mahal. The entrance to Mehtab Bagh is reserved and understated. A simple ticket booth sits within a barbed wire fence extending along the garden walls. Limited street parking is found nearby. A few touts sit near the entrance selling the usual Indian trinkets: bangles, hand paint blocks, miniature Taj Mahal sculptures, etc. And last but not least, camel rides can be taken up and down the road running parallel the garden for a fee.