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One of the most magical views of the Taj Mahal can be found at the gorgeous Mehtab Bagh or the Moonlight Gardens of Agra.
As it sits beside the Yamuna River, this gorgeous historic pleasure garden is a great way to see the Taj Mahal without all the crowds.
Originally built by Emperor Babur, the first Emperor of the Mughal Dynasty, you’ll be walking in the footsteps of royalty!
It’s also the perfect place to visit if you happen to visit Agra on a Friday when the Taj Mahal complex is closed.
Here is a complete guide for Mehtab Bagh with the history, highlights and how to visit!
What is Mehtab Bagh?
The Mehtab Bagh is a charbagh garden that sits beside the Yamuna River in Agra, Uttar Pradesh.
A charbagh is an Islamic four-cornered garden layout. These quadrilateral gardens were popular with Mughal Kings and Islamic Empires as the design echoed the Paradise Gardens that are mentioned in the sacred texts of the Qur’an.
Just like the Gardens of Paradise, the Mehtab Bagh was originally designed in four sections and had lots of ponds, pools of water, flowers and fruit trees to make it smell amazing.
It is measured at around 300 x 300 metres and it aligns perfectly with the Taj Mahal on the opposite side of the river bank.
It was originally built in the late 16th-century. What we see today is mainly a reconstruction of what the Mughal Emperors once built.
Mehtab Bagh history of the Moonlight Gardens
The moonlight gardens in Agra are actually the last of eleven charbagh gardens that were built alongside the East bank of the Yamuna River.
You would think that they were built to overlook the Taj Mahal. But, surprisingly, the Mehtab Bagh was built way before the Taj Mahal was even thought of!
Emperor Babur, who was the first Mughal Emperor and founder of the Mughal Dynasty, was responsible for the original gardens constructed in the mid-16th century.
Over one hundred years later, Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal. He noticed that the gardens on the opposite side of the river were the perfect viewpoint.
So, he decided to renovate the gardens and added flowers, fountains, pavilions, bridges and even installed fruit trees. It became a pleasure garden for royalty and those of his court.
It then became “a moonlit pleasure garden called Mehtab Bagh”. This was due to it being the perfect place to see the moon light up the Taj Mahal and see it reflected in the pools of the garden.
Eventually, after the fall of the Mughal Empire, the gardens were owned by the Rajput Emperor, Raja Man Singh Kacchawa of Amber.
The legend of the Black Taj Mahal
Legend has it that Emperor Shah Jahan had plans that stretched far beyond that of the Moonlight Gardens in Agra.
According to the diaries of Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French Traveller, there were plans to build a Black Taj Mahal.
This Black Taj Mahal would have been built on the site of the Mehtab Bagh Gardens as a twin.
But, unfortunately, those plans were cut short as Emperor Shah Jahan was thrown in jail by his own son, Aurangzeb! Shah Jahan would spend the rest of his days looking out at his masterpiece of the Taj from Agra Fort.
Many people still believe that a Black Taj Mahal was built and it is buried somewhere near the Yamuna River.
I guess it’s not too far fetched a theory considering it sits on at the Yamuna flood plain. The mud and sand could have easily buried it. Just like it buried Mehtab Bagh over the centuries.
There were a few archaeologists over the years who thought they got lucky and found some remnants of the legend. But, none have been so lucky.
Such a shame, it would have been amazing to see a Black Taj Mahal twin on the opposite side of the river!
Over the centuries, frequent flooding meant that the gardens had largely fallen into decay. Add the fact that local villagers used much of the site for building materials and the Mehtab Bagh was largely forgotten.
This once great garden owned by Mughal and Rajput Emperors was just a chapter in history.
That was until the 1990s when the Archaeological Survey of India, aided by the USA, decided to renovate them.
It was a huge project that took a lot of research. Many historical documents were recovered to ensure that the gardens were sympathetically built as the Mughal Emperors once had them.
This included recovering plants and trees that would have originally sat in the gardens at the time. Even flowers that shine brightly in the moonlight!
Although it’s not exactly the same paradise gardens as Emperor Babur and Shah Jahan would have built. The gardens were restored to their former glory and opened as pleasure gardens to the public.
So, nowadays, anyone can visit these gorgeous gardens for a magical view of the Taj Mahal!
What is the best time to visit the moonlight gardens?
Despite the name, it may surprise you to know that these gardens are not always open at night time!
The best time to visit the Mehtab Bagh would be either early morning before it gets too hot or later in the evening at sunset.
I’ve visited these gardens four times now and every time I choose sunset as opposed to during the day. Simply as it’s magical to see the sky behind the Taj Mahal turn colourful and pink!
The moonlight gardens are open every day from sunrise to sunset or 6 am – 6 pm.
The only downside in visiting at sunset is the crowds. It does get incredibly busy in the evenings due to the cooler temperatures.
So, if you want less people, I’d opt for a sunrise or day time viewing. Then, you’ll have it pretty much to yourself!
Visiting Mehtab Bagh on the full moon
On the full moon, they do open the gardens for a twilight viewing.
I’ve heard it’s absolutely incredible to see the moonlight shine over the Taj Mahal and a great time to visit for photos.
It’s now firmly on my India bucket list. If you are lucky enough to plan your visit around the full moon, I’d 100% make sure you do it!
What to do while you’re here
So, what is there to do at the moonlight gardens?
Well, despite the obvious draw of the most amazing view of the Taj Mahal, there are plenty of other things to do as well.
Take in the magical views of the Taj Mahal
This is probably the part of the gardens that will take your breath away. The Mehtab Bagh has one of the most romantic views of the Taj Mahal.
The best part? The fact that you can see it without all the crowds.
Although these gardens do get busy at sunset, everyone can get an unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal as it’s located over the Yamuna River.
This makes it the perfect photo opportunity. So, make sure you have your camera at the ready!
Explore the Rose Garden
Just like the original moonlight gardens created by Emperor Babur, you’ll find that these gardens have all sorts of flowers to enjoy.
From roses, fruit trees, Narcissus and more. You can explore all four areas of this charbargh to your heart’s content. They will smell amazing!
The best time to visit the gardens for flowers would be just after the monsoon season in October.
Note: the gardens are prone to flooding during Monsoon (July – September). During this time the gardens may be closed).
Lookout for wildlife over the Yamuna River
Another great thing about these gardens is they are perfect for spotting wildlife as you have an open plain in front of you.
While we were here we spotted all sorts of wildlife, even squirrels that would make their way around finding food.
Take a look around for birds native to the Yamuna River area. Herons, geese, ducks, and even pelicans can be seen on the river banks. In fact, thousands of migratory birds have been spotted in the area.
If you are a bird lover, you could visit the famous Soor Sarovar Bird Sanctuary who aims to look after them. They are located around 7 kilometres out of Agra.
Watch a gorgeous sunset
My favourite thing to do at the Mehtab Bagh is to watch the sun set over the Taj Mahal. It’s iconic and one of the most magical experiences you can have in India.
Luckily, I’ve been on a visit where there has been the ‘perfect sunset’. This is where there is no smog or cloud cover over the Yamuna River. The clear skies make way for a gorgeous pink sky!
The photo below has not been edited pink. The sky really looks that colour!
It’s honestly one of the best places to visit in Agra for sunset. You won’t regret it. It’s a memory that will stick with me forever.
Top tips for visiting Mehtab Bagh
- The moonlight gardens are open every day from 6am-6pm but the best times to visit are early morning and late afternoon before sunset.
- If you visit during the Monsoon season (July – September) it may be flooded
- Tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed in the complex. Just keep them in your bags and hidden away or they will be confiscated by guards.
- Drone photography is also strictly forbidden here and pretty much anywhere around Agra and the Taj Mahal complex. Don’t risk it!
- The gardens do see a lot of crowds around sunset. If you want a quieter time, I’d visit in the morning or during the day.
- You can sit and stand on the walls of the garden. There is a barbed-wire fence near the river though for safety
- You can’t get a boat ride on the river from here. If you want tips on how to do that, see this post!
How to reach Mehtab Bagh in Agra
The moonlight gardens are located on the East Bank of the Yamuna River. It sits opposite the Taj Mahal complex to the North.
But, as the Yamuna River sits in between the Taj Mahal and the gardens. You can’t simply walk over there.
Well, you could, but walking there may be quite far with the heat. It will take you well over an hour to walk there from the main tourist area of Agra.
There are also no ferries over the Yamuna. You must arrive at the moonlight gardens via the road.
From the Taj Mahal, the Mehtab Bagh is located around 7.5 kilometres away.
This is because vehicles and pedestrians must travel down a road alongside the river and cross over a bridge that’s a little further down from the Taj Mahal complex.
Then, once over the bridge, you have to travel all the way back towards the Taj on the opposite side.
You can either hire a taxi or an auto-rickshaw to take you to the Metabh Bagh.
Most hotels can organise a tour for you where the rickshaw/driver will wait for you to take a look around and then take you back to Agra.
Or, you can hire a rickshaw to take you one way and then, after your visit, negotiate for one back.
I found this was the cheapest option and gave me more flexibility when I was in the moonlight gardens too. It means you don’t have to rush!
There is always a big pool of rickshaw drivers sitting outside the moonlight gardens hassling tourists for rides back.
Mehtab Bagh ticket prices
The gardens have different entry fees for different nationalities. This is common with all Indian attractions
Indian Nationals and those from SAARC countries pay 15 rupees per person.
Foreign Nationals pay 200 rupees per person.
No photography permits are needed, photography is free. But, tripods are forbidden.
Is Mehtab Bagh open on a Friday?
YES! If you find that you arrive on a Friday when the Taj Mahal complex is closed, the Mehtab Bagh is a great alternative.
It’s probably the best view of the Taj Mahal without actually being in the Taj Mahal, if you see what I mean.
Looking for more tips on visiting the Taj Mahal?
Visiting the Taj Mahal is always on the top of travellers bucket lists for India! But, it’s important to know what to expect on your visit.
I’ve been to the Taj around five times in total now. Each time, I fall in love with it even more.
But, I’ve also made lots of mistakes and learned not to set my expectations too high. On three of my visits, the Taj was covered in construction!
If you want to know a bit more about visiting the Taj Mahal and mistakes to avoid. Make sure you click here to see more of my top tips!
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I used to live in India and have travelled to over 22 states! So, I definitely know my way around.
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