The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

Writers' Showcase

A Visit to the Taj Mahal
by Alice Chackoletti

When I was in high school in America, I did a paper on the Taj Mahal in Agra India.  So, when I had a chance to go to North India for business, as an adult, and stay there for an extended length of time, I decided I must go see “THE TAJ”.

On a Friday morning, I hopped in a van for the 4-hour ride from New Delhi to Agra.  It was a very hot and muggy day in November, even though the van we were riding in had some type of air conditioning. Lots of Lorries (trucks) and wagons pulled by camels, public buses with people hanging out of their fully open side doors or even people and loads on top of them, as well as a handful of personal cars were normal on these roads. Of course, I think we traveled at around 30 miles per hour, at the most.  Most of these motorized vehicles used their horn to let others know they were in their way and therefore it became a very long and noisy ride.  The lane markers are just a guidance for drivers, as most of them do not stay within their boundaries, which is typical around this part of the world.

The sights and smells along the way were unbelievably heartbreaking, much different from Kerala, India, roadside scenes I was used to before I came to America.  We saw a lot of kids of all ages running around with no clothes or minimal clothes on; young people and even older adults standing along or sitting on the edges of the roadways, doing their bodily discharge on the sides of the road were scenes hard to get out of my head, even several years later.  There were many people living in very impoverished conditions (shanty or sometimes just cardboard boxes for their homes) along the sides of roads.  Adults had smoldering fires with lots of smoke out in the open to cook whatever they were preparing for their morning meals.  It was difficult to see such living conditions experienced by so many people.  Sadly, the people living in this Indian shanti were there not by their own choice.

After several hours of traveling, we stopped along the way to eat lunch at a Western-style hotel and for a bathroom break.  Of course, anywhere there is a public bathroom, there is someone there at the doorway whose job is to hand out a small amount of toilet paper, for a small coin, as payment.  The other ladies in the van did not speak much English and therefore most of us rode quietly to our destination.  We were told by the driver that we would need a certain amount of rupees to enter the Taj and that they did not accept any other form of payment. So, people that did not have enough Indian rupees with them were frantically trying to get local cash at the stop-over during our lunch stop.  Believe it or NOT: The foreign tourist rate at the TAJ is more than ten times the cost of what the local Indians pay.

Once we arrived, they separated us by male and female groups and a lady searched my bags, as well as patted me down.  She told me that the little “mini-tripod” I was carrying was considered a “weapon” and I could not bring it inside this important national treasure.  Of course, I did not speak Hindi and she did not speak English:  So, now somehow, I was trying to communicate with her by showing her how I would attach the two-inch-long tripod to the bottom of my small camera to use it as a stabilizer for the camera. My attempt to convince her that it is NOT a weapon was unsuccessful.  I do not think she understood the functionality or even wanted to know about it.  All she could say to me, via pointing to somewhere nearby that I had to store it somewhere before I could enter the gates.  All the other people in my tour group were already inside the gate and I was stuck outside trying to figure out what to do next.  I had to yell at my tour driver/guide (who was in a separate line for men) that they had to wait for me and NOT leave me behind, as I did not speak the local language or understand anything they were saying.

After looking around to figure out what she was pointing at, I eventually found a locker somewhere nearby on the outside of the gates and stored the tripod/weapon inside it.  Of course, I had to use more local money (rupees) to be able to use the locker, which was going to cut into the amount of money I had left, to enter the gate.  After what seemed like a very long unpleasant ordeal, I found out that since it was a Friday, which is a Muslim holiday, some parts of the Taj would not be open to the public.  How disappointing to learn that it would not be a FULL tour, although I did not know how much I would miss out. With 4+ hours of travel each way, and a stop for lunch, the tour itself was something like an hour or two.

I did not know before that there are several buildings in this complex that make up the TAJ MAHAL facility. The view of these buildings as I walked into the complex is so unbelievably large and beautiful.  There is nothing like it in the world and it is very hard to describe it.  This structure is considered the best Mughal architecture and the large dome is over 100 ft tall.

What I remembered in my High School research was that the guy who designed it had his right hand cut off, after the design was completed, so that he would NEVER design another one like it, ever!  What a way to honor his creativity.  He lost his arm!  Although the primary Taj building is made of white marble, the main “gateway building” is made of red marble.  There is a reflection pond and gardens leading up to the mausoleum building and it is just mesmerizing walking up to this very large beautiful building, that is the main focus of the complex.

Once I finally got inside the vast complex, I connected with a couple of men from America.  They were an uncle (in his late 40s) and his nephew (in his early 20s) on “an around the world” tour, paid for by the “RICH” uncle. When the uncle who became financially well off, he decided to give his nephew a “gift of travel”, so that the young man can learn about parts of the world that he knew nothing about.  I asked them to take my picture in front of the Taj, which was to be my memento of the trip.  That picture of me sitting in front of the Taj in my pink shirt, reminds me of England’s Princess Diana in her bright red dress in front of the TAJ, in the early 1990s.

Millions of people visit this ultra-fascinating complex, which is a must-see in my book, not just because I am Indian American.  But anyone with a chance should experience the awe of being there.

Overall, the trip was worth the long 4+ hours riding in the older bumpy van each way, plus just a few hours there took more like 12 hours to complete.  At the end of the driving tour, the tour company tried to take us “captive audience” to a place where a group of local workers labor/carve stuff out of marble to try to sell to us, “tourists” that will buy anything to remind us of the day.  I was not in the mood to buy anything that I did not need/want, that I would have to transport thousands of miles back home.  However, I got to see, touch, and explore the beloved TAJ that I will treasure every day of my life going forward.