“A teardrop on the face of eternity” – Rabindranath Tagore, India’s Nobel Laureate poet proclaimed of the Taj Mahal. Indeed the Taj is architecturally one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve encountered; the symmetry is perfect, the marble still glistening white after centuries and the size is enormous, however it’s hard to shake the eerie feeling of being in the presence of the creation of a man so ‘in love’ that he had the thumbs of his workers cut off (according to legends) so that they could never create something as beautiful as the Taj Mahal again #romantic.
The Taj Mahal was created by Emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife (he had three) who died at age 39 following the birth of their 14th child – it is alleged that on her deathbed, Mumtaz Mahal requested that Shah Jahan show his love for her to the world. Construction of the Taj began in 1632 and took 22 years, employing 20000 workers.
My experience with the Taj Mahal was not so pleasant. For a start Agra is dirty and chaotic (much like the rest of India) however it lacks the charm of other cities as, in my experience, the people were rude and unpleasant. I’d recommend staying in Agra for as short a time as possible; a night or two to just see the Taj and get out – if there’s a place to splurge it’s Agra as you’ll find it easier to deal with the people, dirt and overall grunginess when you have a nice bed (preferably with white sheets) and hot shower to come home to.
We set out at midday to see the Taj (much less crowded than the ever popular sunrise viewing time), and went to enter at the West gate, however after buying tickets were stopped by guards and asked to pay foreigner prices because of our blonde hair. Despite my mum speaking fluent Hindi (and being born and raised in India) the guards (and ever growing crowd – why is it that whenever there’s a issue in India, a huge crowd emerges out of thin air to watch and partake?) wouldn’t budge. After arguing a little more we gave up; my mum said we’d just pay the foreigner fee this time and see it, however I really wasn’t willing to pay the equivalent of a night in a hotel to see a building I wasn’t too keen on in the first place.
Instead, we took an auto to the East gate and covered our hair with our saris, and I concocted a fab little backstory to masquerade as Indian nationals despite my lack of knowledge of the Hindi language. I spent most of my time looking down whilst my mum (who became my aunt in this story) explained to some female security guards (who asked why I didn’t answer their questions) that I was mute since birth and am getting married soon (my future husband is also half mute, we mostly communicate through sign language)… the guards ended up feeling sorry for me, said I was too pretty to be so unfortunate (well I’d be a lot prettier if I didn’t have to get so sweaty running around in 40degree weather trying to see this monument…) and let us in.
I suppose technically I should be paying the foreign price anyway; as a person on tumblr deigned to (repeatedly and insistently) point out – the Indian price is only for those with Indian citizenships. Well, perhaps I’m stubborn but I refuse to pay $15 when Indian looking tourists from the U.S. with black hair and daggy clothes are getting in for 40c, no questions asked.
Once inside I was impressed with the building but it was way too crowded to admire it for too long without being jostled by someone eager to take a photo (plus there was the mild paranoia of not talking too loudly lest the same female guards come inside and witness a supposedly mute girl talking #miraclesarereal!).
Although we didn’t intend on seeing any more sights in Agra after that, the next day upon finding out that our train was delayed by six hours – typical India transport – the friendly autorickshaw driver (we did end up meeting some nice people there after all :)) who dropped us off at the station took us around Agra to see Baby Taj, Agra Fort, and for a walk in the Mehtab Bagh gardens where you can get a view of the Taj Mahal from behind.
Despite its aesthetic beauty I personally don’t feel as though the Taj Mahal deserves to be India’s most recognisable/well known monument when there are so many places which better represent India and its culture. Oh well, I’ve ticked off a monument which makes most people’s bucketlists and the thali I had back at the hotel was absolutely amazing…plus my saree was gorgeous (thanks grandma!).