Currently I am sat outside of the Taj Mahal, the monument of love that India is most renowned for. You wonder why I am telling you that I am sat outside; surely that’s not the interesting bit? I hear you say…well that’s because I haven’t been let in. That’s right, I have spent 1000 rupees on a ticket and then some fat, uniformed, moustached, power-trip man has told me that I am not allowed in because I have a laptop. I have to give the laptop to him apparently. Well sod that.
Then I tried to get a refund – ‘not possible mam’, to get a refund I would have to return to the Fort, because that is where I bought the two-ticket deal. What strikes me as amazing is the ease with which the Agra population will take your money, but when you try to get it back, well, it literally is (to use the cliché) like squeezing water from a stone. The man was rude, abrasive and after a day in the boiling heat really pushed me over the edge; an emotional break-down, including tears and an attempted phone-call home.
Fortunately, I have the laptop that has caused me such grief over the last forty-five minutes and have managed (via writing) to get a hold over the rage/sobs were bordering on making a large scene. On the plus side, I think I have frightened enough people off from my break-down and I haven’t been approached and been tried to sell fake marble elephants for a good ten minutes, and on the plus side for you readers, I have been to the Taj Mahal before so you won’t miss out on a real life experience of it – be that it was in 2008. So, let us leave this present and melancholy time and let me take you back to my happier and actual experience of the testimony to love.
But before that happens – I am now witness to a girl being arrested, swarms of people are gathering, she’s screaming – apparently there’s a security problem. I have just been moved and am now sitting in a police car. This is an extremely different experience from the one that I’d anticipated. Having been escorted aggressively off the property, I have been separated from Tom and Sophie – who, being their first time in India, I hope have actually managed to see the monument.
The speaker keeps on talking about a ‘security problem,’ not really what one wants to hear – this is definitely a very different experience to the previous one – but I have to say I am finding the whole thing decidedly more amusing now. Being sat in the police car, despite the rather large revolver that is protruding from this ‘officer’s’ pocket, is rather fun. But back to April 2008, to Tom (Flash), Lou (his mother) and actually getting in:
It was April the 29th (I remember for I was trying to text my Kenyan best-friend ‘Happy Birthday’) and it was boiling. The hottest day I have experienced to date, I remember Lou telling me that it was 47 and thinking I was going to faint. Covering my head, we entered (hassle and stress free) and a red brick entrance rested to our right. Flash was swearing underneath his breath (f-ing and blinding about how ridiculously hot it was) and was absolutely drenched in sweat – it looked as though someone had thrown a bucket of water over his head.
Just the right kind of attitude and spirit to see one of the wonders of the world I thought. But it was difficult – with skin beginning to cook – to think of anything but the abrasive heat, that was until we turned right and got our first glimpse of the Taj. The thoughts of Agra’s furnace-like temperature evaporated as we all were rendered mute at the sight of it…for all of about twenty-seconds.
‘Really? It’s not that great,’ Flash said, flicking his sodden hair and showering us all in his sweat particles.
‘Yuck, stop that, it’s disgusting. Get a towel or something,’ I replied looking back at the Marble monument.
I remember waiting for the awe to strike me, like it had at Macchu Picchu…but nothing. I mean it was impressive, but it wasn’t incredible. In fact, the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata had, had more of an effect on me. The country’s most famous land-mark was for me a let down. We walked further in and took photos of each of us on the bench that Lady Diana had sat on…still I wasn’t overly impressed. ‘The embodiment of all things pure,’ Rudyard Kipling had described it as…looking over at the dirty shoe stand, I wasn’t convinced.
‘It’s not as big as I thought it would be,’ is what I came up with, trying to hide my mutual disappointment, I so desperately wanted to be impressed.
Lou then spoke, ‘But just think, this was all made for a dead woman, every stone was carved out of sheer love and did you know that he was going to build another one in Black to look opposite, but then his son imprisoned him in the Fort until his death?’
‘No,’ we replied in unison, but with decidedly different attitudes, mine was more of an inquisitive question, Flash’s a ‘so what.’ I took out my guide-book and read.
The Taj Mahal had been built in 1631 by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. Completed in 1653, soon afterwards Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort, where for the remainder of his life, he could only gaze at his creation through a window. Shah Jahan died in 1666 and is buried in the Taj alongside Mumtaz. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum.
It was an amazing story; romantic and fairy-tale esque, and I looked again at the building and seeing it in its new loving light, I thought…Nope, still not great.
I think I’m more of a natural wonder type of person…however, you can’t really go to India and miss the Taj can you? ‘Few leave disappointed,’ the guide book stated…I must just be one of the few I guess.
Having reminisced my distress about not being let in has alleviated, I didn’t enjoy it the first time anyway – though I would have been interested to see Sophie and Tom’s reaction to it. There is still no sign of Tom and Sophie, but I have been allowed out of the car and am now sitting on the pavement outside the West-gate. I’ve read over the beginning bit of this and feel that I should rectify my generalisation. Not ‘all’ Indians are money-grabbing, unhelpful and rude. It is just unfortunate that the Indians, that as a tourist you meet, can be – especially as a back-packer.