musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

From India: No Need to Manage Expectations at the Taj

I make it a point to manage my expectations. Don't expect much out of The Avengers and be pleasantly surprised that it wasn't terrible. Expect to be hassled by trinket hawkers and stay calm when you'd really like to ask them why they choose not to understand the word 'no'. Expect no ice cream to ever be as good as Blue Bell. Expect the Taj Mahal to actually not be as amazing as I have envisioned it to be in my head all these years...

Circular logic aside, actually arriving in Agra we were, first and foremost, looking forward to stretching our legs after the five hour drive from Jaipur. After picking up our guide Monika at the train station and after watching her, a 5' nothing young woman just about to complete her Masters in Indian history (win for us), completely own the pushy men at the ticket counter (we had high hopes of taking the train from Agra to Delhi that evening...), we pulled up to the parking lot at le Taj Mahal.

At this point I'd like to point out that Lauren had high hopes for the Taj. Apparently she didn't have the same apprehensions as I do in this regard. After walking through the outer gate into the blinding sunlight illuminating what is without a doubt a legitimate wonder of the world, neither of us were disappointed.

A masterpiece. An architectural wonder. A beautiful blend of Islamic and Hindu styles. A love story?

Built by some king several centuries ago (honestly, if you're really interested in the details there's plenty online), the most interesting thing about the structure was that it was built to honor not the first, not the second, but the third wife of the king. Apparently after striking out in the child-bearing deparment with numbers 1 & 2, he hit the jackpot with numero tres. To the tune of 14 children (win for him) no less! Although he built smaller, consolation relatively alright buildings on the corner of the complex for the others, the one who secured his lineage got the Taj (posthumous win for her).

Other interesting facts about the building are that the big man (ok, ok, his name was Shah Jahan) was obviously OCD. Or just obsessive about making every detail of the building symmetrical in some way. Or both - one because of the other perhaps? Needless to say, Lauren (herself mildly obsessed with symmetry : yrtemmys htiw dessesbo yldlim flesreh) was in heaven. 17th century Moghul heaven to be exact. Ironically, the only glaring asymmetry is the position of the king's tomb next to that of his beloved third wife (who died before he did) who's grave is smack under the middle of the dome. Apparently Jahan also planned to build a black marble equivalent next to the Taj and connect them with a black and white checkered marble walkway; unfortunately he died shortly after the foundation for the planned heat magnet (the white marble was hot enough under the May sun...) was dug.

May turned out to be a rather stellar time to visit the Taj. Since we've both spent the last 2+ years living in equatorial hot boxes, we're quite used to living in perpetual states of sweat (me more than her of course; she glows not sweats). Since it's at an odd time in the western school year calendar, there were few foreign tourists. There were a few Indian tourists (the government makes visiting historical sites very cheap for Indians) but they almost seemed more interested in taking pictures with the white people (i.e. us - more on this later) than with the Taj. Especially the tall, light-skinned red-headed girl. She might as well have been a five-legged Hindu god riding on a tiger given the amount of attention she was receiving.

Must-have cheesy Taj Mahal jumping photo
As for the train trip to New Delhi from Agra that evening? Never happened. After walking around in the heat for 2+ hours the prospect of an air-conditioned, comfortable, hassle free car ride was too much for us. Until, of course, karma (we are in India after all) came back to bite us in the form of a flat tire in the middle of nowhere... can't help but think we deserved that.