I woke up to the sound of Linzi screaming. “WE’RE LATE, WE’RE LATE” she yelled, jumping out of bed and rushing around the room. I wondered how in the hell the clock read almost 7 a.m., when I had been so careful. I looked at my phone and realized I had set them both for 5:30 p.m. Mother of Pearl, I cursed as I quickly threw on clothes and ran with Linzi out into the street. My heart sank as I saw the tip of the sun peaking over the horizon, knowing that we would never make it on time. What follows is a summary of our journey to the Taj Mahal, approximately 4 miles away.
We see our taxi driver. We tell him we’re ready and apologize for being late. He says it will take him 10 minutes to get a car.
“We can’t wait ten minutes,” we yell to him, as we run down the street, looking for alternate transportation. He starts yelling at us that he has been waiting on us, and we owe him money, and just wait 10 minute, he’ll get a car, it will have AC, everything will be fine.
We get in a tuk tuk, haggle and take off. A half mile later, the tuk tuk dies. We get out and run to another tuk tuk.
The second tuk tuk leaves. The first tuk tuk is now up and running and the driver is furious that his customers have been poached. The second tuk tuk stops and the first tuk tuk pulls up next to them. After much yelling, hand shaking, and the two of us screaming, the second tuk tuk takes off, finally heading in the right direction.
As luck would have it, we met Tate, the Australian from the day before and tagged along on his tour, the guide was an incredibly informative, engaging man who was quick to name his celebrity clients. He took us on a step-by-step circuit of the palace, telling us the long, romantic story of Emperor Jahan, pointing out tiny details we would have otherwise missed, and staging jumping pics like a pro. After the amazing two hour tour, we tried to give him a tip, which he promptly refused. The guide, Ramesh, is actually in this episode of An Idiot Abroad (you can see him at about 8 minutes). What a gem!
|Inlaid gems in stone|
Finally we headed back toward the gate and I hesitated leaving, wanting one more long look at the Taj, not knowing when I would see it again. By this time, the sun was high in the mid-morning horizon, the bright blue subtly shifting the color of the Taj Mahal from a golden hue to a blazing white. Apparently, four nights a month, the Taj is opened at night for a full moon showing, 400 people are allowed in, for 30 minutes only. Those who have seen it has said it’s just magical and visiting the palace at midnight, under a full moon is definitely on my bucket list.
It leaves a sort of impression on you, a lasting feeling you get when you think of it, kind of like a song that always makes you think of a specific time whenever you hear it. I’m not sure what makes it so magical, so impressive, so important, and maybe that’s the point: not to know.
We headed next to Agra fort, a city surrounded by giant, military style walls, made of red clay and baking in the hot sun, the whole place has a dusty feel. Dating back to 1526, it is surely impressive, but after seeing the Taj, it pales in comparison…like seeing George Clooney, then an hour later seeing your local weatherman. I mean, he’s great and he’s spot on when it comes to hail, but Clooney is the one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
We strolled around the space, looking at the architecture, people watching and marveling at the animals that inhabit the grounds. We stopped and watched as an American tourist began feeding the squirrels…right in front of a sign that asks you to please not do so. I was thinking how tame that squirrel must be, to come up to a human and eat out of its hand, when suddenly the woman jumped up and back, shaking her hand, yelling “the damn thing bit me!” Call me an a-hole, but I love when that stuff happens. We walked back through the gates and came upon a large group of people surrounding a monkey, eating a popsicle. When a would-be photographer got too close, the monkey bared its teeth and snarled, sending them running back to the safety of the group. Apparently nobody reads the signs.
For lunch we left ourselves in the capable hands of our driver, asking him to just take us somewhere good and relatively cheap. I have found this game of lunch roulette both exciting and delicious, the drivers normally taking me somewhere off the beaten path, away from tourists and inflated prices. We may have hit the jackpot on this time around, the thali plate for Linzi, a steamer for me, and a lovely green space to lounge in for a while.
The first leg of our adventure was a success! Now on to Jaipur…