It was a four hour journey both directions, so it made for a very long day. I thought twice about going because I still feel sick from all the pollution here. But the truth is all but one of my colleagues is heading home soon and she is not as adventurous as me, so I may not have the opportunity to share the memories and costs again. So I pressed on, and I’m glad I did!
We drove past farm fields with various crops and little grass huts. I would like to have taken a photo but the pollution was so bad that I couldn’t get a good picture of one. Two hours in and we hit our first rest stop. I felt my stomach tighten in anticipation of what the bathroom might be like. I stood “in line” with the other women eagerly awaiting a stall door to open. In a country with over a billion people there is no common courtesy. Lines don’t exist. You just shove your way in. I let my boss go first and when she opened the door to come out I had to physically block the door from the women trying to cut in. I’m a good head taller than these chicks, so bring it on bitches! The bathroom wasn’t bad. It had a toilet but no paper, but I was prepared. There was an inch of standing stinky water on the ground that they squeegee to the side periodically. Soon we were back on the road.
As we approached the Taj Mahal the atmosphere became quite chaotic. There were nicely dressed men on the sidewalks with cell phones yelling at us to roll down the window. Out driver rolled down his window and I sat between them as they argued loudly. There was obvious negotiations going on but we didn’t understand a bit of it. Suddenly our drivers tells us to all get out quickly. I briefly worried that we were being sold into sex slavery but then realized we had 3 men with us so hopefully that was unlikely. The man on the sidewalk introduced himself to us as our guide and our driver drove off. The guide asked us if we wanted a ride to the front of the line via a camel cart or horse cart. We declined because we wanted to walk after 4 hours in a car. The line to get in was about a quarter mile long but he lead us right to the front. We paid $750 rupees ($12 USD) to get in. Then he handed us off to another guide. We were taken to the front of the security line with all the India people staring at us with anger and envy. No wonder they think Americans are spoiled! They patted us down and scanned our bags. That is when things got interesting. A female went through my bag and threw away my water and snacks. She didn’t even save it for the starving people! That pissef me off more than anything! Then she found my condoms and beef jerky, pulled them out, waved them around and starting laughing hysterically! I was embarrassed to say the least. That is when she found my pocket knife and started yelling loudly. Suddenly there were several military/security officials pulling me this way and that! I desperately looked around for our guide but he was gone! My petite little boss yelled not to worry and that she wouldn’t leave me. We finally got the senior security dude to listen to me. I gave him my sweetest American smile (even though I was frightened and sweating prefously!) and explained that I’m a tourist and bought that pocket knife on vacation in Sturgis and that it has sentimental value and begged him to let me and the knife go. I was about to offer him money as a bribe when out of nowhere our driver miraculously shows up and says he would hold the knife for me. Then he says our guides were not really our guides and introduces us to yet a 3rd guide! He explains that the other two guys were just imposters and not authorized. Our new guide shows us his badge and tells us that’s a big problem there. Finally we enter the grounds of the Taj Mahal.
The grounds include several enormous and impressive ancient buildings. One is a masque and another is housing for the workers. They are workers whose families have lived on the grounds for thousands of years! They pass down their special skills and are the only ones allowed to do repairs. The Taj Mahal is beyond description but basically a king built it to honor his queen after she died. I can’t even get a guy to make the damn bed! She must have been amazing to have a man love her so much! When an Indian dies they make 3 wishes and if their loved ones want their soul to be free they have to honor those wishes. One of her wishes was that he build something in her honor. All the ornate designs decorating the building are done with semi precious stones carved into the marble. I’ve never seen a more beautiful building! You can not take pictures inside the building that is why I don’t have any to share, and after my ordeal going through security I decided I had better be on my best behavior! In all, it was an amazing and exhausting day!