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Published: January 3rd 2012
The Taj Mahal: Worth the Trip?
Everyone has seen the picture perfect postcards. We all know the worlds iconic travel images. This one has been called the most beautiful building in the world. On the day that I’m headed to the Taj Mahal, I decide to ponder on whether or not the journey to see this monument is really worth the trouble. Does this really live up to the hype? I’ve heard some say yes and I’ve heard some say no. I realize that asking a perennial tourist if any travel experience is worth doing is a little like asking a drug addict if they think the crack they’re about to buy is good value…but, I have a lot of time today to ponder the question and I vow to attempt to find an honest answer. Between 40 and 60,000 people a day (about 25% foreigners) visit this remote pinpoint in India. Are they disappointed? Thrilled? Moved? I would know for myself in a few hours.
There are many things to see and many experiences worth having in India. But the first question I ask myself is, “Would anyone have discovered the other wonders of India if the Taj
Mahal had not drawn them here in the first place?” It also makes me wonder how many people would visit Egypt if there were no pyramids, how many people go to China because of the Great Wall?
The Taj Mahal and the Pyramids of Giza, which happen to be gravesites on steroids, are the most visited places in each of those countries. A quick poll of my fellow travelers says that no, Egypt and India would not be such frequented destinations without those big ticket draws. My tour guide agrees. Without the Taj, India would not have so many visitors and few would have learned of the other reasons to come here. Taj means crown and apparently this is not just the crown jewel of Indian tourism, it is the cornerstone on which the entire industry has been built. But the question is still whether or not it is worth the journey?
I can remember clearly the awe I felt when I gazed upon the massive pyramids, but the outskirts of Cairo is comparatively easy to reach. The Taj is much harder to access. The majority of foreign visitors to Agra are from the United States and the
UK. It is an 8 hour flight from London to Delhi and a 14 hour flight from New York to Delhi (not including layovers). Once in Delhi, you’re still looking at about a 6 hour drive, depending on traffic, to get to the Taj. This is not a nice, scenic drive. It is a stop and go situation on bumpy roads that wind through streets lined with stark views of poverty, piles of trash, and the incessant sound of beeping horns. There are no fancy rest areas or beautiful vistas.
I chose to join a tour. There is a decent train from Delhi, but then you are at the mercy of taxi drivers and self-appointed guides begging for your business. Also, during the drive, the well-informed man on the microphone is telling us all sorts of interesting things that I might not have learned otherwise. Even in this relative comfort, around hour three my butt is sore and my neck is starting to cramp up. I’m wondering if I should have taken the train and braved the men who want to separate me from my money. By hour six, I am tired, sore and a bit carsick. It is
an overcast day with bad light and does not promise to be “worth it”. Finally, after a full 7 hours of driving, we arrive at our hotel for a quick wash-up and we head to the main attraction.
We have easy entry with no lines or hassles and suddenly I like our guide again. He whisks us through the process and we’re faced with an entry gate that would make an impressive monument by itself in most other countries. Just as we’re passing through the gate, the sun breaks through the clouds. Suddenly, first viewed through an archway, there it is bathed in white sunlight – the Taj Mahal. I am actually a bit choked up when I see it. I am definitely filled with awe to the point where it takes my breath away. I am immediately taken by the simplistic beauty, the massive size, the perfect symmetry. Mostly, I am moved by the gesture of building such a indescribable structure solely to honor a deceased loved one. How could any person possibly have been loved this much?
In that moment, the previous hours fade away and my answer is clear…it IS worth it.
wonder if it is just me who is feeling this way. So, once again I poll my fellow travelers. There is a young couple from Italy. He actually becomes quite agitated when he answers, full of passion. “Without a doubt it is worth it. It is perfect, the most beautiful thing in the world. It shows what man can do. It is art. The real shame is that when we show the pictures to our families, they will never be able to feel what we feel standing here. This memory can only be carried inside.”
So, I guess millions of tourists aren’t wrong after all. I have frequently said, as I stood in long queues outside of the Eiffel Tower or the Coliseum in Rome - sometimes tourist attractions are tourist attractions for a reason, they are the things worth seeing. It goes beyond traveling thousands of miles for that perfect photo op. Every religion has their pilgrimages. Perhaps visiting these timeless monuments are the pilgrimages for all humanity. They show us the best in human innovation, passion, design and engineering. They show us what is possible and cannot help but inspire us. At the same time, standing before
these timeless structures gives us a connection to our collective past. So, although travel in India is not everyone’s cup of chai and I would not recommend cashing in the kids’ college fund to undertake these pilgrimages, anyone with the desire and means will likely not be disappointed. When you find the moments in life that take your breath away, they are most certainly worth the journey.
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