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Published: June 10th 2017
Geo: 26.9847, 78.1019
Yesterday was the last full day of our tour in India. We are here today as well, but the tour ended after we arrived back in Delhi, so this afternoon is ours to do with what we like, although we are far from any markets or good restaurants, and it is Holi, the ancient Hindu religious festival when people throw paint and water on anyone they can. (This is very similar to Songkran in Thailand, although that holiday is in April, not March.) But even though Holi is also called the festival of colors, I wonder how the paint originally came into play, and what is the significance of the colors? Here the young men paint their faces, their hair, their clothing; this is part of the fun of Holi, a national holiday in India.
So we are staying put in our hotel, writing the last of our adventures in India, repacking our gear so it will fit into the limited luggage guidelines of the airlines we'll use tomorrow to fly us home. It is not an exciting day, but necessary. And we knew it would come.
But yesterday was exciting! We went to see the Taj Mahal, fondly called by our guide and driver simply as "the Taj." One of the new Seven Wonders of the World, it was built by the emperor Shah Jahan, an impressive tribute to his favorite wife. We left early in the morning to hopefully avoid most of the crowds. It was a long ride from our hotel, over very bad roads. I asked why don't they use some of the money they make from the 50,000 - 60,000 visitors the Taj receives every day to fix the roads? Singhji said that was the million dollar question. So bumping along over the really terrible roads, we finally made it to the parking area; our driver parked the car, and as soon as we alighted there were the vendors, trying to sell us books, bangles, beads, carved elephants, scarves; almost anything you ever wanted as a souvenir was very actively for sale. Singhji directed us to a little bus that took us to the entry of the Taj; foreigners had their own entrance, as did females and males, as we were searched as thoroughly as at any airport security, including a cursory pat down. For the past 3 or 4 years Singhji is no longer allowed to guide his tours through the Taj Mahal, so we were introduced to another official guide, the best one Singhji knew. He was excellent, and we could understand most of what he told us. We spent most of our time there learning about the history of this beautiful building, and walked around the area learning what our guide considered facts. When he finally ushered us inside the building I was surprised at the noise, at the crush of people trying to get inside, all the pushing and shoving, yelling, and forbidden photography; no one is permitted to take photos inside the Taj Mahal, but it seemed we were the only ones who did not. The guards blew their whistles loudly, right into the ears of people, but did not stop those who were taking photographs. Why were they there, if not to enforce their own rules? We couldn't figure that out.
The inside was much smaller and much less impressive than I expected, but perhaps the noise and press of the crowd made it seem less special. The carvings and artwork are exceptionally beautiful, with precious gems given from many countries, but how can one enjoy beauty if people are shoving and pushing and whistles are being blown into your ear? I was disappointed at the inside, and remembered when Princess Diana from Great Britain visited the Taj Mahal; I am sure she had a very different, and much more pleasant, experience.
We soon exited and continued our walk around the buildings; it was better outside and fewer people were there. Singhji says that sometimes it is so crowded that even he does not want to enter the impressive Taj Mahal, as the noise and smell and crush of the masses of people can be overwhelming. And in March it isn't even the high season for visitors!
On our way back to the bus heading back to the parking lot there were hundreds of street vendors trying to sell their wares. The best defense was not to even look at them, not to respond in any way, something I find extraordinarily difficult to do as they keep talking to you, and trying to get you to buy. I really am no good at either haggling or ignoring people, but truly tried. Saying no does not work; they persist, lowering and lowering their prices in hopes of making a sale, even as one is trying to close the car door. Only when we were driving away did they finally give up and go find another tourist.
So that was the Taj Mahal, a gorgeous white marble building that almost every visitor to India must see. The emperor's third --and favorite-- wife, Mumtaj Mahal, inspired its creation but never saw it; she died before it was built. It is worth seeing, in person, but do be prepared for the crush of humanity that will greet you there, most of it not really pleasant.
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