India | The Taj Greets Us

In this strange land, we have seen so much. Granted, India has probably been the biggest traveling challenge of our lives; it’s dirty, chaotic, and difficult to maneuver.

Firstly, I will freely admit that I find walking around in India to be quite exhausting, for you must watch yourself from all directions to avoid cows, pickpockets, sewer water, feces, tripping, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, motos, bikes, goats, dogs, and pan-handling children. Also, we have been endlessly confronted with touts and con artists. One scam at the train station left us particularly disoriented and exasperated. Then there’s trying to get yourself anywhere, what with tuk-tuk drivers take you to fake gem shops or intentionally wrong hotels. Not to mention, on our first day in India, we saw the public mob beating of a defenseless man! Unfortunately, this has made us a bit paranoid. I think we are out of our depth here; New Delhi was like a puzzle we couldn’t figure out. That being said, there is a lot to see, and Josh and I did manage to celebrate my birthday in a lovely restaurant that overlooked the city.

Jaipur was much better, but probably because of our accomodation oasis, which offered rooftop dining, immaculate rooms, fine staff, and a tuk-tuk driver of their own, who we hired to explore the Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort, and Pink City. Though the Pink City was only an orange enclace among the chaos, the Amber Fort was truly impressiv. If you can ignore all of the merciless distractions around (fake tour guides, for example), then it can be quite magical. The entire castle is set atop a vast mountain and surrounded by other forts, which gives it a Great Wall of China effect. Intricate architecture dominates the inside, and it is a welcome change to the temples of the SE. We explored the many hidden rooms and passages before trying to make our way to Jaigarh, the entrance of which proved difficult to find and then exhausting when we did. Though the fort is located just behind Amber, it is significantly further up the mountain. Once paying for entrance, one of the security guards showed us around, completely ignored me (due to my gender, I’m pretty sure), then demanded 200 rupiah, despite the countless “no tipping” signs displayed in every direction.

So here we are in Agra, really struggling to pull it together, while the Taj Mahal lays silently outside our balcony.

We have rearranged our train tickets to leave early, though the trains are a story unto themselves. I fear there is no saving this particular leg of the journey, and we are desperate to leave, though the naan and chapati (which we cannot tell apart for the life of us) keep us going, along with the delicious paneer curries served atop the roofs of various establishments. We also explored Fatehpur Sikri, which is a bit out of Agra but worth the trip. Because of its mention in National Geographic, I was looking forward to some impressive sights, and was surprised but not disappointed with this red city, full of lacey designs and open courtyards.

And now a few parting words about the Taj Mahal, which we saved for last: Though we could see the palace just outside of our room for days, nothing could compare to entering its gates around sunrise, when the crowds were slim and the brightness amazing. Though overpriced and too stringent with its rules, the Taj manages to keep out most touts, which makes for a meditative atmosphere. Of course, the experience can never be fully captured in words, so I will not even attempt, save for to mention her glorious colors, which are endless in whites and pinks. The amazing inlays were unlike anything either of us had ever seen; dark and colored stones set inside the Taj’s marbles give her its intricate look. They are countless and extremely unique, for if you shine a light on the pattern, a dazzlingly bright kaleidoscope of colors reflects your way. Even the gates were decorated intricately! We wandered away after several hours, just as many others were piling in through the archway, took our last glimpses, and made our way back. Though the Taj is really amazing, I have to say, it doesn’t hold a candle to my Doumo, which is just as white, intricate, and beautiful. More importantly, it might be a little easier to get to…

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