June 29, 2017

The Taj Mahal Tour – Second Day

During family trips I willfully ignore my iPhone and view TV with contempt. I remain hopelessly optimistic that I’ll have spare moments to daydream and read. Visiting Agra, I thought, might afford time in the early morning to skim a long-ignored novel. The Rising Family™, though, defied prior behavior, rising early on account of growling stomachs. So we headed down to the hotel’s breakfast.

Indians are famous for their warm hospitality, and that is precisely the word that came to mind each time I was cordially greeted by the hotel’s staff whenever we encountered them. Yet these happy vibes were dashed with the decidedly mundane morning chow at this hotel. I can accept spicy India-style food, but Lady E. & M. just couldn’t find anything they could eat; they went hungry and I drank my instant coffee to douse the flames on my tongue. Despite the early hour, my hyperactive thalamus conjured up Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as the soundtrack to my inevitable fate that day. Naomi really enjoys Indian food so she was “all good.”
So—finally we were off to see the Taj Mahal. We rode to the Taj’s outer gates on an electric car. All of us–foreigners and locals alike–were herded around from point to point. We were approached by streams of spurious tour guides, and my jaw hurt from saying polite, but increasingly terse “no thank yous.” Elena and Marina were soon whining about the heat, but become cooperative once we had the Taj Mahal in sight—it was, as advertised, a magnificent sight. We strolled around the Taj’s exterior, absorbing the white marble in the blazing sun, snapped photos, all the usual touristy stuff.  I mused on the Taj being essentially a mausoleum commissioned in the early 1600s by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to mourn the loss of one of his “favorite” wives, Mumtaz Mahal.  I joked about that with my wonderful wife but she failed to appreciate my wit.
Once inside, the grandeur and majesty of the palace grounds and mausoleum captured my senses. Local people, true to form, all ignored the signs to not sit down or take pictures inside. It was funny. We went through the front entrance and around the exterior, and then came out the other side, watching the families stay in the shade, lazing happily in the aura of the Taj Mahal, the most beautiful building in the world. It was a remarkable experience. I was delighted by the buildings but also just stopped and thought, holy s--t, I am in India and I am at the Taj Mahal. It is that feeling of wonder, the weight of history, and an undeniable curiosity that feeds my travel bug.
We proceeded to the ring of souvenir shops guarding the Taj’s walls and perused numerous stalls featuring marble boxes, water, rugs, brass knick-knacks, and so on. I bought a miniscule version of the Taj Mahal to keep for my travel trinket memory shrine. The girls bought some small inexpensive objet d'art so they were happy.
Soon, amid the oppressive heat, our patience with the tenacious stall owners and touts was wearing thin. I recall some great sales pitches from one energetic shopkeeper earnestly trying to sell us–his first customers of the day (ahem) at 1400 in the afternoon--an alabaster jewelry case:
Us: Could we have a discount due to the broken hinge?
Him: The hinge is broken because it is an antique.
Us: How about that crack on the lid?
Him: The top broken part is part of the design. (Said quite vehemently)
Courtesy of HD Wallpaper
Grins exchanged, we parted ways smiling. All of us were sweathogs by the time the shopping ended. What I enjoyed most about the souvenir shopping was the efficiency spawned by the heat and browsing fatigue. We simply got back to our SUV and wearily requested our driver to take us home. Mission to the Taj Mahal completed successfully, satisfactorily, and pleasantly. Lucky us.

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