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In my last post the primary reason for our five-week trip had settled itself, since my uncle had gone ahead and married a woman he’d met only three days earlier.
This left us with some time to ramp up the activities.
First on the list was the Taj Mahal, which was a four or five hour train-ride from where we were. Whenever I see depictions of Indian trains on television, I’m overwhelmed with the images of locals stuffed into grimy cars with limbs sticking out from every window, and tourists being sandwiched in between (and groped). These trains do exist, but little do you see of the roomy train cars with comfy blue bench seating, and not to mention all the loads of leg room. To think that this could all be yours for just a couple hundred rupees (i.e. ten dollars) extra! So there’s your lesson for today, don’t believe everything you see on TV.
Once we arrived at the looming outer structure of this totally epic edifice, we were asked to remove our shoes by the outer entrance. Unlike our visit to the Golden Temple though, here the shoes were scattered everywhere. Which of course means that Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t lying: some hood-rats might just come along and steal your shoes!
Luckily for us our family’s shoes were nothing to admire in 1995, as none of us owned Reebok Pumps or fancy Doc Martens of any kind.
One of the most amazing Taj Mahal moments was turning the corner from the outer entrance and the gift shop. In that very moment we saw it: it was the Taj Mahal in perfect symmetry, with beautiful gardens at its front, and a backdrop of an azure sky.
Things became even more amazing as we got up close. I was literally standing right in front of the very marble walls that had been built by Shah Jahan, as a tomb in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. At first I had that frightened museum look on my face: am I allowed to touch this? I looked around and everyone else was groping the walls with a sense of wonder. So I did too. That’s right folks, I touched it. Wow.
The fun wasn’t even over yet, as we actually got to inside the tomb, hell ya! (I didn’t say “hell ya” out loud, but I was damn excited). Walking inside was the eeriest feeling. It was dimly lit, and when you looked up above the domed ceiling caught your eye with its beautiful designs. I could not imagine being put to work on such a massive edifice. In fact it had taken almost twenty years to complete the Taj Mahal, which tells you it is not so easy to carve all these intricate (and symmetrical) designs into marble, and then add colour to them too!
Back to the eerie part, we were standing in front of two very large and impressive sarcophagi. Again we saw the intricate marble designs, though they were slightly obscured by all the flowers. This activity of tossing flowers onto the coffins was a popular one for tourists. I could imagine the excitement, because although these weren’t the actual coffins with the bodies inside, I spotted a grate in the floor right below them. It was in that lower level that their real graves sat. And so the tourists were allowed to to take an orange flower and toss it onto one of the coffins. It was said that if your flower landed on a coffin and stayed there, you’d experience great prosperity. My flower fell off the side of Mumtaz Mahal’s coffin. Shit.
As we exited the tomb feeling totally exhilarated and a little creeped out, I started to notice something. All of the people that “looked” like tourists (i.e. white-skinned folk, folks with modern clothing, myself with my modern hair and awesomeness) had been ushered inside for the special tour. The only cost had been a tip to the tour guide. All of the ones that looked like locals or borderline beggars were kept at a distance, never allowed to come too close to the tomb. I suppose they didn’t represent enough potential on the “tip” front. I’m not sure if continues to be that way today, but then it was a notable divide.
By late afternoon we hopped back on to the comfy train and traveled home, with the glow of sunset as our guide. All the while my heart danced away at the thought of having seen, touched, and smelled all the history. This was about the time that I officially became obsessed with nerdy things like history and art and books ‘n stuff.
Alright then, more India entries to come (and yes, it looks this will carry over into May. I suppose I have more memories than I even knew about…)
[This post is another in the series of my first family trip to India in ’95. Here is the next installment]
Awesome!! You have a memory like an elephant, I wish I could keep my memories filed under all the right ages, dates, times, names and faces like you!
That sounds really neat. I also love history, history class being my best subject in school, and I would love to go there one day.
Just letting you know I am reading, even though I haven’t commented in a while. I am very much enjoying the trip to India 🙂 It is making me want to take you on a trip to Tanzania. Perhaps I will get round to it.
Yeah, I was expecting a Slumdog Millionaire reference from you, did you enjoy the movie (I sure did!)? Bless you and your awesomeness, Romi Girl!
So what’s your decision: will you let mom and dad arrange a marriage for you or take your chances with what North America has to offer? Sometimes I wonder if the whole arranged thing isn’t all that bad…
YOU DID NOT WAIT TO SEE THE TAJ IN THE NIGHT , IT IS REALLY AWESOME. YOU REALLY MISSED SOMETHING .
THERE ARE QUITE A LOT OF SUCH HISTORICAL PLACES HERE.
BEEN TO KERALA?
That recollection is so amazing. I wish I could be that inspired by a building or a historical symbol. I really have to visit India now. Not literally like right now…you know what I mean.
First, may I say I’m glad these will continue into May; I’m thoroughly enjoying them. Secondly, I applaud your use of the word edifice woot woot for SAT words ;). Finally, I believe there was suppose to be a second Taj Mahal built in black obsidian as a mirror image of the white Taj Mahal…or at least that is what I have heard! Loved the post!
Nothing like the feel of a clean slate, even if what is on it is entirely up to you, whether it be food, or the head of your enemy dripping with blood on a platter 😉 I was expecting to hear about the thing that is Bollywood sneak in here somewhere. There will be some Bollywood dance-routines and singing later, right?
Aw man, you got to grope stuff? Most of the places in Europe are very specific about not groping things in any kind of museum…I picked the wrong continent.
BTW award for you at my place, woot!
I danced on a grave once. That’s not really as cool as visiting a gigantic, world famous one, but it was available, so I took the opportunity. Marijuana may have played a part in that decision. I remember being cognizant enough to look for a grave with someone who’d been dead long enough that he wouldn’t have any visitors, but later realized it was the middle of the night, so there were no visitors. Kind of anticlimactic really, for all the hype that goes along with dancing on graves. I guess I would need a nemesis who was dead to really get the full experience.
I am enjoying this series of “Travels with Romi”. You are such a terrific writer. Thank you, C
Gorgeous post and brought back some wonderful memories of my trip to India in 97 when I was about 24. I went to the Taj Mahal on my own and was awe-struck with the beauty as you were at 14. The fact that you got to go inside is pretty special! I went back just before dawn the next morning and just sat there and cried – one of my life-changing moments. Actually the whole Indian experience changed me greatly.
I can see why you get all nerdy about history and stuff after a trip like this. Plus, how cool was all that architecture? I’m so glad you touched it! 🙂
The Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen–how I envy you! I want the Creator to send me there right this minute…the Creator’s answer is obviously “no”. But maybe someday it will be “yes”. After all, the Creator can do anything.
I’ve been interested in history all my life–especially since I took world history, in early high school. American history and Alabama history were okay, but there was too much politics in those, and not enough action. But world history had action galore–wars, conquests, constant worldwide changes! And it opened up a new understanding of how the whole world got the way it was, in the first place!
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