What? A trip to Taj Mahal, Agra.
When? Saturday, June 13, 2009
Here’s the first part of this entry: 1. A Trip to Taj Mahal (Part I- Indian Railways)
As soon as I got off the train, autowallahs and taxiwallahs surrounded me with their ‘attractive’ offers to take me to the Taj Mahal and around. Three hours of travel in the Taj Express (7-10 am) had made me hungry. Some of them waited for me as I ate at the railway station canteen. I settled with a taxiwallah for Rs. 400 for four hours that included a trip to Taj Mahal, then to Red Fort and around and back to the station.
At the Taj Mahal ticket counter, I was faced with two options. Stand in the queue meant for foreign tourists or go to the one meant for the Indians. Usually, in such places, queue for Indians is also for the nationals of SAARC and BIMSTEC countries. Ticket for this group is significantly cheaper (IRs. 20 as opposed to IRs. 650). Obviously I went to that line. At the entry gate this man asks me, looking at me from head to toe, where I was from. Nepal, of course, I replied knowing the consequences of my honest reply. Then you will have to take the Nepal ticket, he said. The IRs. 650 one. I came back to the ticket counter only to be yelled at by the man there. “Arre aap ke paas paisa jyada hey kya?” he asked. “Jaaiye, south gate main and tell him, if he asks, that you are from Darjeeling!” [Why do you want to pay more? Just go to the south gate.]
I reluctantly went to the south gate where, as I had suspected, the man asked me where I was from. I am sure my outfit made me look like a gora bideshi. But in many cases, if I wear jeans and shirt I can easily pass off as an Indian. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Mein avi Delhi se aaya hun yar” I replied. [I have just arrived from Delhi.] That wasn’t the complete truth but that was also not a lie either. I had indeed gone there from Delhi and had been living in the city for several months. He asked his supervisor who inspected me as well. Then came the node. I was inside.
INSIDE THE Taj Mahal complex, I wasn’t thrilled. Neither I was very excited on seeing the world famous monument of love. It’s just like the Humayun’s Tomb, I told myself. Just that this one is more beautiful, bright and, again, beautiful. It was very hot. I was sweating and dehydrated. I found a shade where, like many others, I stayed for half an hour reading the book Delhi: Adventures in a Mega City by Sam Miller. I did the same in Red Fort, a few kilometers away from the Taj Mahal, which I found more impressive though not all of its parts were open to the public.
In the Taj Mahal complex, I observed people busy photographing the monument and themselves in the same frame. Tourists of all kinds crowded the place.
After a while, I went inside the main building. You have to either take off your shoes or put a plastic cover on your feet to go inside the building. The marble on the path was so hot it felt like walking on the fire. The carpet on the path wasn’t very helpful though it certainly made the walk tolerable. The internal structure is also strikingly similar to Humayun’s Tomb which is close to where I live in Delhi.
As I was returning to the railway station, I was thinking about my solitary trip, the monuments, people and my incident with the man at the Taj Mahal gate. The taxi driver was thinking something else. He took me to a busy carpet factory. I told him the last thing I was interested to see in Agra was how carpets were made. But he had already brought me at the gate of the factory. I reluctantly went inside and came back in 15 seconds.
I didn’t see how the factory owner reacted but the driver was visibly disappointed. “Arrre sir,” he said. “If you had stayed there a little longer, I would have got my share of commission. They couldn’t even register your arrival there. So my effort to bring you here will not be counted when they calculate commission amount at the end of the year.”
That made me angry. But the driver was already taking me to another destination. “Please, sir please,” he said. “Now only one place. Please, do this for me. You don’t have to buy. Just go inside, pretend you want to buy something, spend a few minutes there. And come back.”
I obliged! This time he took me to a marble factory that made and sold things made from ‘the same marble that was used to build the Taj Mahal’. The craftsmen, it claimed, are the descendants of those who built the Taj Mahal. I looked around. I picked up a small chess board and asked the price. 15,000 Indian. A small pen holder: 12,000 Indian.
I came out to see an anxious driver. What makes you think I am such a foolish to buy things that are so preposterously overpriced? I asked him. He repeated the lines he had used earlier when we came out of the station: “Sir, you look like a foreigner. I don’t believe you are a Nepali.”
And here are more pics:
Here’s the first part of this entry: