Friday, December 21, 2007

The Wonder of the Taj

Taj First Glimse

Having come as far as Delhi and Mathura, it would be unpardonable to not see the Taj. This prompted us to squeeze the monument into our packed itinerary.

I must state here, that I was not very keen on going along, though many had said that I would be wowed if not awed by the sight of the Marble Wonder.

I was awed indeed, not so much by the marble; more so by the traffic and the sheer number of people willing to stand in serpentine queues to see the most photographed spot in Agra.

Getting there

We reached Agra from Mathura by road, it took a little more than an hour on the wonderful highway that connects the two cities. Once we reached Agra, the traffic was horrendous; nearly 40 minutes were spent negotiating the roads till we came to our destination.

There was no parking available at the gate, I wonder why? Our driver parked in the street next to it, just a few meters away from the gate. The gate was poorly maintained, I could find no boards, no security and lots of garbage. A large number of touts set upon us, promising us anything for the right price.

From the entrance, the distance to the entrance gate is less than 1 km. The cycle rickshaw people will try their best to convince you that it is far far away. They take Rs 10 to cover the downhill distance.

Taj Garden
Taj Gardens

The gardens around the Taj are beautiful; however sadly, no one seems to want to see them. The rickshaw puller tried his best to con us, by suggesting that the Taj was closed, a VIP was visiting, and we’d never get to see it. Why not see a govt museum near by? He’d take us there for a discount prize of Rs. 50.

The Taj has four gates, N S E and W. The main gate can be identified by good roads, police presence and a queue longer than most trains. I could see no boards anywhere, explaining why people were in queues. Most tourists were generally milling about wondering what to do.

Taj Gates

The touts then came up to us, wanting to sell us VIP tickets to see the Taj through “secret” gates, unknown entrances etc. The prices of these tickets dropped surprisingly in inverse proportion to the interest shown - coming down from Rs 500 per head, to Rs 100 for 3.

The actual price of Taj tickets is Rs.20 per head. We followed a line of Japanese tourists through many narrow pathways and gullies, constantly hounded by touts of various description. I’m not certain which gate we entered through, since there were no boards. Eventually we were in a serpentine queue in a narrow, dirty little lane. I was beginning to wonder if the Taj was worth this trouble.

There was a sudden shout of a separate Ladies queue, so the ladies formed a separate queue. This now meant that the males they were with were left behind, so the men then came in and joined the queue parallel to their wives/sisters/friends and quarreled with other members.

Way to Taj Loo
Way to the Loo - rather Grand looking isnt it?

Soon, some touts came up to certain people in the queue and handed over some little pieces of paper, looking like bus tickets. On enquiry, we were told by various people that this was the queue to see the Taj. To buy tickets, one had to stand at another gate. Taking multiple opinions, some seemed unaware of this, and said that the tickets would be bought at the end of the queue.

Finally a Japanese lady left the queue and went ahead, returning shortly with tickets for her group. I prompted mom to ask one of the shop keepers standing near her, (the narrow lanes are lined with shops on both sides). Finally the mystery was solved, my Mom left the queue, went ahead and bought tickets at the gate at a tiny shabby box (which has NO queue). She paid Rs 60 for 3 tickets. Each ticket comes in two pieces, a white piece and a blue piece - both are equally important. I then followed the queue back to where my Dad was in the Gents queue and gave him his ticket and explained the mystery to some astonished people on the way.

Taj Gate

After nearly 30 minutes of waiting, the queue had finally reached the gate, now, people with only one ticket piece were shouted at by impatient security. The reason for the separate gender queues also became apparent; the people were to be frisked like at airport security. Bags were searched; any eatables found were snatched and promptly thrown away.

Sun-bird :)

Cameras are allowed, cell phones were allowed when we went in, but several boards after the Taj gate said they were not. (We didn’t take any chances; we left ours at the hotel.)Video cameras are not allowed beyond the gate. (I wonder why?)

After a lot of pushing and shoving to get through the gate, we got out into an open space and could see the Taj Gates. Through these gates, the tide of humanity swept in on a resolute mission to photograph themselves in front of the marble wonder.

We did not go into the structure, being content to see it from afar. It was big, off-white and symmetric; it loomed large amidst the smog and swarms of ooh-ing and ah-ing tourists. I took a photo, and we turned around and left. The Taj closes at 5:30pm.

Taj Mahal at Dusk
The Taj

As we walked back, the touts hounded us again, to buy little marble replicas of the Taj, key chains, statues; a piece of the original … the list was endless. All were con-men including those who insisted they were artisans.

I was disgusted by the whole experience; I pity the foreign tourists who come to see this hunk of discolored marble. The greatest wonder about the Taj, is the sheer number of people willing to suffer inconvenience just to have a glimpse of it.

On the way back to Mathura from Agra, we faced the mother of all highway jams and reached 2 hours later than schedule, missing the Aarti at Vishram ghat.


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