Author's Name: Daisy M. Written Age: 15 Traveled Age: 14
I took an extra long, extra cold shower, washing away the layer of sweat that had appeared in my sleep. This was the day I would see the Taj Mahal, only the most renowned landmark in all of India. I had to look my best. This was fine considering I had plenty of time to get ready; after all, the van would be picking me up at 5:30 a.m, and it was only 4:30. Or so I thought. Something had gone wrong with my roommate's alarm, which I only realized as I frantically struggled to get dressed in the red and gold saree I had bought the day before. In my panicked state, I didn’t close the door while getting dressed. This is how the old man wearing only boxers, who owned the house, walked in while I was putting on my top. Oh well, no time for modesty. I had to catch the van that was leaving...20 MINUTES AGO! Clutching my saree skirt, I ran onto the van, which thankfully like every other vehicle in India, was on Indian Time.
I adjusted my skirt in the van, careful to avoid flashing the good people of rural India. Thoughts and expectations of what may lay ahead had me very excited, but the chill produced by the air conditioner was distracting. Great, for days I had complained about sweat stains, yet now I froze. I know, privileged me complaining about air conditioning, meanwhile passing my pre-packed lunch out the window to beggar children. How spoiled could I get? Trust me, I constantly wished to be outside, free to wander between tuk-tuks and motorcycles, each carrying a minimum of four people. I wanted to ride on the tops of buses, duck into small open front shops, and sort through silks. However being a white American girl, never mind that I was 14, meant I attracted quite a lot of attention. Attention I found flattering. My dad did not find it flattering, so in the bus I remained.
Agra is not an interesting city. Yet faithfully, as every foreigner must, I arrived, anxious to see the “Jewel of India”. Frankly, I was disappointed with what I saw.
To be fair, the Taj was under scaffolding, over three hundred years of Indian sun and pollution can wear a place down. After three hours of Indian sun and pollution, I needed a good cleaning, so I was sympathetic. Yet, the Taj did not feel as grand as I had expected. Curse my expectations! I was able to appreciate its symmetry, the twenty years of labor that built it, and its romantic backstory, but I thought other Indian temples had been more impressive.
I itched to get away from my tour group and the devoted Indian men who followed us. “Picture Madam, picture?”. As a foreigner I was asked to pose for pictures. Yes, I know what those men used the pictures for. No, I don’t particularly care.
At one point I posed for a picture with an Indian family made up of women and children, not one of them taller than four feet. The women embraced me after the picture like I was a lost daughter, each only as tall as my shoulder. Their blinding smiles, dark skin, and kind eyes are still etched in my mind. Meeting that family was my favorite memory of the Taj. Throughout my stay in India, I would come to fondly remember the people instead of the places.
After an hour of wandering our group left; the suffocating heat and aunties’ pushing had slowly become too much. A word of advice, do not visit India in July if you are prone to sunburns.
On the way back to Delhi, I looked out the car window and watched the humped cows and yellow fields, the decaying houses covered with exposed wires and Coca Cola advertisements, and the tiny women in billowing sarees pass. Overall, I had enjoyed another day in magical India, but I understood that it was not necessary to enjoy a place just because other people did.
Was the Taj Mahal impressive? Yes. Would I recommend going? Yes, but maybe just once. India has so much more to offer!