Taj Mahal: A Rooftop View
The distance from Delhi to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, is only 200 kilometers. So, deciding to go at noon shouldn't pose any problems, right? Wrong!
We hired a driver to take us from our hotel to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and were on our way, thrilled to see the beautiful Indian countryside on our short road trip.
But don't let distance fool you. In Utah, I'm use to equating miles to minutes. 30 miles takes about 30 minutes or less to get somewhere, unless you hit massive traffic, and then you could find yourself a little delayed. But in India, two-lane highways, cows, and unruly drivers make for a very lengthy process in getting from point A to point B. So, what should have taken an hour and a half dragged out to 4 hours—one way! And, getting off and going right before 1 p.m. got us to the Taj Mahal at right before 5 p.m.
No one told us it closed at 5 p.m., so imagine our surprise when we approached the ticket counter to learn it had closed 2 minutes prior. And these people are serious when they say closed. We popped out a $20. I know! We shamelessly bribed them. They didn't remotely bite. We stood there in utter disbelief that we had just driven four hours in horrible traffic and on the only day we'd have to see the Taj Mahal only to be turned away. Didn't they realize how far we'd come? Didn't they know how excited we were to see it?
Three Indian dudes, noticing our plight, came to the rescue, alerting us to the fact that there was another gate and said we needed to run. Oh! This was going to be pretty!
We ran down the street, up some very steep stairs. Stop! *Insert me catching my breath!* We ran through a village made up of small alleys. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought they may be leading us somewhere dangerous, but I was on a grand adventure. Who cares about danger when you're having a grand adventure, right? Goats lined the streets, people didn't bat an eyelash to see us in their tight quarters. And we kept advancing onward with hopes of getting to the gate on time.
One of the three men ran ahead and when we saw him return, head down, we knew our plight and stopped. No visit to the Taj Mahal. Are you kidding me? He replied: "I can take you across the street to see it from a hotel rooftop." No! I bought a picture on iStockphoto.com yesterday that's just as good as that, I thought.
Then a sweet guy appears and says: "Would you like to come into my home? We have a great view of the Taj Mahal from our roof." I look at Evan, my partner in crime, we ask how much it's going to cost to which the man laughs. It's free! It's hospitality. I relax and feel more at home in that moment since the moment I arrived and know this is the path I was supposed to take.
We enter his family's home—a multi-generational house, built by one of the people who helped build the Taj Mahal. The handiwork down to the floor tiles was amazing. It was modest, but beautiful. I wanted to photograph every inch of it, but held back. We still needed to see the Taj Mahal.
We again climbed steep steps and went up about two flights of pure concrete until we found ourselves on the roof, overlooking the entire village where mothers and children were looking at us through their windowless windows, above all the tiny alleys we had run through, with a panorama view of the top of the Taj Mahal. It was one of the most glorious moments of my life.
Even though you wouldn't know it by the picture above, I am not so much a tourist. I love to see the sites and all, but the real reason I travel is for the people, the culture, and the traditions. I feel so connected to people everywhere. I won't lie to you! I'm a tad bit religious and truly feel that we all knew each other before this life and that, when it is all said and done, we'll be chatting about our experiences here on Earth. I can imagine saying to this guy: "Remember when you helped me have the most memorable Taj Mahal experience evs... even with my face flush red from running like a maniac? That rocked!"
The sun was going down. A solemn, moving song resounded through the village, beckoning people to the mosque. Muslims everywhere progressed toward it. And, I stood, reflecting for a moment on my experience of standing on that rooftop and later standing in their kitchen and after that, visiting their family shop where they make marble handiwork, and how those experiences combined were more worthwhile to me than an entrance to the Taj Mahal.
I haven't had good luck getting the people here to smile in pictures. Of course, he may have been a little scared at my tight hug of gratitude! If you're interested in seeing more pictures from my Indian adventures, click here.Disclosure: Thanks to Aveda for making this experience possible. While they didn't sponsor my trip to the Taj Mahal, they did bring me to India, making this rooftop experience possible!