Murphy’s Law in tourism and how I saw the Taj Mahal
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan authorized the Taj Mahal to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Colloquially known as “The Taj” and commissioned in 1632, it is one of the world’s most iconic symbols of everlasting love.
In today’s money, its construction cost approximately $823 million. You can’t put a price on love, but as a gesture, this building’s beauty speaks to the true lover in us all.
Today Was a Travel Day
My girlfriend broke up with me that morning. Her response (initially a lack of a response) to me saying I wanted to work toward a serious relationship when I got back home in a few weeks. Foreshadowing never comes out and says what it is, you always have to figure it out the hard way.
Heartbroken, I got out of bed and went into Jaipur.
Jaipur is the capital of India’s Rajasthan state, often called the “Old City” or “Pink City” for its iconic building color. The opulent City Palace complex stands at the center of its stately street grid with gardens, courtyards, and museums that are still part of a royal residence.
When in India, it’s far easier to eat at a restaurant than cook for yourself. If you are an American, food in India (really, anywhere in the world) is far better than it is at home. Trust me when I say that a poor Indian eats far better than a middle-class American.
What we Yanks can brag about, however, is the unlikelihood of being a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle.
Dumped, Hit by a Rickshaw, and Undeterred
My first thought was “Hey, that auto just bumped into me.” You never realize that you got hit by a motor vehicle until later.
Yes, it was head on.
No, it wasn’t very hard.
And I was far from injured. Bruised at best and hard to find on this chocolate skin.
Back at my hostel, I needed a cab to the railway station that would take me to the Taj. All I had to do was get in the cab and go through the motions at the train station. A rickshaw offered me a ride as my Uber arrived. Cancelling my Uber would have not only been rude but ugly.
That Uber sealed my fate.
Just a Sticker
I saw nothing that resembled a railway station as my Uber reached its destination.
“Which way is the train station?” I inquired. “Picking up another rider,” the driver uttered. Uberpool. An option more expensive than Ubermoto, which would have taken me right to the rail station.
An old woman and a young man got in the back seat, moving me into the front when I needed to be at the train station. I canceled the ride in the app and gave the driver some money for his effort to avoid an international conflict.
“Get back in,” the young man said, “We’re going that way.” We weren’t, and we were already on the other side of town.
I ran for the nearest auto five minutes before my train was supposed to leave. “I’m on a break,” said the nearest rickshaw driver.
I angrily swung my wireless headphones toward the ground, breaking one of the earpieces. Whatever. She had given me a sticker on that earpiece the last time she visited.
More is Lost
“NOOOOOO!!!” I screamed.
I found a relatively expensive rickshaw to the nearby train station. I had one bag – the other was in my Uber’s trunk.
There was no way I would make my train. Even if it was late – and they’re always late. I called my Uber and arranged to have my bag brought to the metro station while I bought a ticket.
Not Here for the Countryside
I found a hotel bar to sit and have a few drinks while I waited for my train in three hours. I sipped a Kingfisher – India’s most iconic beer, although not known for having disgusting dark floaties in them.
Several of them. Which could have been anything from bird shit to bat shit, or any other bacteria in between. Nature called, and the memory still evokes disgust.
The British Raj ruled the Indian subcontinent from 1858-1947. And the British must have left their comedy, because flushing the toilet sprayed water everywhere. I felt like I had jumped in it.
I finished a new beer and caught my first break. I cozied into the top bunk of sleeper class and took a short, comfortable nap. I wasn’t here for the countryside. I was going to the Taj Mahal.
The conductor checked my ticket and gave me an angry look. I had a sneaking suspicion I was in the wrong part of the train, but no one in that train spoke English. Every Indian person curious enough to ask wants to know where I’m from – there aren’t very many black people in India.
“Ninety rupees,” the conductor said. I almost wanted to laugh. At this point in the day things had gone so bad that I welcomed a $1.41 fine.
I gave him his money, took my new seat, and checked Google Maps for my stop. In true Indian train fashion, I jumped off while it pulled into the station.
I Wanted What It Says
I met Shameer that afternoon outside the train station. The nice, albeit persistent cab driver showed me his book of reviews and it felt nice to know that he was someone who other travelers trusted. He kept offering to be my personal driver and insisted that he would take me to Delhi when I was ready to go.
“What about the Taj?” I asked.
“There’s no Taj tomorrow. Just Baby Taj and Agra Fort,” Shameer said.
I didn’t need to go into the building itself. I would have, but all I really wanted – everything I hoped for – was that photo.
The photo that the British royal family takes when they visit. The iconic picture. The one in front of the water. The one that says, “I have traveled the world.” The one that says I’m standing in front of one of the world’s seven wonders because I value seeing the world in which I live.
I was within a 10-minute walk of one of the most recognized places on Earth, and all I wanted was to take a picture outside of it.
“You can take pictures from the backside,” Shameer said.
Whatever. I’ll do that.
Past It All
After breakfast and more rickshaw harassment, I followed the signs all the way to the main entrance.
Past all the distractions. Past all the restaurants. Past the price gougers. Deep down I knew what I would see. There wasn’t a single foreigner in sight. No, I knew what was waiting for me and it didn’t save me from any heartache.
If I’m smiling in this picture it’s because I was broken at this point. The great door to India’s most iconic monument was closed. Two heavily armed guards talked to each other and eyed me as I approached. Aware of my presence but lacking suspicion. I didn’t walk all the way to the door. I saw it was closed. I knew it was locked. I knew they wouldn’t let me in. I knew that this was my last day to do this.
I walked around the outside wall looking for the tallest hill. Maybe you can see the disdain in my face. I had told myself only hell or high water – this felt like hell.
My last remaining day was a travel day to ensure that I made it to Thailand. The Taj will be covered in mud this May for cleaning. A well-planned roundtrip ticket costs $700. The visa is $70. Hotels are cheap and maybe I’ll return.
Maybe after I go to Paris. Maybe after monsoon season. Maybe when they clean off the mud. If I do, it will be the most expensive thing I’ve ever done out of spite.