It is my last official night in India and I am sad about it. It is truly a strange place, but it makes you want to learn how to be with it.
Today at the Taj Mahal, the driver who has brought me from Delhi- Jeetu, brings me to the West entrance which is less crowded. He goes for breakfast and shows me where to meet him when I am through. He tells me to be aware of the hawkers of course and the “guides”. I walk down the typical chaotic Indian street to the garden area where the hawking begins. I am alone thus more of a target, but I know how to look truly uninterested while not being rude so it is not a big deal. At the Taj, you pay a large sum which includes little booties to cover your feet when you actually enter the building, water, and a “guide” if you choose to use him. It is free- a scary word in India. All in all, it is not to crazy to get in and I am on my way. I let the guide hang around and it does give me some extra value.
He tells me that foreigners pay so much, Indians so little, because the British stripped the Taj of much of its riches so we are paying back. Don’t know if this is fact, did they strip it? But it is funny. He tells me only boys who are decedents of the original crew who built the Taj can guide in this official, government position, don’t know if that is fact or fiction, but it is again interesting. It took 22 years and 20,000 laborers to build. It is perfectly symmetrical. It is indeed a wonder to behold. I did not think I really cared about seeing it, but in fact it was awesome in the true sense of the world. I can see why people flock from all over to see it and find it worthwhile.
The day was perfect weather wise. The crowds are no big deal as the space is massive and has such a precision that you feel like you are floating above the earth just being in the vicinity. The government takes really good care of the operation so it is a peaceful experience. There is “shanti” there they might say in Hindi.
Did I tell you that my name is a Hindi name? No one in South India thought anything of my name as they speak Tamil. But in India everyone has commented, oh- you have a hindi name. I have asked what it means, as most names have a meaning here. Last night the waiter told me it meant “unbeatable” or “invincible”. He knew because his girlfriend is named Natasha. When he saw me name on my order (they do strange things with paperwork here, why would my name be on my food order?), they thought the order was for an Indian person and made the food regular spicy. I could barely eat it, a glimpse of how much they are taming things for us in these tourist enviorns. In truth, I have had no impulse to eat street food or the like as it seems so risky. I have had no stomach problems but indeed see how you would if you were not being directed at crucial junctures.
After my guide experience, very simple, tipped him 50 rupees. I walked around myself and sat and wrote on a bench in the shadow of the taj. A young girl came to talk to me very sweet, practicing her English. Then her sisters and brothers and cousins and parents. Before I knew it they were insisting we take pictures, they tried to get me to come to a wedding they were attending in the afternoon, and gave me an open invitation to Jaipur to stay with them. The people here just amaze me. This is not atypical.
I am behind the desk at the Holiday Inn in Agra. Know the internal feeling of a hotel well from my 13 years at Miraval. I have of course more to say, but will sign off as it is late and tomorrow i begin anew as I journey to Nepal.
Security is tighter of course as I move around. The Taj Mahal we were seriously frisked, the entrance to my hotel has tight security. This is not a Holiday inn like home, quite swank. I have seen more military as they are concerned about Dehli as a target. I feel fine though. Much more likely to get run over by a rickshaw or gored by a bull than taken hostage by terrorists. Blessings and Namaste!