Taj Mahal: Part 1 of 3
India isn’t for people who aren’t yet ready to look past the surface of things. She wants you to be distracted by her outer shell. If you care an awful lot about the appearance of people, cars, and things, India will chew you up and spit you out faster than a Hollywood producer kicks an arrogant, talentless actress out of his office. India will use filth, poverty, odor, and other various weapons to cover her true inner beauty. If you can learn to see through all this, you will find that India is simply a gateway to your own inner world. If you can learn to see her soul, you might just end up seeing your own.
There are layers to India, and seeing into her can be pretty difficult. Even when you believe you’ve made great personal transformations that allow you to gaze even deeper, she will still poison your body with food and water. For example, two hours after I wrote The Arrogant American Does A 180, I became intensely sick. I will spare you the details of that long night. Just know that my overheated body felt like it was locked in an oven, while someone was twisting my stomach into a knot, forcing the food up, and not down. Still, I was not deterred.
But India has a long list of weapons. In fact, the more you think you understand, the more she’ll test to see if you truly get her. And this is where the story about my journey to see the Taj Mahal begins. On Saturday, I was attacked by a new weapon, never encountered before by me: “Indian transportation hell.” Very powerful this weapon is indeed. In India, your journey begins the second you decide to take a trip. The destination can, quite possibly, end up being a happy accident. So the first thing you do is change the word “trip,” to “adventure.” That helps. Getting to the Taj Mahal quickly transformed from being a planned event, to a goal I would love to achieve.
The car ride from my hotel to the airport usually takes about 45 minutes. On this day, India decided to have some fun with me. The ride took 2 hours. Why? To start with, the shortest route to the airport was blocked by a train. I know, it sounds like a really long, slow train. You’ll have to guess again. In India, it’s possible that a train can sit at an intersection, without moving…for hours. And on the very first day I decide to travel, that’s what it did. After 20 minutes of waiting, we turned the car around, and took an alternate route. Within minutes, the traffic came to a complete stand-still. Why? Because the president of one of the Indian states was in town for a visit to our nearby ITPL office park. They had closed all surrounding roads for security reasons. We sit there for another 30 minutes. Almost an hour later, we had gone no further than two blocks from our hotel. Eventually we escaped from the traffic, just in time to get stopped by yet another train. This time we waited outside its closed gates 15 minutes before the train decided to actually show. Having a bad day as well, we witnessed a man who couldn’t make it past the closing gates in time. The guards wouldn’t let him through, and so he got to watch the train in a very personal way. During this time, I assumed he was thinking about how he’d go home and share the lessons he learned today on his blog. Maybe not.
We miss our flight out of Bangalore. This meant we would miss our connecting flight in Delhi. My friend and I, decide to go ahead and fly out anyway, knowing very well we had no idea exactly how we would get from Delhi to Agra once the plane landed. I got a brief reprieve from thinking about this problem, thanks to a man called Vijay Mallya. Vijay is the owner of Kingfisher airlines. There will be a blog entry on this flying phenomenon of an airline at a later date. Just know that in India, Kingfisher is the major beer company. And when you have an owner that runs a beer company, an airline company, and clearly has a desire to start a female modeling business, the combination can be quite interesting. I remember wondering if the plane was being piloted by a bunch of beer-drinking frat boys as well.
We arrive in Delhi around 9:00 p.m., hours late, 111km from the Taj Mahal, with no more flights leaving the airport, and no plan to get there.
Learning to Love the Journey
Taj Mahal: Part 2 of 3
Unfazed by the new smell (I know better by now), we work our way over to the travel information desk. After a few minutes we decide it’s best to get to Agra as soon as possible, and not stay the night. We do this by getting a taxi driver. The ride would take 4 hours. But like I said earlier, on this fine day, India had some fun planned regarding transportation and time estimates.
We leave the airport at 10:00 p.m. The driver was nice enough, as he spoke pretty good English, and even joined us for dinner at a nearby Chinese place, not too far from the Delhi airport. I mean, sure, from time-to-time he would park the car in the middle of a desolate road, leaving us alone so that he could run over some hill to pay some toll fee. In fact, he was so nice, he even suggested we lock the doors while he was gone. The nice man returned, and the car bopped, beeped, and strutted down the road.
3 hours into the ride, I was in heaven. Only 40km left on this journey. I was listening to my iPod, staring outside the window at the beautiful moon, dreaming about the Taj Mahal. And as we drove by the city of Mathura, I was able to think about how the Indian deity, Sri Krishna, was born right here. The internet functionality on my phone started working again too (it had been down for days). I e-mailed some friends, telling them how grateful I was to be alive. I was one with the universe.
At this exact moment, the driver pulls the car off to the side of the road. I ask him what is wrong. He explains that the engine is overheating, and that it’s probably a radiator problem. I looked outside the front window, and yes, there was smoke everywhere. I laughed. Honestly, I did. I knew better than to get upset with India. This is what she does. And then the nice man pours water on the engine, and gets sprayed with fluid from the car. My friend gets out of the car and helps as best he can. There really aren’t street lights in India. So as the radiator was fiddled with, cell phones and iPods were used as light sources. My contribution to the vehicle repair committee? I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures and video of the whole event. While doing so, two men from a nearby area, dropped their 1:00 a.m. welding project, and came over to see if they too could help. I thanked them by taking their picture, and appreciated I didn’t have to act like I knew how to do anything on a car.
When it became clear the radiator needed the skill of an actual auto mechanic, one of the welders borrowed my friend’s cell phone, and convinced their sound-a-sleep friend to stop by. He arrived on the scene via bicycle, carrying only two screwdrivers and a hammer. He looked fairly unpleasant, and unhappy. I decided not to take his picture.
At about 2:30 a.m., the radiator belt was put back in place. When it came time for the payment of hammer boy, our driver became quite upset with him. He was asking for 250 rupees ($5 USD). An hour later in the car, our driver complained to us, that it’s usually only 50 rupees to fix that radiator belt. It turns out, the car had broken down many times before. It’s a good thing he didn’t see us tip the mechanic another 100 rupees. I also gave Mr. Welder 500 rupees for being so nice to us. His face lit up like he had just seen an angel. I think I paid for a month food supply for the man. May you feast like a king in the month of March, my friend.
We are on the road once again. 15 short minutes later, would you believe the radiator belt came off a second time? Well, it did. We drove the remaining 40km slowly, as to not overheat the engine. Cars flew by us, and our arrival time got later and later. And for technical reasons I don’t understand, we had to drive in the middle of the night, with the headlights off. This would somehow maximize the car’s chances of making it to Agra. I wondered about my own chances. Regardless, the other cars didn’t like that either. They blasted their tricycle-sounding car horns at the putzing-along-headlights-off car, carrying two glow-in-the-dark white Americans in the back passenger seats. Awesome.
As we pull into the Agra area, stray dogs attempt to chase down the car. At this point, the driver becomes lost. We have to pull off to the side of the road and get directions to the hotel, using my cell phone. And those ever so lively dogs had there chance to catch the car because of it; barking, scraping and scratching on my window. We get to the hotel at 4:00 a.m., 10 hours later than originally planned. When the adventure ends, the driver asks us if he can drive us around tomorrow, and be our tour guide. We tell him we’ll call him. Thankfully, he’s not familiar with that line like the men in American bars are. The journey to the Taj Mahal had come to a close.
As I stated earlier, India can be a gateway to your own inner being and soul. But you need the ability to look past her shell, and her tactics. I am quickly acquiring that ability, and so I arrived at our hotel in wonderful spirits, knowing I would never forget this day for the rest of my life. I had not just survived another Indian missile…I had loved every second of it. Symbolic for my mental journey of crossing through one of those guarded Indian layers, my hotel was named “The Hotel Gateway.” I fell asleep in complete peace.
Learning to Love the Journey
Taj Mahal: Part 3 of 3
I don’t care how many photos you have seen of the Taj Mahal. Seeing it in person is an absolutely stunning experience. I actually weakened as I walked closer to it. I was pretty emotional. I guess it’s because we don’t have buildings like this in America. We’re an extremely new country, and so the oldest building we have is less than 200 years old. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. It really must be the most beautiful man-made object ever created. It just has to be.
And that is really all I have to say on this one. How many different ways I can say how perfect the day was…how great the Taj Mahal is? I thought it strange, at first, that I spent so much of your time here detailing the journey, and so little time detailing the Taj Mahal experience itself. But that’s when it hit me. The metaphor is to love the journey, because sometimes that’s all you get in life. When you’re gone from this planet, people will talk about your life’s journey, not too much about the plans you did or didn’t have. So you better find your personal way to love your own journey. India can help you with this, if you’re ready. But you first have to get by all her tests, games, and layers.
If, in life, you do happen to reach your goal, and you do tremble before the beauty of your own “Taj Mahal”…wow. Good for you. I hope you do more than I did. The only thing I knew how to do was take pictures. I was so paranoid that somehow the memory would slip away forever, I grasped the memory and my camera firmly. Hundreds of photos later, I’m still worried I missed something. But then I just sit back, relax, and laugh about the journey there. In that moment, everything becomes ok. India wanted me to have the journey, not the Taj Mahal. I loved both anyway.