Okay, yes, it took us nearly two years to get round to, but with the arrival of guests this week we finally ventured to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. As you might imagine, Emperor Shah Jahan’s three hundred and fifty eight year old monument to love, and his third wife, is a magnificent sight. The scale and detail of the building and the minarets around it set my pulse racing, despite the furiously hot grey day. No wonder it’s one of the most recognisable buildings in the world.
I’m glad we went. Can you imagine how embarrased I’d be if I moved back to the UK from India, and wasn’t able to say that I’d been to the Taj?
Getting there from Delhi is an adventure in itself, revolving around several hours in the car each way. That’s fine though. One word that can’t be used to describe driving in India is ‘boring’. Terrifying and exhilarating, but never boring. Whether you’re counting how many Indians can squeeze into a single auto-rickshaw (between fifteen and twenty, we think), or boggling at the confidence with which pedestrians saunter across the motorway as though it’s the traffic’s job not to hit them rather than theirs not to get hit, there’s always something going on. As long as you have air conditioning, it’s fine.
Less pleasing are the hawkers, and in my case, the amateur paparazzi. Being white, therefore comparatively wealthy, hawkers selling crap make a beeline for my friends and I. Sometimes, only blunt, aggressive rudeness will make them move on. Sometimes, even that doesn’t work. The amateur paparazzi are basically locals who find my daughter (white, blonde, and seven years old) a marvel in her own right. I’m fine with that, and it’s to be expected when you’re living in another country and stick out like a sore thumb. However, the constant after her with a camera, trying to get her to pose with them and their children, sets my nerves on edge. I don’t care how well meaning and harmless it’s meant to be, it’s also exceptionally rude. I was practically slapping phones and cameras out of people’s hands, and Eva got so fed up she started wearing a hat on her face. Sort of funny in retrospect. These people ate visiting the Taj Mahal, a genuine wonder of the world, and all they seem to want to do is harass Eva. This is why we don’t often head to the tourist bits of India. It’s always the same.
Still, a good day in all, and seeing India through the eyes of friends who have never been before has broadened my perception of the place. This remains a country with massive social problems, but also a tremendous amount to offer. When it finally sorts out the balance between the two, it could be magnificent.