Arga India : Taj Mahal

At this point in life; I'd filmed a month in Greece on America's next top model, worked in Canada, WWOOFed in Ireland, lived in Mexico, back packed through London, Paris, and Germany. By this point my obsession for India had grown out of control.  So when my friend Aj decided to meet me in India, my dreams became a reality!  I'd been preparing for the day I landed in India for months now, but my daydreams weren't always so heavenly. Very few of my friends and family where supportive. Part of the reason for these doubts may have been because New Delihi is known as the rape capital.  Even a local Indian fan wrote to say I should be in fear of my safety.  Drinking the water isn't really an option.  Chances are you'll end up sick at least once from the food, not because it isn't delicious, because the rich flavor and spicy mess are unusual to our American bellies.  Bathroom situations are less than ideal, toilet paper is a luxury and on top of that you need vaccinations, & my goodness do I hate shots! (Doesn't everyone?!) So the big question after all that; why would I want to go to India? Everyone always asking me, Why india? But it wasn't a simple answer. The Taj Mahal.. Indian curry.. elephants..?  It was more than that though, it was the promise that India would challenge my traveling soul. This would be an entirely new culture I had never experienced.  I wanted the eat, pray, love experience.  I wanted a journey that would stretch my mind and expand my ability to be patient, the discipline needed to let go of things. India is home to yoga and zen masterminds of all kinds. I so deeply desired to be a part of that. I wanted to experience this for myself instead of hearing about it. I didn't want to only dream of India for the rest of my life, I didn't want to let fear or discomfort stop me from going.  Forever wondering 'what if?' was not an option.  Would India chew me up and spit me out or would it be my new home away from home?

Now let me dish out the 411 on what it took to physically get to India.  Settling in was much harder than expected!  This adventure called for me to drive 6 hours to Atlanta Ga and a 17 hour flight to Canada, and India.  I arrived at 10:30pm in New Dehli and met up with my friend AJ who had been teaching English and backpacking through Vietnam. We had arranged airport pick up but were let down when nobody arrived for us.  We then hopped in a cab and were on our way to the hotel.  Half way there we started to see roads that were blocked off and lots of police, all just a few blocks from the hotel.  The cab driver then said he couldn't get us all the way there, the roads & all of the city center were blocked off and shut down due to protesters and/or terrorist threats.  Not even fully understanding what the hell was going on was the worst part.  Uneasy concern started to settle in at this point.  Our cab driver repeatedly told us it was not safe to walk to our hotel, even if we could, and that he would take us to a place for travelers. Thank goodness for his concern and generous nature.  When getting to this new place they let us call our hotel, only to find out that we wouldn't be able to get in the building for a day or 2.  The tourist center is a semi government funded business.  They kindly helped in planning the rest of our trip and even where we would stay for the night. Strongly urging us to leave New Delihi right away and start our travels in Arga.  Both for safety & timely reasons. The travel center set up all of our plans for Rajasthan, (North West Indian state), it cost us 500 USD each plus $200 USD tax, which included hotels for 6 nights, these hotels all having free breakfast but one!  Most having in room wifi, but all of them at least had wifi in the lobby & our own personal driver.  Even tickets to the Taj Mahal, only at that time we didn't realize we were getting 2 intense tour guides as well.  At this point it was midnight and we just wanted sleep, but unfortunately there was a 2 hour drive to Arga..

The travel center

The travel center

Let us begin our first morning in India.  I can hardly contain my excitement!  This has been an obsession of mine for so long I believed I had willed this trip to myself.  The hustle and bustle of the city is jaw dropping, curisoity exploding with awe.  Surrounded with Indian culture, the streets filled with chaos that's so breathtakingly beautiful.  Traffic had no organized direction, the sound of horns firing away every second of the day.  Stray dogs weaving in and out of cars, all the while cars weaving in out of cows.  Motor bikes piled high with as many people as could fit on a single bike. Meanwhile in the middle of all this city rumble, the sight of Indian women tossing their brightly colored sheer scarves over one shoulder, tiny bells upon their feet jingling down whatever path the day led them to.  Taking in the sight of cold white marble temples, the warm golden sun rays laying across the land.  Every bit of it leaves you so astonished, left with many unanswered questions. I couldn't take it all in fast enough!

Eating the only breakfast that wasn't included with our package.  Finishing up and hopping into the car only to see that there's an extra with us.  Our tour guide.  Feeling a bit indifferent because we hadn't asked for or wanted a guide, but we didn't have much choice than to just roll with the punches.  Getting to the Taj Mahal, going through the the line, and suddenly realizing we've added one more person to our tour. He ended up being a camera man, trying to graciously decline didn't work, he wouldn't take no for an answer. I figured it would be like Disney Land where they take one photo and try to sell it to you for a ridiculous price at the end of the day.  Agreeing was the only option if we wanted to get on with our day.  It didn't seem as if we really had a choice anyway.  Boy were we wrong.  It was one photo after the next, with cheesy poses like a 1980's prom photo.  Worst of all he wanted to take a million.  Someone tell this guy I'm usually paid to have my photo taken, not the other way around. He got carried away and tried to force us to buy them all.  We giggled and told him that unfortunately he wouldn't be making this sale.  We really didn't want to take them in the first place.  It ended up being necessary for us to get a little stern for him to leave.  We were here to look at these miraculous structures, not worry about photos being forced upon us. The Taj was so massive, so beautiful, so brightly white and well maintained.  Not to mention it's entirely romantic! The architect of this wonder built it for his favorite wife after her death.  It took 23 years to build because he wanted it to be perfect!  Indian people are pretty romantic, which is a little confusing due to the fact that you don’t see any public affection.  Even in a normal household setting the kids wouldn’t see their parents kiss. American’s often see an arranged marriage as sad and loveless.  After visiting India I see it's not true always true, most people in this culture swear by the system & everyone is excited to be married.  While on our adventure, people saw 2 American's, a male & female about the same age, they all expected us to be a couple.  Not being able to understand why we woulnt be.  We seriously could have funded the whole trip if we had a dollar for every time someone asked when we were getting married.  Well since we aren’t dating and do in fact live on opposite sides of the world, that answer would be... never? hah!  I suppose they were in love with the idea of love.  That's not such a bad thing since there's no real way of getting around an arranged marriage in India. 

out side the Taj Mahal 

out side the Taj Mahal 

the Taj Mahal photo by AJ Tallo 

the Taj Mahal photo by AJ Tallo 

India is complex, it's hard to make sense of it all in just a few paragraphs.  Especially when you're on a two week trip seeing all this amazingly complex architecture.  The details in the Taj Mahal are mesmerizing.  Perfect white marble with expensive stones laid into the marble.  Not painted!  We know this because our tour guide told us over and over. Having this thorn in our side called a tour guide who was passive aggressive about making us "enjoy" the tour.  Not knowing half of what he's saying, being forced to listen and stand wherever he instructed, when all we wanted to do is run!  It's the Taj Mahal! It doesn't need an introduction or any help being "enjoyed", I strongly sujest not to have a tour guide.  Just simply enjoy it alone or with a loved one.  There is no need for help navigating around it. The beauty of it is so dreamy!  I wish I could have laid in the grass alone, no tour guide, and take it all in. Afterwards we were exhausted and wanted to go to the hotel to lie down and eat; we'd had a long flight the day before and a drive to Agra at 2 in the morning. Mister tour guide had other plans though, without asking he took us to a marble and stone store.  We said no thanks but yet it didn't seem like we had a choice.  It looked like passive aggressive situations would be a reoccurring trend in our trips to Rajasthan and Arga.  Going into the store they told us that the workers here were ancestors of those who worked on the Taj Mahal.  Whetherthat's true or not I have not a clue, but the work they did was truly impressive and very skilled. They showed us how they sawed down the tiny stones to inlay them to the marble with out modern tools, it was pretty impressive. Next they took us inside where they tried to sell us marble home decor... like I'm going to buy a 10,000 pound marble table, what was this man thinking?!  I'm back packing India with no kind of buddy to pack it around in.  Arga is known for this technique of sale, and it was very impressive, but I'll have to pass on the heavy marble table sir.

back side of the Taj Mahal

back side of the Taj Mahal

the stone shop out tour guide took us to shop at and where they showed us how they inlaid the stones....

the stone shop out tour guide took us to shop at and where they showed us how they inlaid the stones....

Already finding our tour guide rather obnoxious when he forced us to go in this shop with no interest at all, then on top of that we had to tip. The store sold Marble home decor, it was interesting to see how they sawed down the tiny stones to place them in the marble but what am I going to do with a marble table as I back pack India.  In the end it wasn't much money to tip and everyone is just trying to earn a dollar.  I guess we were just a little frustrated that we had to share our trip with him in the first place.  We'd imagined it being a little more free and lighthearted.  It did fuel many jokes for the rest of our trip, so that kept things interesting.  Our first day was draining, so much being thrown in your face, everything happening quicker than you could process. India doesn't slow down, it's a constant hustle to feed the family, make another job, just the everyday life to survive. I'd found myself right in the middle of it, now a part of their struggle. No matter how tiring it was, I still very much appreciate getting the chance to experience India and appreciate what I have. & this is only getting started, I am about to learn alot about indian culture and life in India!.................