The Girlfriend’s Guide to the Taj Mahal…..
There is a book called the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy – it is supposed to fill you in on all the little details that people might forget or be unwilling to tell you while you are pregnant. Consider this your girlfriend’s guide to the Taj Mahal.
Before you go to visit the Taj Mahal, read a little about its history. Our guide was fantastic but he had a heavy accent. It was very helpful that I knew some of the names and places he was saying. I had to listen very carefully to him to understand everything.
Whenever you are in India, you will want these things in your purse. Diaper wipes and/or tissue paper – enough for an entire day, some kind of lipstick or chapstick, and hand sanitizer. Aspirin or tylenol. And a bottle of water.
The car ride from Delhi is long. If you normally get car sick, this will be especially long. Bring Dramamine. And a pillow is not a bad idea either. I had our driver keep the car pretty cold. That helped with the car sickness. So, a sweater too.
Pack your own snacks and drinks. But, do not drink too much in the morning. When I say there aren’t many places to stop and go to the bathroom, I mean, there aren’t any places to stop and go to the bathroom. Unless you are a man. Then you can truly stop wherever you want and go. Yep, on the side of the road, wherever. No matter how many people are around. Feel free.
There is a McDonalds about an hour away from the town of Agra. It has fries, chicken sandwiches, veggie sandwiches, chicken rollups, ice cream, and, thankfully, an indoor toilet. There was no toilet paper though. It seemed that they normally have toilet paper – but this time they were out. Stop here. Go to the bathroom. And then go again. You’ll want to be sure that you are as empty as possible.
And just fyi, the idea of time relative to traffic is always at best a guestamite. About an hour from Agra really means – it could be half an hour or it could be two hours. Traffic is very unpredictable. So just know that it could take longer than you expect and be thrilled if it doesn’t.
When we drove through Agra, we stopped at a corner to meet our guide. There were a lot of men standing around and one came walking over to the car. Then he got in the front sit after talking to the driver – yes, in Hindi. It turns out he was our guide for the day and a very good guide. But it seemed sort of random at first. And more than a little unsettling.
He took us to the parking lot and arranged for our “shuttle” to the Taj. I actually would recommend the camel ride. It was inexpensive – plenty of room – rent both sides of the cart – and placed you higher than the other modes of transport. This meant that the “vendors” could not reach you as well to show their bright shiny trinkets.
Tell your children that they will not be getting souvenirs at the Taj Mahal. The vendors will follow you closely. They will push shiny objects in front of your kids – your kids will probably want some of them. If they hear your kids asking for something, they become relentless. Number One Hubby would often walk in between me and them. They got the hint. I would also say “nay” firmly – without yelling – think of disciplining your kids in front of the minister. You would not yell, but you can certainly get your point across. And try not to look at them. That is seen as an invitation. It is my understanding that if you buy from one, others (many others) will come out of everywhere to vie for your attention.
Security – well that is a fun little experience all on its own. You will get felt up by a woman. She’ll pat down your boobs and your butt and your front pockets. You are allowed a smallish purse. Cameras and cell phones. No other electronics – at all. None. This was fine by me and luckily we knew it ahead of time. Kids don’t need their ipods when looking at the Taj Mahal.
You will also not be allowed to take in any food or drinks or candy or gum – water is allowed. Take that – especially if it is hot. Now that I think of it, we bought our water at the gate – maybe you have to buy it there to take it in – I don’t think so, but I really am not sure.
There are lots of great places to take pictures. You will only be allowed to take a video camera right inside the main entrance building. You will pay a fee to use it – I don’t remember what that was – maybe 100 rupees ($2). Then you will be required to put it in a locker. Our guide did that for us – it was cheaper that way. Don’t lose the key. You get your camera back on the way out. Our guide helped us remember that we put a video camera in the locker. Yes, that was very helpful. You can take your regular camera (still pictures) every where on the grounds. You will not be allowed to take pictures inside the Taj Mahal.
There will be quite a few photographers who offer to take pictures for you. If you have your own camera, you really don’t need them to do it for you. Just watch for people taking funny pictures and follow along.
When you buy your ticket to get in, you can also get booties to wear over your shoes. Recommended. Otherwise, you have to walk barefoot with 3 million of your closest friends. Not recommended. There is a lovely little man who will help you put your booties on. Let him. They rip easily. We tipped him 20 rupees (40 cents). A small price to pay to be able to wear your shoes.
If you have light skin and light hair, be prepared to be asked to have your picture taken. Many people visiting the Taj Mahal have never seen light skinned people before. They travel from very remote villages to be there. They will want your picture. You can say no. We did. Mostly they asked our guide. He said if you let one do it, bring on the masses. It’s just not a good idea. Plus – who knows where the pictures would end up. I’ve always wanted to be a rock star but it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.
If you have a small flash light, take it with you – like one the size of a writing pen. It is very cool to see how it illuminates the stones in the marble. You put the light right on top of the brown stones (I think they might be jasper) and it makes them seem clear.
I would recommend wearing capri pants to your visit of the Taj Mahal. Not a skirt and not long pants. This is why…
There is the matter of the “restroom”. Okay – it is apparently called a turkish toilet. It smells beyond horrible and the floor is VERY wet. It is a toilet room (translation – basically a tiled hole in the ground) that you squat over. However, it did flush. I found that extremely ironic. You are in your own stall behind a closed door. Use the handle of the door to your advantage – it can help you not fall in. (I now know where the inspiration for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came from – I doubt Harrison Ford could masterfully maneuver his way around this pit.)
Indians must pay to use the restroom – all others pay for toilet paper. Unless you bring your own. I gave 20 rupees (40 cents) for me and the girls to get toilet paper. Number One Hubby said I over paid – I think not. The girl let me take as much as I wanted. Enough said. There is a sink with running water to wash your hands afterwards.
You will also want to wear comfortable shoes – throw fashion to the wind. This is especially true if you plan to visit the fort. The entrance way is uneven so that water could not build up and make it slippery for the horses. It is not hard to walk on in flat shoes – but horses did not wear heels and neither should you.
There are two hotels for lunch – one is the Mughal (Sheraton) hotel and the other is the Oberoi. I think you need reservations for the Oberoi – it’s on the path to the Taj Mahal. The Mughal was lovely and very clean. But you drive there. Not a problem really. And indoor plumbing with toilets you could actually sit on. Bonus. And free (soft) toilet paper. Bonus. Bonus.
The Agra fort is definitely worth seeing. I think you get a discount if you show your Taj Mahal tickets. We saw beggars (just a couple) at the fort. None at the Taj Mahal. And more vendors. They are pretty aggressive but not dangerous – just remember “nay”.
The monkeys at the fort are very comfortable being around humans. You should not feel the same. They are cool – from a distance. They will take glasses and other unattached things.
After you visit the Taj Mahal and the fort, your guide will most likely offer to take you to see an exhibit of how they laid the stones in the marble and an embroidery exhibit. This means that you will be invited to see craftsmen toiling away at their craft. You can ask questions and touch the pieces (at least of marble). Then you will be invited into a show room were you will be allowed to purchase items. They are not free. If you do not think you want to shop at the show room, you can say no to the exhibit. We only went to the marble exhibit. I bought a beautiful vase. As far as I could tell, the demonstration was free. The vase was definitely not. No samples here.
On the way back to Delhi, stop at the McDonalds again and take your last drink. Traffic can be very unpredictable. It took us longer to get home then it took to get there. Don’t forget to refresh on the Dramamine if you tend to get car sick and turn the air conditioner on. It really does help.