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Amanda: Full of Wonder

February 5, 2011

Last Saturday I woke up 4:45 am, met nine friends, and boarded a small bus en route to Agra, India to visit my first world wonder: the Taj Mahal.

I love long car rides.  Really.  And despite observing maniacal driving habits evident on an Indian highway, I loved snatching a window seat and indulging in the beautiful landscapes that line Indian roads.  Fields and fields of mustard grow along India’s major highways.  The pastoral images reminded me so much of cotton fields that line SC’s interstates.

When we finally arrived at a parking lot outside the Taj, we were greeted by dozens of local businessmen offering us an array of postcards, t-shirts, snow globes, and horse whips.  Yes, horse whips.  Unfortunately for these salesmen, I had no desire or need for a horse whip.  Yet, like so many other Indian businessmen, these dudes were absolutely relentless:  “But madam, you are my first customer of the day.  I make you good deal. 500 rupees.  No?  Only 100 rupees.  Just for you.”

A “tour guide” also offered to speed us through a “2 ½ hour line” and show us around the Taj for only 200 rupees.  He said he was officially licensed by the Indian Tourism Association, but the website http://www.indiatourism.comm was printed on his name badge.  Legit?  I think not, but again, he was persistent.

Since Indians have a very different concept of personal space, men and women are forced to wait in separate lines outside of tourist attractions and places like movie theatres.  Thus, our friend Jonathan waited alone in the men’s line.  What our “tour guide” friend called the “2 ½ hour line” to get into the Taj was the easiest 20 minutes of my life.

Once we got into the Taj Mahal, though, I totally became one of those dropped-jaw Westerners Indians love to gawk at.  No shame, is all I gotta say.  The intricate floral designs crafted from natural stone on the Taj combined with its grandiose marble stature made it truly unbelievable.

A Mughal ruler built the Taj to honor his wife who died at the birth of her 14th child (what a woman, huh?).  Two large mosques neighbor the Taj on either side. I agree with the ancient lore—the Taj Mahal is truly a wonder, and a great welcome as my first weekend excursion in India.

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