Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Holiday grinch

I found this scribbled in a notebook, dated two years ago. It was penned after my first visit to the Taj. It made me smile that sometimes I manage to sound like such a grump. It was written post food poisoning/ pre being stranded on the side of the road on the Agra-Delhi stretch. Travel brings out the best and worst in me. 

Sitting in the humid train carriage perched awkwardly upon a pleather bench I flipped through my counterfeit version of the god of small things and waited. Up the line protestors from Jaipur blocked the tracks, demanding higher wages and better conditions. They waved signs angrily, scowled and jumped from side to side. The train sat, waiting for them to tire like a patient mother and her petulant child. Inside the occupants remained completely unfazed. The chai wallah continued to sell tea, the flies buzzed lazily, the family opposite unwrapped banana leaf packed meals and I stared hungrily.

Finally the train began to move, lethargic after such a long break. Slowly but surely I was once again heading towards Agra. Being a typical tourist I was off to see the Taj Mahal. I couldn't not. But unlike others I was not expecting an experience of awe and wonder. It was a sight I had seen a million times over like the Mona Lisa or Eiffel tower, courtesy of Google image, coffee mugs, t-shirts, screen savers and book covers. 

Most of the time I feel like a terrible tourist. While crowds eagerly snap photos at precious landmarks, I feel like there is little point. Yes, I was there, but I didn't need to take a picture one million people had taken before. My reasoning lay in the assumption that wonder was better found in the unexpected moments. Birds swooping over power lines at day break, funny hats on serious old men and unexpected love letters in the post. Despite my grinch like views I got up at 4am and sleepily made my way through the darkness to the Taj.

The gates opened and the small group of tourists excitedly moved forward, passing surly security guards and the last of the merchandise vendors.They rushed forward, hands poised and ready on their camera shutters. Walking through an unassuming old arch suddenly the Taj came into view. It was huge. Surprisingly huge. And spectacular. As I stood gaping the sky broke into a bright shade of red, reflecting perfectly off the white marble monument. In that moment I saw architectural perfection, symmetry, romance, tragedy and beauty. My skin got goosebumps. The touristic grinch departed. I was moved. 

Finding a step to sit on I watched the sunrise and tried hard to commit the moment to memory, even pausing to take a photo. I knew it was a photo that had been taken one million times before but I couldn't not take it. I realised no day was quite like today and maybe those hoards of tourists were on to something. Each experience is individual. Each impression is unique. 

Even non believers can have their moments.


  1. I long to go to India someday. This was a joy to read.

  2. India is wonderful. I hope you get to go someday. Make sure you put aside some time in the south - it's magical. x