After our all-too-brief two days in Ranthambore, our Semester at Sea group of 24 got up early (yet again) to board a train (yet again) and head to the city of Agra where we’d be visiting the Taj Mahal. I found train travel in India (or anywhere, really) ridiculously fun—as did most of our group it seemed, judging by the friendly card games we played to pass the hours—so I didn’t mind the time in transit one bit. Our first stop was a marble inlay factory, where we watched the tedious process the artists go through to make each intricate slab of marble.
Then we were ushered into the back rooms with marble products galore, but seeing as
none most of us didn’t have an extra couple grand lying around to purchase end tables, the majority (including SVV and me, of course) left empty-handed. Besides, we had more important sites to see…the Taj Mahal!
Once you arrive at the Taj, you must purchase your tickets and either walk the kilometer (ish) to the gate or take one of the on-site trams. To avoid being harassed by the many shop owners trying to lure us inside their storefront and guilt us into buying cheap crap we don’t want—and because we had a couple of older travelers with us—we opted for the latter. It wasn’t unlike the process to get to Disney World (only with less singing, more hustling).
One important thing to note before visiting the Taj is that pretty much everything is banned. Luckily our tour operator communicated this to us before getting off the bus, as SVV and I had hauled the tripod all around the country simply for this one visit. I would have hated to get it confiscated once we went through security. In fact, many of the students had made signs to wear for their parents for photographic purposes, and even those were taken from them. (The smart ones were the girls who knew better and smuggled them in under their shirts.)
In short, everything’s banned, including the kitchen sink.
After we had gone through the ticketing point, I kept waiting for a peek at Her before we actually arrived—I assumed we’d see Her from a distance, and then inch closer and closer, the vantage point changing with every step we took—but She was more or less shielded from the public eye by a rather substantial gate.
And then we passed through said gate and BAM! There she stood in all Her centuries-old glory.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Do you know just how difficult it is to photograph the Taj? Insanely so. Everyone neglects to tell you that after the fact, but there are approximately a hundred billion people there at once so what you come out with is you, sweaty and shiny-faced with your husband, the monument reduced to a rather indistinguishable, overexposed blur in the background that maybe could be the Taj. Maybe. (This is where that tripod would have come in handy.) But, instead, it’s more likely than not some cheesy backdrop you found at your local mall and they were offering a two-for-one deal on travel scenery, so heck, you bought five.
(Let’s detract from that minor point and notice how tan India left SVV and me, shall we?)
Option two is the globally universal peace sign, which I’ve done since 2005 when I photographed a children’s conference and did not manage a single candid shot of the Korean schools all week long, as they would spin around with huge grins on their faces just as I crept up in what I thought to be a stealth manner and whip out the peace sign (both hands, all of them) before I could click my shutter. Now, I peace sign around the world in an homage to those adorable moppets.
We didn’t aim for your typical Taj Mahal shots, which consist of holding it by its tip or balanced on our palms or, Heaven forbid, attempting to eat it. It was far more fun watching the students do so and shoot their silly efforts.
Although you knew I couldn’t leave without my token jumping shot. Though, this time I grabbed one of my student pals Tor and made her participate.
Not my best effort, rocking the amputated limbs and all, but with said a hundred billion people milling around, what’s a girl to do? The guys on our trip managed to one-up us after a couple efforts. How great is this?
We lingered at the Taj for nearly three hours, leaving just as the sun was setting—6pm, in our case, that warm October afternoon—just as they started to boot people and shutter the gates.
More Taj Mahal fact and photos to come later this week, shot from a different perspective.