When my husband (then boyfriend) came along on a trip to India, he had one request. He wanted to stand before the Taj Mahal. He wasn’t alone in this desire. It’s on the must-see list for virtually every tourist – national and international. The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
And I could tell you all about the history of this incredible Mausoleum and the romantic notion behind it.
How Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan built the Taj as way to house the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Or how it took 22 years and 20,000 men to complete the construction. Or maybe I could describe the emotions you might feel to stand before such serene, calculated, beauty….a true testament to the grief a man might feel upon losing a woman he deeply loves.
But I won’t.
Because you can read about that in any guide book. Instead, I’ll describe what it was like to wait in line to enter the Taj Mahal.
There we were – the boy, my mother, and I. It was early afternoon in Agra, India and we had just exposed my boyfriend to his first taste of dosa. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s kind of like an Indian burrito. The wrapping is light and crispy, and made from a fermented batter of rice and lentils. The filling varies, but a basic dosa is filled with spiced potato and served with an assortment of sauces. It’s incredibly delicious.
After lunch, we walked over to the entrance to the Taj. There are two ticket prices. Indian nationals paid 40 rupees. Foreign nationals paid 1,000 rupees. Big difference. My mom looked at the price and told us to get into the foreign nationals line. My mother was born in India, but has spent the majority of her life in the United States, with US Citizenship. The American in me was thinking she should just get in line with us, but the thrifty Indian in her was telling her otherwise.
Our line moved lightning fast. I guess that’s a nice perk when you are paying 25x the price. Once we got through, we waited impatiently for my mom. Finally, I saw her.
We watched as she greeted the guard in Hindi and handed over her purse for the routine bag check. Suddenly, the guard started yelling. Two other guards rushed over.
I looked at my boyfriend and he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
My mom remained calm. She smiled, grabbed something out of her purse and handed it over. The guards opened the gate and then let her walk through without paying. As she walked up to us, she winked and said “see? I knew I could pass for an Indian.”
Puzzled, I asked her what happened. She said as the guard was looking through her purse, she found a half-eaten sleeve of Ritz Crackers. She grabbed it, lifted it in the air and said “I know this brand! It’s an American brand. You must be American. You’re going to have to pay the full ticket price!” To which my mom responded – “Sure. Or I can just give you the rest of these crackers?”
My husband and I took this trip 14 years ago. To this day, anytime someone mentions the Taj Mahal, we think back to this story and laugh. While I don’t remember every detail of the beautiful white marble, jade stone accents, or the soaring minarets, I can vividly recall every moment of this experience.
We don’t travel to see pretty buildings. We travel to experience life.