Day Twenty: Elephants, Monkeys and the Taj Mahal
I’m sitting in the colorfully cozy lounge of our hostel in Agra, reveling in the magic that we just experienced at the Taj Mahal. It’s only 11:49a as we decided to see the Taj before sunrise, which I’ll share more about later. Wylie is passed out next to me, taking a short morning siesta, cuz why not. Most other travelers around us are horizontal and glued to some kind of smart phone, happy as a clam.
We have officially wrapped up our road trip through Rajasthan, marking our first official day without Sono. It’s been a pricier adventure with its many ups and downs, and we’re ready to move on to the experience of DIY transportation by bus and train. Our friend Gallia rode east with us to Agra, and today we sent her off with Sono back to Delhi as she’ll be making her way back to Israel.
In the last three days, I’ve been feeling the weight of being a tourist and a major desire to slow down the pace. Less is more, they say. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever been called “rich” as much as I have been here – it’s been a struggle to wear that badge and have many people engage from that place. The intention is to work through it all, and it’s been nice to catch a break and lay low out of the tourist traps.
The photos below speak for themselves but the highlights of the last few days are worth calling out…
Sun, October 23
…We’ve reached our quota for forts, and decided to splurge on spending time with some elephants instead. Sono drove us to Elephant Village, a cooperative of 125 elephants that each live with an Indian family. Students are given majorly steep discounts (as these coops are heavily subsidized by the government), so that was motivation for taking an elephant ride and feeding them sugar cane afterwards (I knew carrying my student ID would come handy on this trip). I’m still not sure if riding elephants is good or bad, but according to the “Elephant Father,” a certain amount of rides is good for their digestion.
Mon, October 24
…We left Jaipur and stopped at the Monkey Temple on the way to Agra. Sono hooked us up with the “Monkey Man” who has spent the last 30 years volunteering his time to care for the monkeys. I’ve never seen so many monkeys in my life! I can’t tell you how fascinated I am by their expressive curiosity and strong eye contact. We fed them peanuts in two ways – one by holding a closed fist which required them to open your fingers one by one to reveal the treats, and the other by feeding the nuts directly in their mouths. Several hours rolled by, and we just couldn’t get enough of them. At one point, one monkey got real comfortable jumping from one shoulder to the next – by the time he reached me, he took a straight up pee on my back! Apparently, it’s good luck, or so the Monkey Man says? If it had been any other animal, I think I may have freaked out, but what can I say – I’ve got a soft spot for monkeys, my long time and forever spirit animal J
I particularly enjoyed the moments when they’d fixate on my tiger’s eye necklace, climb up my leg and wrap their mouth around it thinking its some kind of delicious treat. They also spent some time exploring the textures of my Paladiums, and one monkey even nipped my leg, probably enamored by the mustard yellow color of my pants. Who knew monkeys had such good taste.
Tues, October 26 (today)
…We woke up at 5a to head over to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. It was dark, slightly chilly and surreal as we walked over, with faint Muslim chants droning from a distance. We were told the previous night that the best time to head over is at 6a when the ticket booth opens. We arrived much earlier to a long line. Remember I spoke briefly about all the bureaucracy and unnecessary steps of a tourist site? The Taj Mahal was next level – a line to buy tickets, a walk from the ticket booth to the site, another line to enter the gate, another ticket checkpoint, a security check, and finally one more entrance to get your ticket stamped (time for a serious UX redesign). Also, it’s worth mentioning that women and men stand on different lines to enter.As we walked inside the gate, the first glimpse of the Taj Mahal appeared through an archway as the sun filled the sky. The image was arresting – I’ve never seen anything like it before.
The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built this tomb for his favorite wife, Empress Mumtaz Mahal. While giving birth to their 14th child, she died, and right beforehand, shared her final wishes. One was that he wouldn’t have children with any of his other wives and secondly that he would erect a beautiful tomb in her honor. He honored both fully, and in 1647AD, completed the masterpiece. Seventeen years and 40 million rupees later, the Taj Mahal made its mark on the world.