The rest stop doubled as a restaurant and mechanic. But it was also a total hole in the wall. There was no chance we'd be finding a clean bathroom here.
Not only were the bathrooms filthy, there was only one toilet. The other stall had a squat hole (if you've read my posts from China you know how I feel about a squat hole) and there were only like 5 sheets of toilet paper left to divide among the three of us.
But I'd like to paint a picture of this place for you and the surrounding area. Don't judge me, the pics are blurry because we were moving.
On the drive in, Pappuji told us that he would not personally be able to drive us up to the Taj Mahal gates. Diesel and petrol vehicles are not permitted in the vicinity of the Taj Mahal area, so we would need to get a battery operated vehicle to transport us. This rule helps preserve the Taj Mahal. Pappuji had arranged for a comrade to pack us into a tuk tuk in order to get us closer.
Notwithstanding his attempts, we were murmuring against Pappuji. We had to liberate ourselves from this oppressive experience. When we gathered outside after the wretched bathroom break, we all quietly agreed that under no circumstances would we be getting back in the car with Pappuji. We didn't care if he replaced the fuse for the a/c or not. It was hot, the quarters were too close, he drove slower than Miss Daisy herself and we were beyond over it.
So we quickly devised a plan to circumvent Pappuji and wake up from this nightmare. We stood together in a close, impenetrable circle. We spoke quietly so Pappuji wouldn't detect the dissension, flashing an occasional smile in his direction to throw him off our scent. We were dern near speaking in sign language, using hand signals and moving our eyes in different directions. The major, overwhelmingly abundant theme was this: We have to get away from this dude.
Pappuji had told us we'd be transported to the West gate by tuk tuk. We would go inside alone and tour the Taj. Then we were to return to the West gate after 2 hours, where the tuk tuk would be waiting to transport us back to this loathsome restaurant to meet Pappuji and his micromachine car with a newly repaired air conditioner. He assured us that the air would be repaired for our journey back. But, like I said, it didn't matter if he fixed it or not.....we were not getting back in his car unless it was directive from Jesus Christ. And, we still owed him the other half of the money we agreed to pay him for the trip. That didn't matter either. Our minds were made up.
Finally, Pappuji escorts us to the 4 person chicken coop on wheels that would take us up to the Taj. First, the driver was missing most of his teeth and looked like he had just been in an MMA cage match. It appeared as though he had a mouth full of blood and it was difficult to look at. Anyway, on the way up we could speak more freely and we had been freed from the bondage of Pappuji's presence. Between selfies and videos, Joseph reminded us that he kept the reservation for our return to Delhi in an air conditioned SUV. Amen.
So here was the plan: We would finish touring the Taj Mahal in 1.5 hours. Instead of returning to the West gate, we would exit the East gate. From there, we would walk to the hotel where our transportation would pick us up. This way, we would avoid Pappuji's bloody mouthed minion altogether. Fail proof plan. We were so pleased with ourselves. We joked that Pappuji must have had a notion that we were planning to ditch him and that he might have a man stationed at each exit, surrounding the whole joint to frustrate the jail break. Then we joked about how long the tuk tuk driver would sit out there and wait for us before he had to go break the news to Pappuji. Honestly, for a moment I felt bad for them both. Pappuji would be missing out on the rest of his money and he'd have to drive back to Delhi in his hot car alone. I got over it within seconds. Here's a map of the grounds surrounding the Taj Mahal so you get the picture:
So yeah, there were selfies...and videos. Here they are:
The drive up to the gate was....scenic? It was definitely an experience. Maybe scenic isn't the word I was looking for.
The driver stopped and we look around. Where's the gate? This isn't the gate. We didn't understand that this wasn't a door to door service. But of course, no one explained it to us and the toothless, bloody mouthed man didn't speak English. So you know how that can get, we're getting agitated because we already think this is the okie doke and he's just dropping us off in the middle of nowhere. He can't understand why we're so hype and he just keeps pointing in different directions.
Has anyone ever seen the Secret Life of Walter Mitty? There's a scene when he's climbing the Himalayas and his two companions are trying to use pointing to tell him that they can't accompany him any further....it's furtive pointing and no words. That's what our driver was doing. Pointing really hard at us and then in the direction of the entrance.
I guess we created a scene. But you can imagine that after all the mess we had dealt with prior to this point, we were quick to act a fool on this dude.
Another man, who was listening nearby, let us know that this was as far as the tuk tuk would carry us, we would have to walk to the entrance from there.
So we exited the chicken coop and attempt to slide some rupees into the driver's pocket. He tells us no! and tries to communicate that we could tip him later. We think to ourselves, there won't be a later so you better take this money now. Jo manages to get the money into his pocket. We turn around to run off but we were IMMEDIATELY approached by every man in India selling souvenirs, water, and whatever else and telling us which direction we needed to walk. Then a child ran up to us and essentially followed us the whole way telling us about his store and making us promise we'd come back there after we visited the Taj. This was just the beginning, I tell you.
We FINALLY make it to the entrance. Finally. When we get there we are rushed into what amounts to a cave entrance to find a man sitting on a low stool behind a short table to buy tickets. Mind you, we're surrounded by people trying to sell us things and other men trying to herd us in different directions...so overwhelming. I wanted to scream for everyone to SHUSH while we figured all this out. Also, there was a Caucasian man trying to direct us...speaking in English, which was good, but we trusted no one and basically suspected that every person that spoke to us was trying to lure us into a trap. Why were we the only ones going into the cave to buy tickets? We did get a bottle of water and shoe covers with our ticket so that was a plus.
Once we got the money straight, we had to go through he security lines. Separate ones for men and women. We were previously warned that no food was allowed into the Taj Mahal. The woman checking my bag searched its every crevice. She took my gum and my mints.....ugh. But before that, I was subjected to THE most invasive body search I've ever encountered in my life.
On this trip, I was violated by airport security several times, both in Abu Dhabi and India. In the Dubai Airport they had little tents set up for the women to be searched. It's a matter of respect in their culture, to make sure the women aren't exposed. But I walked out of that thing feeling like this lady should have bought me dinner first. Still, that was nothing compared to the search at the Taj Mahal. The security lady checked between and under my breasts, pretty much cupping and moving them out the way so she could get underneath for a good look. Without going into too much detail, I was felt up, for a solid 4 mins and there was nothing I could do about it......
After all that, we were there. We reached the Taj Mahal. All the traveling we did to get there....everything we had to deal with....all of it....no longer a huge deal. We had arrived.
There were tons of people and it was really hot. But we took as many pictures as we could....
Before we could actually set foot onto the white marble complex, we had to cover our shoes. We walked around the gorgeous structure, admiring the craftsmanship...it was really an incredible sight to see with the Yamuna River in the background. Then there's a line that wraps around the building to go inside the tomb. We cut everyone....it was too hot and the sun was reflecting off the marble and making it worse. We thought we were gonna get caught because the guard saw us but he didn't say anything. It made me think he would have cut the line too.
You have to step up and over the threshold of the door to get inside. Once you're in, you can go over to the tomb of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died in 1631 after giving birth to their 14th child. Since she was his favorite wife, he had this monument built for her. It took over 20 years to build. Now that's love. After you see the tomb, you walk through several other rooms...there's nothing in them but you can admire the beautiful white marble walls. It was so intricately designed, it's hard not to marvel at the composition. It really is quite incredible.
I think as an American, I have an ideal of personal space that is not recognized by Asian cultures. When I was in China, I had a hard time coping with the lack of respect for my personal space. It was the same in India. Inside the Taj Mahal, there was a group of small Indian ladies dressed in saris. These ladies were having a hard time maneuvering
the thresholds because as I mentioned, you had to step up and over them to get through. Maybe their little legs weren't capable of all that, I'm not sure. The older ladies in the group were having an especially hard time but, they giggled and seemed to be making light of the situation. Much to my dismay, one of the ladies in that group kept finding me and bumping into me. At one point she actually pushed me. If you know me, you know that I cannot stand being repeatedly bumped into. Once of twice, I gently nudged her back. But I assume she's used to a gentle nudge here and there so when she didn't get the picture, I started to get bothered. Then, right before we exited the last room of the Taj, I had to let this lady know. It didn't matter how far away from her I got, she kept finding me and pushing me. So, I shoved her. With both hands, into her crowd of friendse. Then I politely stepped out of the last doorway and onto the landing.
It was time to go then....it had been about an hour and a half and it was time to execute our plan. We walked to the East Gate and exited. We were accosted by men selling things and other men offering to give us a ride on cart pulled by a donkey. No sir. We didn't even know where we were going....we announced to them that we were going to walk. But that didn't deter them. While we did our best to tell the 30 men that were closing in on us that we didn't want what they were selling, we didn't want to ride on their cart....but they persisted. It was really overwhelming. It was like they didn't hear us saying no....rather, screaming no.
Meanwhile, we had to figure out what hotel we needed to go to and wait for our ride. But we also had to get away from the gate on the off chance that Pappuji was out there looking for us. The vendors and drivers followed us....for nearly half a mile, trying to wear us down. What they didn't know is that we were already worn down. We were tired, starving and it had gotten hotter. We needed water and somewhere to sit. I was getting dizzy and none of this was helping. It's hard to describe how intense this was....we were literally yelling at these men to leave us alone and that was taking all the energy we had left.
We tried asking a few people to point us in the direction of the hotel but each of them took this as an open invitation to sell us something. Ugh. Then Jo tried to find some wifi for directions but that didn't really work so we just kept walking. Then the same man with the cart came back and tried to give us a ride and we nearly lost it. I have to give it to him tho....he didn't give up.
We reached the hotel, by the grace of God. I was near death....I know everyone else was too. It was just so life giving to find air conditioning and a clean restroom. We needed to eat...lest we all perish. So we ordered delicious coca colas and some dishes that we thought may be safe. The waiter was just happy to have customers....he was really nice. The food was spicy but....whatever. I was revitalized.
Then our ride arrived. An air conditioned Land Rover. Praise God. I had my own seat....Praise God again. No hot hips touching my hot hips. You never know how amazing air conditioning is until you're in a situation like this. I don't remember anything after that. I felt safe and secure for the first time all day....and I fell asleep. Like a small child....and I didn't wake up until we were in front of our hotel. The nightmare was over.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. I had to tell this story....it was too ridiculous not to share. I hope you guys enjoyed it. Leave me some comments below.