>The Taj Mahal is so stunning that even a person who is preoccupied over a potential digestive system explosion must stop and gape. I know this because – surprise, surprise – I was that person standing around and staring and hoping that I would not shit my pants. It was nothing out of the ordinary for me, though. Just my regular crazy mysterious ailment. Over the course of the 3 hours I was there, the Immodium AD I took before we left kicked in and I could fully appreciate its splendor.
Before all of that occurred, however, I had to wait in a long line to get into the Taj Mahal complex. There is a separate line for women and men, as the entry way includes security staff that pat you down. Of course, the men's line moved three times faster than the women's line. Partly this is because women insist on bringing everything they own in their handbags, so it takes the poor female security staff much more time to clear someone. In my mind that means there should be more female staff, but the people running the Taj Mahal clearly think differently.
Fearless Leader, our horrendous guide, told everyone that the Taj Mahal construction began on the complex in 1631, and by the time it was done some two decades later, it cost $40 million rupees. He then informed the group that that was the equivalent of $1 million US dollars at the time. This is another reason why I loathe Fearless Leader. It is clear that he just made that number up by thinking about the current conversion rate of rupees to dollars. This does not really work for 1631, as there were no dollars to convert to at the time, among other issues with inflation. The guide book that I brought on the trip said it would be about $70 million USD in today's terms.
At any rate, it was completely wonderful despite Fearless Leader's bloviating, and I am very glad that I both got to see it with my own two very nearsighted eyes and also that I did not shit my pants, which really would have put a damper on the whole experience.
In the afternoon, we left 30 minutes late for the Agra Fort because Fearless Leader decided that he should wait until after our free time to think about what to do about a woman who lost her passport two days ago. Instead of letting the group know that our departure was delayed so people could nap a little longer or blog or whatever, he left us all sitting in the lobby.
Usually, I love going on tours. I am always rushing to stand close to the tour guide so that I can cling to every word of wisdom that passes his or her lips. Usually the guides know what they are talking about. Fearless Leader is not only a liar, but contradicts himself often. He'll state what might be a fact, and then someone will ask a question, and he'll say the exact opposite of what he just stated, further confusing the question asker. Thus I decided that I should just wander randomly around the fort and read more about it in my book later. I found that my experience in the fort was much more pleasant that way, despite the baking heat.
Also, while I have been here, I have been trying to use some basic Hindi phrases that I gleaned from the little language book that Dr. P gave me for my birthday. Mostly I use them with the bus staff (the driver and his helper, who I think is adorable) and it amuses them greatly. This morning I discovered from one of the co-organizers, who is Indian, that I have been pronouncing a phrase wrong for the past two days. Ray said that perhaps the reason that the staff smiles so much when I try and speak with them is that I might have unintentionally been offering to suck their cocks. It's more likely that I was just speaking nonsense, but we had quite a laugh over that. Of course, it may not be as funny at the end of the trip when the guys approach me with their dicks hanging out of their trousers. (My book says that only 6% of women approve of pre-marital sex, so definitely I could be an interesting prospect.)
Speaking of Indian women, my book also says that while immense strides have been made in the middle and upper classes regarding women's rights, I am not sure to make of what I have observed. Women never drive alone. They are always sitting behind a man on the scooters. The men wear helmets, but not the women. (Some of the male scooter passengers don't wear helmets either, but the women never do.) I have seen many men carrying their kids, so women seem to not be solely involved in caring for the younguns in family outings. Also, many of the girls seem to be as well-cared for as they boys and even are allowed to run around a bit. Like many cultures, though, women and girls are the ones primarily wearing traditional clothes while nearly all the men I see are in western-style clothing. Men pee in the street constantly.
Anyway, tonight we are headed to a henna demonstration, so I am excited to have that done. After that, we are possibly getting drinks at a fancy bar that overlooks the Taj Mahal so we can observe the sunset. Tomorrow, we are off to Jaipur, which is 6-8 hours away depending on traffic. In Jaipur, we are scheduled to take an elephant ride. I am beside myself with glee.
Namaste! (This is the one word I have been pronouncing correctly the entire time, and it is a lot like shalom in that it is the standard hello/good-bye greeting.)