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Trek to the Taj

The Trek to the Taj

Yesterday we went to the Taj Mahal and it was a less than enchanting experience. Don't go there. All the guide books say it's the number 1 place to visit in India and all of those guide books are lying to you. First of all, do you know what the Taj is? I'll tell you. So there was this ruler who had many wives and when his favorite wife died he built that around her tomb. THE END. That's what the Taj Mahal is. There is no religious or historical significance at all. Some people say it's "romantic" but IS IT? IS IT ROMANTIC? SHE'S DEAD. ALSO WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER WIVES. RUDE.

So you would think this place of no historical or religious significance wouldn't be kill-yourself packed but you would be wrong. I'll start from the beginning. I'm just going to start this story as it happened. Rewind to 6am getting in a taxi for what we THOUGHT would be a two hour journey to a town called "Agra". 

When I was flying into Delhi I saw what looked like hundreds of empty buildings... like a North Korean Esk landscape, so I was looking forward to the taxi ride to see more of the country in the daylight. We came up on an upcoming area called Noia, where they are building far more buildings than they are using. In fact, one of the plans in the works is an amphitheater on top of three skyscrapers. How cool. Someone will die, that is certain. Someone will die. But HOW COOL. Perhaps this is what I had seen? 

Just a little outside of Noia, however, is exactly what I saw flying in--an entire city that had been deserted. Or maybe it was never filled, I'm not sure. But it's a city filled with 15-20 story square buildings that are all united in their architecture and dismal state of affairs. It's shocking, and confusing. Why are they building an entire city several miles away when there's an entire city that already exists and is in so desperate need of the attention and funding? I'm sure that people live there, I know they can tell by the trash..but the vast majority lay vacant and decrepit. How is it easier to just start anew rather than fix what we have? I have no idea.

We keep driving.. and the land opens up to vast, flat countryside where people are working by hand to harvest the potatoes and rice. By hand. They are doing it by hand. I used to live on a farm myself, and while I was never allowed to drive the tractors, or actually enter the farm after I accidentally let the cows out, I know that even on a tractor it is back-breaking work. I can't imagine what a day is like in the life of an Indian farmer, tending the fields by hand. 

About an hour later, we came up on the brick kilns, which are these tall pencil like buildings with smoke coming out the top littered throughout the landscape. The brick makers live the worst lives imaginable, with no school system, hospitals, cars, or any basic modern amenities. One of the slum areas we passed was literally in water and mud, while the others were at least dry and closer to the kilns. When you hear about abject poverty, this is the worst of it. The tiny communities are filled with women and children alike, and all they do, all day, is make bricks. No work = no money, and there is already so little of it to go around. It's heartbreaking, back-breaking work, and for ever kiln, there is a slum nearby where the workers live. Prior to this trip, I had struggled understanding the difference between a "slum" and a "shanty town", but now the difference was abundantly clear. 

Three hours later, we end up in a very small town called Agra, where cows, buffalos, and monkeys, frequented the streets and neighboring land. The town in and of itself seems very desolate and poor; quite a contrast from the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Our driver took us to a street corner, literally, and told us to get out. He warned that there would be lots of beggars trying to sell us things, and offer us rides, and tell us lies about the distance of the Taj, its hours, and other schemes to get a quick buck. Then he told us to get out and to go "that way and turn right" and pointed to a road. This is the truth. There are no signs for the Taj just have to know where to go. 

The biggest tourist attraction in all of India has no signs. You would have no idea you were at the entrance if you didn't have a local tell you. No billboards, no themed hotels or restaurants, just cows and a lot of honking. Welcome to the Taj Mahal.

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