I never thought I’d make it to the Taj Mahal. Understanding its place as a world wonder and having seen photos of this iconic world spectacle, it always seemed to be something that I would view in a book or on a screen. But, on March 5th, 2017, my friend Sana and I made it to the Taj Mahal and basically ended a fantastic time in India.
Throughout my voyage, I’d traveled with large groups of friends. On one hand it was a safety mechanism, but on the other hand it proved to just be a more comfortable way of doing so. India struck me as a whole new beast, and I adjusted my travel routine to accommodate her. Instead of traveling with my usual group, I paired up with my friend Sana and planned a trip up north to Jaipur, New Delhi, and Agra—just the two of us.
Honestly I was scared. We were given a lot of background information describing some of the current day challenges India faces, and some of the challenges that we as travelers may face. In that same vein, we were advised to travel confidently, so I tried to push those fears to the side as best as I could.
It worked. I had an amazing time in India. Back home, my friend Ava and I will often go out for a nice, semi-authentic Indian dinner. My love for chicken tikka masala was well established before I pulled into Cochin on March 1st. By the time I left, it was forever etched in my soul.
Food marked a good portion of my Indian experience. While Sana took her curry at maximum spice level, I enjoyed my dishes cooked with a milder palette in mind. We had some of seemingly everything. Dosa, paneer, chicken tikka curries and sandwiches, butter chicken, chicken 365, lamb curries, and so much more greeted our plates and stomachs.
India was more than food, though. I spent the first day exploring Cochin while Sana participated in her field class. We visited the old Dutch Palace, as well as the oldest standing synagogue in India, and one of the oldest in the world. That all took the back seat to the evening’s affair, which was a meet-and-greet with local college students. We were welcomed so hospitably—some of the guys even showed me how to wear a mundu.
Then we took flight, literally. At around 4AM Sana and I hailed a taxi (that ripped us off terribly) and headed off on our first flight to Jaipur. Wealth dynamics were incredibly distinct there. It was clear that folks traveling via flight were wealthy to some degree. The airport was also my first explicit contact with strong gender variations in India. Men and women went through separate security lines, and separate lines in general throughout most places we traveled in India.
Arriving in Jaipur was frightening yet exciting. Frightening because the hardest leg of my SAS journey had just begun, but exciting because, well, I was in Jaipur! The city did not disappoint. Jaipur took claim to some of the most beautiful sites, palaces, scents, animals, and oddities I’d ever experiences. In fact, it was the only city I’ve ever witnessed a Mercedes, tuk tuk, elephant, camel, and horse drawn carriage share the same road. The Jal Mahal (water palace) was gorgeous. I played with monkeys on the top of a temple that could only be reached by riding on the back of a motor bike. I got to play with and pamper elephants for a day. Yeah, Jaipur was awesome.
Side note on the elephants: their names were Shanti and Rangoon. They were 32 and 28 respectively. Shanti liked me more. They both loved to be fed. I brought a few peanuts and devoured them. So was the story of Shanti and Rangoon.
And then there was New Delhi. While Jaipur was a calmer, laid back feel, Delhi was a hustling, bustling party. Thank goodness Uber allowed me to get around, because communicating with taxis was a great challenge. Sana and I really only spent a day in Delhi, but we made sure we didn’t miss anything. Hitting the Lotus Temple, India Gate, Red Fort, Raj Ghat, and more all in a day’s ride was taxing. By the end of the day we were ready to pass out (after a nice meal of course), and we did. On to the Taj Mahal.
I took the easy way out to take on the Taj Mahal—I booked a tour service. Amin tours was fantastic. Our driver picked Sana and I up at our hotel and drove us to Agra. We were then joined by our tour guide, Afreen, who guided us smoothly in and around the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The Taj Mahal was everything I imagined it would be but more. The story of love and commitment and reverence paired with the nearly unparalleled beauty of reflecting white marble synthesized and made an angelic experience.
It all seems like a blur now, even me almost missing my flight back to Cochin. But India was lit.