Taj Mahot Hot HOT!

Sunrise. T’was the night before Agra, and all through the hostel, all the creatures were stirring, such as the bugs in the bathroom and the geckos on the walls. We were all laying in our beds, covered in sweat, exhausted from a night of little to no sleep. This may have been due to the Christmas eve-like anticipation of waiting to experience one of the wonders of the world the following morning, or it may have been due to the power going in and out of the hostel that night and the lack of air circulation. Either way, we were up and ready for an adventure to see the Mahal of all Mahals: the Taj.

Up and ready at 5:30AM, we met our reputable tour guide for the morning, Hersh Varma, in the lobby with the directions to the sight, 5 minute walk from the hostel. Why pay 100 rupees for an amateur tour guide when you have one already on the trip with you who can recite the history of India one minute, with the additional perk of buying samosas and other street food for you at the non-foreigner price in the other. We left the hostel at the break of dawn, eager to see what all the hubbub was about. As usual, we were solicited by rickshaw drivers: 10 rupees to the Taj. No way. We had a 5 minute walk, the weather was nice, and we were just hitting our second winds. We were on a mission, and we needed no assistance.

10 minutes of walking. We were once again solicited by various rickshaw drivers: 20 rupees to the Taj. Were these drivers crazy? An increased price after 10 minutes of walking TOWARDS the Taj? Were we supposed to take a left or right at that last cow? Then, at last, a sign. A man selling Taj Mahal trinkets on our path. We were on the correct path; no rickshaws needed here.

We arrived at the western gate of the monument and then had to go through security in order to get past the large entranceway. There was a big white board with crossed out items representing everything you could not bring into the complex. Apparently, there was also a secret list, because I seemed to have brought many un-allowed items that were not shown on the board. My Cuban cigars, crackers, and both my tripods were reprimanded. I had been caught red handed. My dream of taking a long exposure photo of me smoking a Cuban and eating crackers in front of the Taj was ruined. Hersh later on told me the guards had been talking to each other about my situation and phrases such as “he looked so sad when I took his crackers” and “just let him have the crackers” were tossed around. After a minor setback due to a locker rental, our tour guide began his enticing story of the history behind the building, painting a picture in our minds, taking us back 400 years to a time of multiple wives, 14 children with one, and a tomb. We were then told to close our eyes as we were led down the main pathway. When we were told to look, this was what we saw:

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It was magnificent. The fountains may have not been on that morning due to the hot summer days requiring water conservation, but the heats mirage provided the same effect. After the initial shock and awe, we proceeded to do what traveling college-aged 20-something’s do at precious one of a kind monuments: take ridiculous photos.

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The tomb, completely made of marble, was built 400 years ago by the finest architects of India. It was rumored that the king, after the tomb was built, had the arms of all the architects removed so that they could never build something this beautiful ever again. This ominous thought made the tomb foreboding as we examined its intricate interior. The tomb is surrounded by four large pillars built slightly outward so that in the case of an earthquake, the pillars would fall away from the tomb itself. These guys were better engineers than me. The detail of design of the tomb itself cannot be explain in words or in photographs; everyone needs to see it for themselves.

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On our way back from the symmetrical tomb, we began to feel something slowly creep up on us from all angles. Our clothes began to get a little more damp, our mouths began to get a little dry, and our eyes were squinting more and more with each picture taken. The sun was also visiting the Taj Mahal that day, and he decided that he would grace our presence with 105′ F. We needed a plan, fast. When we returned to the hostel, we had cold cold showers, and regrouped to discuss our escape route. The power was still out in the hostel, the heat was starting to get unbearable, and the hottest hours of the day were yet to arrive. We then had an idea. Absurd at first, risky at best, we looked towards our childhoods, globalization, and our tummies for the answer: Pizza Hut.

Pizza Hut. Yes, the semi-fast food pizza chain was the answer. There we would find a roof for shade (hut rather) as well as food for our belly’s (pizza). The best part of it was that this would not be the traditional pizza hut menu we see in the states, but the Indian take on pizza, complete with a variety of Indian vegetables and spices. The only thing that stood in between us and this sanctuary was a 10 minute walk in the hot Indian sun. With Hersh, his iPhone, and googlemaps leading the way, we set off on mission number 2: in search of pizza the hut.

I cannot explain to you in great detail the actions that occurred, the curses muttered, or the obstacles we crossed along our path because I’d like to keep this blog PG rated, but the closest reenactment would be Disney’s portrayal of the rite of spring in the original . Seconds started to feel like days; light breezes felt like tornados. But alas, in the distance, we finally saw it: the familiar red pillar and logo we were searching for.

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Upon entering, we were greeted by ice cold winds, happy smiles, and just about every foreign tourist we visited the Taj Mahal with that morning. Our train back to Delhi was scheduled at 8:30PM and we had every intention of staying there from now (1:00PM) until then. After a meticulous half hour deliberation on our order, we decided on the meal for 6 deal, ordering an array of appetizers and Indian themed pizzas. For our drinks, Hersh suggested masala lemonade, his favorite from childhood. It was no Kool-aid and only Hersh could finish them all. Our food was delicious and enjoyed over the next 2 hours. As the feast died down, with the addition of ice cream, cookie, and brownie desserts, we came over the realization that we would have to leave this paradise very soon, and it was only 4:00PM… With some quick thinking, we decided to move to the next available location that specifically catered to foreigners: the Costa Coffee next door.

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4 hours, 3 mango smoothies, and 15 games of Taboo later, we decided to leave our air conditioned safe zone to head back to the hostel to grab our things before leaving for the train station. We fit all of us on 1 rickshaw and held on for our dear lives. We said our goodbyes to the hostel and headed to the train station with ample time to purchase samosas and thumbs up sodas (India’s take on cola) before our train arrived. Once again, we were seated in comfortable individual seats in an air conditioned car but this time, there was an added bonus. We were served an amazing in-train dinner!

To find the exit we needed to get to at the train station to find our driver, we undertook our final mission. This was a covert mission as Hersh overheard a woman in our car mention on the phone that she was leaving the same exit as we needed, so we proceeded to follow her our of the train station, keeping an eye on the twists and turns she made amongst the Delhi crowd (not like we look suspicious or anything). And then we saw him. A man standing in the distance holding a large white sign with “Hersh Varma.” We made it.

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Comments
8 Responses to “Taj Mahot Hot HOT!”
  1. Jude Mahler says:

    So here it is, 4am, can’t sleep. Check my mail and lo and behold, a post from the trip of wonders. Another great read. (thanks Cliff). Prepare for Thailand, looks like you got rain on the horizon.

  2. Ami Costello says:

    Another good writer is born. Cliff, you just made my day!! That was a truly “hot temp”, nonetheless it was all worth it, right? Now you know why I smuggled the tube of sunscreen in the “CARE” package I gave you after your graduation. The pics are magnificent and reminded me of the photo shopped pic you made for my birthday when you were in high school – of you and me in front of a Taj Mahal picture. You got there first! Lucky you! Don’t pinch penny way too much – take the rickshaw ride! Love you kid! P.S. Did you get your cracker back? Glad Hersh speaks Hindi.

  3. Ami Costello says:

    Looks like Ali and Steph are attracting fans in India like movie stars! Ali, that was charming/kind of you (re: pic w/ those 2 Indian boys)

  4. Nitz (Ami's friend/relative) says:

    Great pictures Clifford. You mom is very proud sharing your blog to her friends and relatives. Enjoy your vacation and may God always keep you safe.

  5. Nitz says:

    Ami-ga, your son is an excellent writer, must be mother like son:) ….lucky kids… at such a young age have traveled around the world…:)…will keep them in my prayers Ami-ga…

  6. Diane briggs says:

    Awesome story telling, Cliff! I look forward to reading more of your adventures and I hope your next hostel has working air conditioning!

  7. Some Dude says:

    The Costello of all Costellos should write more of these. Almost toooooo funny.

  8. Becky Bennett says:

    Great job Cliff! All of you are doing a terrific job with your blogs! You’ll be so glad you wrote your adventures down, and years from now, it’ll be fun to read and remember this fantastic trip!!!

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