When a Home is not a Home

by Jeanne

          Taj_final

This photo is how I am choosing to remember the most beautiful building in the world.  Because the truth of the matter is that today I behaved badly as a tourist.  I don’t stay within the lines.  I don’t like being led. I am not a good sheep in a flock.  There that wasn’t so bad.  I also see that this is as true on the road as it is back home.

I officially hit that wall that travelers hit when on the road for more than two weeks. The point where you can’t take the stares, the not being understood, the language barrier…you like that you are out in the world but at the same time you’ve been gone long enough to miss those creature comforts that you take for granted.  I will never get comfortable with people standing over you as you eat. You start to miss electricity, running hot water and your cell phone. You can no longer tolerate the smells of body, diesel and animals.  You are continually confronted with the issues of poverty and are saddened when you see that naked child running down the road, or the 9 year old selling the postcard book instead of being in school (he needs to work.)  India is an land of complex realities.  Happiness and sadness. The best of humanity. The worst of humanity.  It’s all a cliche and then it’s not.

It hasn’t been all temples, spice and chai delights.  Today nearly sent me over the edge.  And really I knew it was going to happen.  I’ve been traveling solo for a few days now and as much as you know it is going to happen it just sneaks up on you. As Mr. Singh (he laughs cutely when I shout "Singh is King" which is a just released-here Bollywood blockbuster…) entered the state of Uttar Pradesh.  It’s a rural state and main road plies heavily to the tourist trade.  (Ed. note: I’m not near Lucknow and today’s monsoon.)

All tourist vehicles coming into the state are required to stop and submit paperwork.  Mr. Singh left me behind in the car and wham-o I had 3 souvenir sellers, one snake charmer and six monkeys on the car.  I’m here to tell you monkeys flat against your car window with their private parts at eye level are very difficult to ignore.  But I pretended to bury myself in my book as I flicked them away using the wrist movement I have seen locals use.  It magically worked.

Then the tour at the Taj Mahal by guide, Mr. Sanjeev.  I didn’t like that you are stripped of everything except what you can carry.  I WANTED my crutch tour book. I wanted my water bottle and socks. And call me a dumb American but in all the ads and mentions I’ve seen related to this building it is referred to as a home, and one man’s testament to his one true soul mate. (I’ll buy that.). But today I learned it’s essentially a grave site.  Gosh golly, I’m in marketing so I know that doesn’t sell but why didn’t I know that?  Mr. Sanjeeve kept on looking at all my pictures and then asking for the camera.  "You are not capturing the beauty. This is the most magnificent building you will be being at in your life.  Please. The camera to me.  This after I asked him why there are no signs in India to help people out. He replied, "ma’am this is India, it is our duty to serve you."   As we approached the main gate I was stared at, pointed at and asked by many to have their picture taken with me.  I thought this was cute at first.  Now I’m starting to feel like the Siamese Twins at the circus. Don’t worry, I’m being a good ambassador for America.

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Anyway, I’ll stop the whining. I’m a lucky girl.  I walked around the Taj Mahal today. There’s me at the "Princess Diana bench" with my handy scarf.  This is Mr. Sanjeev’s idea of what a good posed photo is.  My feet shouldn’t be on the ground as my husband should think me "relaxed" and in "good hands."  Tomorrow it’s Mr. Sampson.  And I am NOT going to one more government showroom.  I am going to the bazaar in Jaipur.  I’ll be "being better" tomorrow.  I just miss my life, my bed and wine but it’s all around the corner. I’m going back to my room and eating a Kit Kat.  I think I’m ready for Mumbai. Hmmm…maybe not.

Becky, another fellow Kerala tour traveler has posted some thoughts about her experience. 

Image by Trey Ratcliff  Stuck in Customs. For more more remarkable, breathtaking images used under Creative Commons with credits.

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