As soon as I stepped out of the car, it began. The guides swarmed over me, trying to sell their services. They’re respectful to each other, giving each man the opportunity to fail in his pitch. The first man came forward, incessantly pestering me, offering to lead me on a tour of the Taj Mahal. He had spoken to the driver, and I don’t know whether the driver approved or not, but I let him talk at me.
But honestly, I didn’t have a choice as I couldn’t stop him if I tried. Still, as he rambled on he gave me critical information about how to get to the entrance, and where I would pay, and what I could carry with me. I took the useful data and stored it up. “How much?” I asked. What would he charge as a guide, I wondered. He showed me an official looking name tag, declaring his government-approved qualifications, and said $60-70. I was appalled and walked away with the free information.
The next man came forward, directing me to the tram that would transport me to the gate, and informed me that he would be thrilled to guide my visit to the Taj Mahal. He quoted his price in Rupees, at 2000. That a little under $30. I thanked him, respectfully declining his services, and rode the tram to the entrance.
Once at the entrance and standing in line, I was approached by a third man. He flashed another official-appearing document, curiously looking different from either of the other two, and promised me that he, too, would be able to show me the Taj Mahal and take photos. His price was 1,000 Rupees, and I declined, proceeding to purchase my ticket. As I worked through getting my shoe covers and bottle of water, his price gradually dropped to 700 Rupees. $10.
I had negotiated by accident.
Admittedly, that’s probably massively overpriced by local standards, but didn’t feel terrible to me. And had I arranged something in advance, it would have cost more. So we agreed, and were on our way. Having one of these guides has at least one advantage. They are in a hurry, so he aggressively put me in the front of every line we encountered. And while he didn’t offer much beyond the basic guidebook, he spared me the time of having to read it myself (although I did confirm some points later on).
The Taj Mahal? She was breathtaking. From any location in the garden, your eyes are drawn to her, and you can’t help but stare. Up close she is delicately carved of white marble with inlaid stone and hand carved screens.
For those of you who don’t know the story, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s third wife, who died as a result hemorrhage with the birth of their 14th child (of whom only 6 survived childbirth). She was his favorite wife, the first two having left him childless, although they, too have smaller mausoleums outside the main gate of the compound.
Shah Jahan had intended to build a 4th mausoleum, for himself, on the opposite side of the river. That would have been in black marble, but that was never completed. He, instead, is interred inside the Taj Mahal with his wife.
Adjacent to the Taj on either side are two identical structures, a mosque and a residence. They were identical because symmetry was viewed as very important. And the Taj truly looks identical from every angle (the verses of the Quran may differ – I’m not certain).
At the end of the tour, my guide took me to a workshop where workmen make inlaid stone boxes. They reported that they have done this for 17 generations and that their family still does this in the Taj Mahal on Fridays to make repairs. I don’t know if any of these stories are true, but I know how this works – if I buy anything the guide who brought me there gets a kickback. I saw the same thing in Turkey and in Delhi (when my driver took me to a rug dealer – incidentally they follow the same rug-selling script here that they do in Turkey).
I bought nothing and the guide seemed disappointed, but sanguine as I paid him for his services and we parted ways.
I had seen the Taj Mahal. And it was a fabulous day.
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He didn’t try to sell you a rug?