The Taj Mahal – Late Afternoon Album #1

After a nap, a great hot shower, fresh clothes and an excellent sandwich in the garden of the amzingly cheap and cheerfully green garden of the Guest House, I climbed into the back of a three-wheeler and roared off to see the Taj Mahal before it closed at 6pm.  

The authorities have wisely banned motor vehicle traffic at a point some 200 or so yards short of the western gate to the grounds. This not only cuts down on the air pollution and motor noise, but it requires that tourists walk the narrow street lined with souvenier shops and food stands, and even a few guest houses whose rooftop patios promise special views above the wall.

Here’s what that approach looks like until you reach the entrance gate where you are confronted with a line that seems to extend as far to the west as Mumbai. The time is around 4:30pm. The light from the left is just starting to redden.  The temperature is easily above 95f and the humidity makes every breath palpably wet.  I’m glad I’m wearing loose fitting,  pure cotton clothes. 

The line moves slowly as each person is given an inspection that is the equal in detail of any airport boarding gate, men in one line, women in another that passes through a tented area.  But first, there is a separate line where non-Indian visitors pay an entrance fee that is a multiple of the resident rate.

Westerners in obvious distress at the one-hour wait in line will be approached by a platoon of eager guides. The bartering for my business was brisk and vocal.  The offering price dropped from $20 to $10, at which point I selected Raj, a crisply dressed man who seemed to be in his late 30s or early 40’s. Aside from his price being competitive, he promised to get me inside “within fewer than 3 minutes.” I liked not only the specificity of his time-promise, but his use of language that demonstrated he knew the grammatical difference between “fewer” and “less,” a quality rare even in my own country.  He also said, “Pay me at the end so you will be satisfied.”

I gave him the cash for my entrance fee and he walked to a side door, a few feet away from the normal ticket-buying line and returned within 60 seconds with my ticket and the complimentary liter of ice cold water that all ticket buyers are offered free of extra charge. Then, instead of waiting in the long entrance line, he lead me to the very front of the line and we were waived through by the officer in charge of the inspections. I checked my watch. Only two and one-half minutes had passed.

This incident confirmed to me my affection for third-world bureaucrats. They are always corruptible and for such a small price.

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