Friday, September 16, 2016

[DELHI] The Gender-Swapped Taj Mahal Story

As far as tourism in India is concerned, they have this thing they call the Golden Triangle which refers to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. If it is your first time in the country, following this itinerary is not a bad idea. There is a wealth of resources online in the form of travel anecdotes, budget lists, and the like that will make your journey easier to manage. While I encourage people to be more adventurous, India is a special case, although there are those who have braved the less popular paths and lived to tell the tale.

The Lotus Temple is not a UNESCO World Heritage site but is also a main attraction. Whoever built that thing is banking on the belief that world religions can exist in harmony. This means that it doesn’t matter to which religious denomination you belong, you are welcome to come and visit. The temple is accessible via the Metro Violet line: Kalkaji Mandir station. If you want to have lunch first, then get off at Nehru Place one stop prior. There are many restos, taxis, and auto rickshaws at Epicuria.

I took an Uber from there instead of the Metro. My Uber decisions here in India have been a disaster so far. But let’s not dwell on that too much. It’s cheap anyway. Most of the camwhores I saw at the Lotus Temple grounds were domestic tourists, with a smattering of Caucasians and Asians here and there. Taking a selfie with JUST the temple at the background is challenging because it’s always full of people. The staircase in the middle serves as the exit once you are done exploring upstairs.

You enter the temple via the right side through a flight of stairs that aren't that steep. You will then see a pool or two (or three), the blue water in which complements the white façade really well. You must remove your footwear before going up. They provide you with a shoe bag for that which you have to return later. The interior isn't as amazing and neither photography nor taking a video is allowed, but that didn’t stop some people from trying. No, they did not burn. No, they weren’t struck by lightning.

I took the Metro back to Epicuria. That took less than five minutes. You can actually just walk, but the sun was being quite a bitch that day so I decided not to. The WiFi I stole earlier was no longer working the second time around, which meant no more Uber for me. The auto rickshaw guy asked for INR100. After completing the trip I realized that such distance would have commanded the same price if I took an Uber anyway. I think I’ve been a tad too generous for some of these auto rickshaw rides.

The standard INR500 (~PHP375) levy also applies for Humayun’s Tomb. I don’t know if I'd have been underwhelmed had I seen Taj Mahal first, but visiting this luxurious tomb did help set my level of expectation. I’ve been to several tombs back in Morocco and the concept is rather the same. It’s the architecture that mainly differentiates them. Humayun was the second emperor of the Mughal Empire. This tomb was commissioned by his son, Akbar, the third emperor. But that’s not the romantic version.

The version worthy of a Hollywood rom-com remake is that of Humayun’s wife, Mariam, building it for him. It’s a good story because it could rival the more popular tale of the Taj Mahal, except that this time around, it was the wife who built the tomb for the husband. This might be inaccurate but not at all misleading because it was actually she who was in charge of the mausoleum’s construction. And yeah, Humayun’s Tomb was built first. Shah Jahan, the one who built the Taj Mahal, was Akbar’s grandson.

The compound houses many tombs littered across its grounds. I even saw a sign saying “Tomb of the Barber”, which got me thinking how good a hair stylist he must had been to deserve his own royal resting place. This is what you get when you don’t Wiki before you visit. By the way, there is another tomb by the entrance, said to be that of Isa Khan. I don’t know who he or she is, but that area is a good place to rest if you're looking for shade. It’s also so quiet because everyone doesn’t stay there that long.

You get a sneak peek of Humayun’s Tomb as you pass through the entrance portal which also serves as selfie central for those who can’t wait to go inside. The keyhole architecture perfectly frames the tomb, which can be a useful Instagram entry if you are into photography. Selfie under the keyhole gate is not recommended because you’ll be but a mere shadow photobombing the tomb. Once you get out, you’ll see that the perfect selfie spot is right in front of the fountain. Oh yes, there is a working fountain!

That must've been my favorite photo of this whole India trip. The sunlight’s impact on the subtle jet of water shooting upward was the perfect photo bomber of the bigger and more majestic tomb behind it. The details of the carvings on the façade, Persian influence and all, were just so vivid it felt like looking at a living painting. Once inside, you’ll find epitaphs of the mausoleum’s inhabitants. Humayun’s actual tomb is said to be at the basement right below his, at the center, under the white dome.

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