1. After nearly three weeks away from home, the girl was tired and indecisive, and specifically tired and indecisve when it came to thinking about her budget. She couldn’t decide whether anything was worth this kind of money and time. Everyone had told her it was – and it was an unexpected opportunity.
2. She knew this thing was a big deal, and she might never have the chance to see it again. But then, people had told her that the Mona Lisa was a big deal, when it was actually a bit of a bust. If you’re better off spending your time in the Louvre with the Winged Victory of Samothrace on the stairs, which doesn’t have half the reputation, maybe, she thought, the same thing would be true here. Why should she go to something just because ‘you’re supposed to’? It had never been on her bucket list after all.
3. But. But but but, she thought. It’s a really big thing. A beautiful thing. And there is some wisdom in history and canon and crowds. Plus she’s always liked sculpture and architecture better than painting. And if she was unlikely ever to be in this place again, maybe, she thought, she should just take the chance and go.
4. Plus, she was being offered it as a Christmas present, because her mother thought that she’d like to give it to her, and it’s not nice to wish for something else for Christmas when a thing’s been generously given. She doesn’t want to be that person (even if a lot of the time, she suspects she is).
5. She got up at 5am and spent five hours in a car that she was going to pay the best part of $100 for, arriving in Agra just when the haze and crowds were at their height. She was tired and frustrated. She couldn’t believe that even the Taj Mahal could be worth this kind of day trip. She thought maybe she should have spent the day browsing New Delhi, and unwinding before her flight home, and saved that money for something else that really was on her bucket list.
6. The car stopped to pick up a travel guide. She wasn’t expecting him and she didn’t want him. She just wanted to wander alone, with her camera and thoughts. He made her feel awkward and rushed, and like she must just see and do what all the other tourists do at the Taj Mahal. He made her bad mood worse. She absolutely refused to sit on the damn bench where Diana had sat and be in a photo.
7. The travel guide let her know what she should leave in the car and helped navigate her around the weirdness of buying tickets and shoe covers at the Taj, of travelling up there by battery car, and finding the women’s queue. He was less annoying than she expected, and she felt graceless.
8. She revelled in the stillness of the grounds of the Taj Mahal, in the bright greens of the gardens, and the reds and whites of the buildings. She enjoyed the patterns and the lines and the symmetry, and felt at peace and in a space where you can retreat, despite the presence of a half a hundred thousand other visitors. She began to wonder if the Taj Mahal might be one of the few places that can convince you that it’s worth a lot of things to see it, even when you’ve spent the best part of a morning convincing yourself that nothing possibly can be. She felt glad that she had come.
9. She spent five hours in the car back to Delhi. They were less awful than the five hours travelling from Delhi, but still pretty horrid. She still couldn’t work out whether the Taj Mahal was worth ten hours and a hundred dollars. She probably never will. But she can tell you that it’s a sight to see, and she’s seen it.
All of these stories are true.