Is it strange that the symbol of a predominately Hindu country would be a building built by Muslims? Or perhaps, seen from another perspective, that the world’s most celebrated Muslim building is in a land that is 85 % Hindu? Or, perhaps, that India’s most celebrated icon was designed by a Persian?
Descriptions of the Taj Mahal’s construction claim that expert artists were brought in from Central Asia, Persia, even as far as Europe to carve the ornate marble screens, do the incredibly detailed inlay work, and contribute their expertise to what is indisputably one of the world’s most incredible pieces of architecture. It really is a world monument – and it is spectacular!
Unfortunately, India knows it. Foreign tourists pay a whopping $18.75 for an entrance ticket – an INCREDIBLE sum of money in India. In fact, 37 Indian people can visit the Taj Mahal for the price of one foreign tourist ticket. This actually makes this ticket the highest entrance fee I have ever paid for a single monument in my entire life. (However, some of the monuments I have visited in the past probably have higher entry fees as of 2008.) It’s the ultimate screw-you gesture to foreign visitors to India.
On top of the enormous fee, visitors are required to leave their backpacks at the entrance due to security risks. After protesting the prospect of leaving my camera and lenses behind, the guard informed me that the supreme court of India had decided that backpacks should be banned from the Taj Mahal and I would have to leave it in the locker area. Amusingly, I was allowed to take the entire contents of my backpack with me; it was just the actual backpack itself they required me to store.
So, camera, lenses, and water bottles hanging all over my body, I awkwardly marched through the security check only to discover Indian women sneaking by with huge shoulder bags and others slipping security some baksheesh to ignore their day-packs.
Don’t think we didn’t love it – we did. In fact, Thomas and I got the most out of our entry tickets by spending an incredible 10 hours in the Taj gardens. It’s not that the area is that big, it’s just that we are cheap-asses who wanted to get the most bang for our buck. It also allowed us to take plenty of photos, check out our new Taj Mahal Pictorial.