Sneaking Into the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is just as magnificent as you’d expect it to be. In fact, it’s so spectacular, that one trip inside the gated walls Emperor Shah Jahan built for his beloved 3rd wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died during childbirth just isn’t enough.

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When Stephanie and I first glimpsed the sight that some 3 million people a year journey to see, we understood the fuss. And after hours of exploring the grounds and snapping far too many photos, we knew it was time to leave. But something about the allure of the white pearly marble, the still serenity of the last visitors trickling out of the gates and the cool respite that the setting sun provided made us determined to stick around. We couldn’t head back, not yet. And besides, our stuffy & oppressive “hotel room” was the exact opposite of the Taj Mahal, with spiders and mosquitos for roommates and a ceiling fan that just might fly off the wall and slice us in our sleep. In India, where beauty lies, aversion lingers.

Once we were booted out of the Taj grounds at closing time, we started asking local shop keepers how we could keep our Taj-high rolling. One man, after tirelessly attempting to sell us miniature Taj statues made from “real marble,” finally accepted our dismissal of his chotchkies and told us to head to the Shanti Lodge rooftop.

It wasn’t easy to find, we were hastily given directions and left to navigate the streets of Agra…swarming with pushy shop keepers and children selling anything and everything. After a while, the Taj tranquility was starting to wear off.

But as soon as we stepped foot on the rooftop and saw that famous white marble glow in the last rays of the setting sun, tranquility was restored. We were in the midst of magic hour, the sun was on the horizon and everything surrounding the Taj was a shade softer. We sat down and soaked it in the best view in all of Agra.

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And then we got drunk. Which is what happens when you order strong Indian beers with two German’s smoking hookah. We spent hours on that rooftop. Drinking, playing card games, smoking, conversing, absorbing. The sun had set but the moon was full, and the view of the Taj was ever-present.

As the night came to an end, Steph and I decided we could finally brave the shitbox we called home. So we said our goodbyes, paid our bills and went on our way. Turns out, we were surprisingly close to our hotel, which was surprisingly close to the Taj Mahal. In our stupor, we noticed people walking into the Taj gates. “But isn’t it closed!?” we yelled loudly at each other, “what are these tourists doing?!”

Turns out, for 5 nights of the month, when the moon is at its fullest, the Taj Mahal stays open for late night guests. Instantly, we knew we had to get back in and live out the rest of our buzz on the grass surrounding the Taj, a far more pleasant sleeping arrangement then the one we were headed back to.

As we stumbled over to the gates, along with other sober and better-dressed visitors, we had no idea of the challenge getting back in would be. While casually walking our way in, we were stopped by a young Indian guard holding a gun half the size of my body. We were told (unconfirmed) that we had to purchase tickets beforehand if we wanted to go into the Taj grounds at night, and the ticket office was now closed.

At this point, we had far more courage than we’d normally have (re: booze), so we really laid into the guards, protesting beyond belief. Steph and I used everything in our womanly power to get past those guards. Unfortunately, after a long day of sight-seeing and drinking, we probably looked like the most haggard white girls to walk the roads of Agra. The guards weren’t having it. So, finally, we walked away.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Steph motion to a large group of tourists with tickets in their hands, all walking in. I quickly caught on, and stuck myself in the midst of the crowd, hoping not to be noticed. It might have worked, had it not been a large group of Indian tourists and had we not been two American girls dressed in what appeared to be pajama pants (very comfy, light and loose fitting – great for Indian travel!). I heard one guard laugh, point at Steph and I, and mimic drinking to the other guards, obviously noting we were drunk. The jig was up.

We were thisclose to sneaking our way in before they walked over, picked us both up and placed us back outside the line, shooing us on our way. We pleaded, we begged, “but we’ve come so far from California to see the Taj Mahal!” to no avail.

And yet, with broken but giggly hearts, we turned around and walked back to our tiny, stuffy room, thankful for our day of Taj-viewing, but determined to sneak our way in the next time around.

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