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It was a cold night inTaj Ganj, the backpacker area of Agra. Taj Ganj is filled with small B&Bs, motels and restaurants serving cuisines from different parts of the world. On this particular night, Taj Ganj was dark due to a major power cut. We were sitting in a warm little Lonely Planet recommended place named Yash Cafe. It was a slow night at the cafe with many empty tables. There was a box TV on the shelf near the main door which was showing some crappy Hindi movie.

We were having the worst tomato soup we had ever tasted when we overheard the conversation of the table next to us. There was an English guy sitting at the table with a couple of ladies. The guy was doing most of the talking and we were trying not to eavesdrop on their conversation, but it was hard not to. The guy was pretty loud and our tables were not that far apart.

“On a scale of one to ten, how much will you give the Taj Mahal?” The English guy asked the ladies before continuing to sip on the hot chocolate that they were having. The reason we knew they were having hot chocolate was because the guy shouted out his order to the waiter who was waiting on another table on the other side of the room.

6 and 7 were what the ladies ended up giving the Taj. Soon they started comparing Taj and Angkor Wat, which apparently they rated very highly.

Yes, it is surprising. I still remember the day when Bipasha Basu and Hillary Swank announced that the Taj Mahal was officially one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Then how come the Taj was rated below the Angkor by these morons, I thought.

And now we were eavesdropping, willingly.

They talked about how much they were harassed by the souvenir shopkeepers and how crowded it was inside the Taj complex. I remembered how we spent about an hour just waiting in the queue to get inside the marble wonder and when we actually entered, other visitors pushed us around and the police officials kept shouting at people to make them move faster. Amidst all this, the whole serenity and tranquility that the Taj symbolizes was lost somewhere. My visit to the Angkor, however, was surprisingly smooth. Yes, there were a few kids selling guidebooks etc. but they weren’t as annoying. No one pushed or yelled at us when we were inside the Wat. So, I guess these “morons” had a point.

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So, what is so great about the Taj Mahal?

I think the Taj Mahal leaves a lasting first impression. The white marbled tomb with clear blue skies in the background looks absolutely gorgeous. The crowd or the noise levels did not matter when I saw it for the first time. It was magical. Someone told me once that Taj Mahal is way more beautiful during the full moon nights. Even though I haven’t seen it in moon light, I can bet money that he is right.

Soon, my eyes got used to the beauty of the Taj and my brain started whining about the sea of visitors, the baby cries, the desperate guides and photographers and the overly excited uncles and aunties trying to take that perfect picture of all twenty members of their tour group that their amateur photography skills will not allow.

So, I guess the key to enjoying the Taj for more than just a few minutes’ lies in your ability to get away from all the chaos. Thankfully, there are lush green gardens on either sides of the main pathway leading up to the Taj, where you can sit and easily tune out the rest of the world. From my personal experience, the Taj looks much better from a distance. So, instead of rushing towards the Taj Mahal, find a quiet corner with a good view and soak in the beauty of the Greatest Wonder Of The World.  

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Photo courtesy: Sumanta Mandal

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