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  • chrisvollan

Three tales at the Taj Mahal

Its stunning, and has been for almost 400 years.  I couldn’t stop staring, and I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of very stunning buildings.

The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful human construct I have ever seen and being one of the seven wonders of the modern world, I gather that opinion is widely shared.  

Three stories that unfolded today.

Tale #1 – Lalulah (sp?) – the photographer:

  1. This kid, maybe 20, makes his living taking photos of tacky tourists.  I was advised by my guide beforehand that I would be approached, and also advised as to what was a reasonable price, to be very clear on how many, if any pictures I wanted and to only pay when done and photos.

  2. Lalulah met us just inside the gate.  I think I kind of nodded yes and then the photo-shoot began

  3. “jacket off please sir”, as he buttoned up my shirt, and carefully folded my jacket into his camera bag.

  4. “get rid of that water bottle” – handing it to Daneesh (my guide for Agra)

  5. “use your camera later, give that to Daneesh as well”

  6. We then proceed to Lalulah’s top 10 photo spots, at each of which he either loudly directed, or showed me exactly how to pose (no jumping and yelling shots, please dear god!)

  7. He also demanded my cell phone at one point, “because it takes better pictures here, through the door”.  Pic above, which I took, once I was allowed to use my own…

  8. 71 super tacky shots later, with Lalulah literally pushing people out of the shot, and/or just yelling at them to move he announces we are done, we bantered on the price (he was heartbroken, but would accept the low price. I AM getting better at this… sorta) and he would pick the ten best shots. “You go take your pictures now, and yours will be ready when you leave”

  9. they were in fact ready, 10 prints and 71 images, plus helicopter shots (?) on a CD.  They were in fact as tacky as I imagined, but I now have more selfies of me in one spot than I have taken in the last few years…

Tale #2 – Daneesh, an Indian family

  1. I’ve some good chats, sometimes in very broken English, with my guides in each city.  There is a thread of commonality in all of them in that they have all worked their asses off their whole lives, ended up in guide work but usually not as their first choice, are great story tellers who are very proud of Indian history and have done everything they can to make sure their kids get an education.

  2. Daneesh started out in a very successful highway construction company in his 20’s, but was laid off when the company ran into financial trouble.  Trained as an accountant, all he could find for employment at the time, with both English and Italian language skills, was tour guiding.  He has literally seen the Taj Mahal thousands of times having as he is now in his late 50’s.

  3. His son, has an MBA but can’t find work and lives at home and Daneesh worries that he is getting more and more depressed

  4. His daughter, now 23, is a dentist, married and Indian doctor in July and they both moved to Toronto three weeks after the 800 person wedding (for which Daneesh had to borrow a ton from friends and family.  The Facetime daily and she is sharing her first winter in Canada with here parents by video.

  5. Daneesh also walks with a significant limp, having been hit by a car on his moped three years ago.  No medical coverage, and no penalty for the driver as he, Daneesh contends, just paid off the cop.

  6. Daneesh’s daughter is trying to convince her brother to also move to Toronto.

  7. I really hope his daughter’s success (“she drives a BMW and just purchased a condo”, he very proudly proclaims), means he can someday retire, and maybe visit her in Canadia, just not in the winter…

Tale #3 – 400 year old soap opera

  1. holy crap the ruling family story is insane?  Who wants to do Bollywood movie night??

  2. Grandpa Akbar, built the Red Fort and the Fatepurh Sikri (masive fort/palace where he lived for only ten years with his three wives in order to keep a promise to the dead priest who had predicted he would have a child, which he did, by is Hindu wife, who therefore got the largest house while the Muslim and Christian wives each got smaller houses)

  3. Father drank a lot, married a dancer and then essentially let her run things for 25 years

  4. Son, Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal to show his incredible love for his wife after she died, wasn’t allowed to see it for the 22 year duration of its construction but then spent every Friday there to be with his wife and begging the gods to let his beloved, Mumtaz Mahal come back to life and see what he had built for her.

  5. that didn’t happen, and in the meantime his son (Aurangzeb) was busy killing off his 10 brothers, and then imprisoned his father (Shah Jahan) in the Red Fort where he died at 74 on the balcony where he spent most of his time gazing toward the monument he had built for his wife.

  6. Aurangzeb sounds like a dick, and ruled about 158M people.  His eventual death marked the beginning of the end of the Mughul Empire.

  7. Of note, Shah Jahan apparently also killed his three brothers in competition for the throne, so…it was a “thing”

  8. Confused?  I am I got all of this in about four hours of great storytelling from Daneesh.  I need to read the book!

all pics on the Instagram @Topher_Vollan

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