The Taz Mahal.The photo taken by Neneng Tarigan
By: Neneng Tarigan
Visiting India especially the Taz Mahal is always in my dream. In my childhood we used to have calendars with pictures about interesting places all over the world. Watching the pictures I got the feeling as if I were living there once in the past, because those pictures seemed so close to my heart. Some pictures were about few places in my country but most of them were about interesting and historical places abroad. I wonder if reincarnation is a true story, but as a Christian I would rather trust, that was only because my heart and soul was extremely possessed by the beauty of the places and the history behind it, that was why I feel so close with the pictures. As it proved, I was lucky to have been visited more than 40 countries in the world.
It was 09.00 pm when I landed at Indira Gandhi International, the new airport of New Delhi, India, on 30th August 2010. The airport is huge and it has just been operational since early of August 2010. The size maybe equal to Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok and the floor was totally covered by wall to wall carpet like Changi airport of Singapore. The security check was so tight, may be it happens after India has a very bad experience with the Mumbai terrorist attack. (Mumbai is the second largest city of India)
Upon arrival, I was fetched by the Embassy people who then brought me with Toyota old van 1990 to Ramada Hotel which I booked through the internet. It took about 30 minutes from the airport to the hotel and my eyes caught by the glitter of the road studs. I also observed that many fully equipped military guards stand between the airport to the center of New Delhi. Later, I knew that they guarded the city day and night. Incredible!
When I arrived, there were so many cars queuing at the hotel gate, a wedding party of the rich had taken place in the hotel, so I asked the driver to just drop me, so that we would not blocked other cars to get in.
After passing the scanning machines, I went inside then submitted the hotel voucher and asked for the room. Unfortunately however, the receptionist told me that I was not registered in that hotel but to another Ramada Hotel in Gurgaon about 2 hours from Ramada Hotel New Delhi.
I showed them that what was written on the voucher is clearly Ramada Gurgaon New Delhi, and since I had never been to India before, I presumed that the one I booked was totally correct, which is the one that I stand now; I had no idea, that there are two different Ramada hotel in Delhi. (Well, if they assumed that Gurgaon which is 2 hours from Delhi is also in Delhi)
Feeling tired and sleepy, I then asked them whether I can simply move to this hotel instead of staying at the other Ramada in Gurgaon, of course with additional cost I don't mind. Again, according to the hotel management I can't do that, simply because the two Ramada is only the same hotel chain under the same franchise system and name, but different ownership. How incredible! They are very strict with the rule here, the cancellation meant that all of the booking cost for 4 days stay which I have already made with Ramada Gurgaon that cost USD 400.- will automatically deducted from my credit card and gone, if I stay in Ramada New Delhi! (Well, that is their rule)
After long arguments, they advice me to use a hotel taxi to bring me to Ramada Gurgaon. I said: “Okay no problem, how much would the price be?” and then they said:”7000 rupees or about USD 170” I answered:”Well, that will be the problem, just get me another taxi not from this hotel.” They nodded, then I got an outside taxi with the price of only 900 rupees” Can you imagine the price different just in a minute? Well, that was incredible!
After about one hour drive, I then arrived at Ramada Hotel Gurgaon. There the manager said: "You can't cancel your booking". So, I had to stay in that hotel for the 4 nights I booked to stay in the first place. It was already 01.00 am. Feeling tired and disappointed, I could do nothing than to accept their policy. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere; I then called the embassy personnel to inform them the situation and the where I am about. Of course the embassy staff offered me the transportation facility, but knowing the distance and the fact that I had already chartered a taxi for pick and drop during I stay in the hotel, I gently refuse the offer and ask them to only fetch and drop me when I was about going back to Indonesia later.
Before sleeping, I asked the hotel manager for the free internet facility as they promoted in the web . We worked on it, and after one hour my laptop get connected with the internet, but with very low signal or meaning no connection at all! Another incredible story.
Gurgaon itself is a new industrialized modern city in the outskirt of New Delhi. It will take only 45 to 90 minutes from Ramada Hotel Gurgaon to Ramada Hotel New Delhi, depends on the traffic. There will be a small metro train station located in front of the Ramada Gurgaon once it is finished in early 2011. The Ramada Gurgaon Hotel is a small 8 stories 3.5 star hotel, built about 2 years ago. It is a very clean hotel and with a very helpful and polite staff too. I had no complain at all about the hotel condition. It is a good hotel to stay, especially for businessmen or investors who have business in Gurgaon; and else the infrastructure facilities in India is good or at least better than in Indonesia, so almost every part of India is reachable.
The next morning, I went to the meeting with the chartered taxi as recommended by the hotel manager. It was a small car with a Nepalis driver named Tapha who only speak a little English. No smile in his face, he seemed full with anger. he didn't even greet me a good morning but just drove and murmured, may be because I was a bit late for our appointment that morning.
Arriving at the toll gate, Tapha asked me to pay 20 rupees for the toll. Getting furious, I sternly said to him: “You know what, why are you so impolite to your costumer? I supposed to pay only 800 rupees for pick and drop, but the manager then told me to add 500 rupees more, for toll, parking, miles and bla bla bla. I have already agreed about that and now with your long face you force me to pay more and more. Why don't you just check to the hotel manager?” He called and checked and with grim he said: “Okay, okay”
On the way to the meeting, I asked Tapha whether he can stop the taxi at Ramada Hotel Delhi, just to check, whether the meeting will be taken place at Ramada Delhi or Le Meridien. Actually they are at the same direction, and we could pass Ramada Delhi before Le Meridien, however he said: “No, no, no, miles, miles, miles”. “Okay” I said: “no problem, just drop me at Le Meridien”. (Gohst, it was incredible!)
At Le Meridien, I check, whether the venue of the meeting is in their hotel or in Ramada Delhi. They politely check and inform me that, it is not in their hotel, so I phoned the committee and they told me that the venue is at Ramada Delhi.
From Le Meridien I walked about 3 minutes to Ramada Delhi, because the two hotels are very closed by. The problem is, no one at Ramada Delhi knows where the meeting would take place when I asked them at the night when I firstly arrived where the meeting would be. (Another incredible story!)
In the afternoon, I called the manager of Ramada Gurgaon to ask Tapha to fetch me at 05.30 pm; and there Tapha came with a man whom he called his body guard. They both have very strong sweating smell which made me almost choked to death. I just sat quietly till I arrived at Ramada Gurgaon and paid Tapha 1300 rupees (+ USD 32) for the transportation I made with him that day.
The next morning, Tapha was totally 100% changed. He came alone and became so very polite and full with smile. He asked me to talk to his wife who is Indian and has two master degree and of course she speaks very fluent English much better than me. After talking in the phone to his wife then I chat with Tapha and from his broken English I knew that he has one beautiful 9 years old daughter and 3 of his siblings married to different nationalities such as married to a Malaysian, a Kuwaiti, a Saudi Arabian and he himself married to a beautiful and smart Indian lady. Well, that was really a beautiful incredible story.
Along the way back from Ramada Delhi to Ramada Gurgaon I sang along with Tapha a beautiful Indian song entitled Kuch-Kuch Hota Hae which is originally sung by a famous Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan. It was like an ice breaking song that we both enjoy. We sang and dance along the way and every car just looked at us dancing and singing and beep us to be careful because we disturbed other cars to pass by.
It was a pity because the next day, I had to go with the embassy van to visit the famous Taz Mahal, and the day after that I had to go back to my beautiful country Indonesia. So no more Tapha.
It takes 4 hours to go to the Taz Mahal from Ramada Gurgaon. I had to pay about 12,000.- rupees (+USD 300.-) if I use the hotel taxi (not Tapha taxi), or I pay only USD 75.- per person if I use tourist bus, that is already included lunch and entrance tickets. With the embassy car the two of us (me and my colleague) pay only USD 150.- for the tip, since 2nd September was a holiday in all over India as they celebrating the Khrisna day.
Along the way to Taz Mahal, we pass by the country sides. They are all green but also dusty and rocky. The Northern parts of India are quite dusty because they are close to Gobi desert, one of the largest desert in the world. Sometimes, we can see sky scrapers enacted in the middle of nowhere. The way they built them there were to create equal distribution of wealth across the states.
Not many houses exist along the way. With 1.2 million people, India seems so quiet. Most Indians seems tend to live in the cities rather than in the country sides. Well that is my observation at glance and that may not be 100% correct. (*PS: Later I found from my Indian friend that only + 35% Indians living in the cities)
The road to Agra is full with trucks. Well, I am sorry to say that most of the trucks or vehicles in India seemed old but still work well. The bus windows there all surrounded by concrete bars, so it seems like a jail bus to me, but they say it was because India has a large poor population and the majority of them use buses as main transportation, so in order to avoid them from falling out of the bus, they put bars in all over the windows, so that they would be more secure inside. The famous public vehicle is the three wheels Bajaj. (We also have Bajaj in Indonesia, as one of our public transportation in the cities. We imported a lot from India, but the size of the Indonesian Bajaj is smaller than the Indian one). What amazed me is the Indian Bajaj fit for 12 persons and still moving, whereas in Indonesia may be for 6 or 7 person can fully pack in one roof. Wow, another incredible story!
Agra is one of the cities in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state of India. UP has about 130 million people, who live in trade, crafting, agriculture and mining. The majority of Agra people is Moslem, but they seem so poor, or at least that was I observed along the way. The Taz Mahal built by King Shah Jahan (a Moslem King) in 17 century as a dedication to his most beloved queen Mumtaz. (The King himself has + 200 wives, according to our driver). Incredible! It took 22 years to build such a magnificent and beautiful landmark. As everyone knows, Mumtaz died when delivering her 14th baby much earlier before the Taz Mahal itself finished.
The king himself then murdered by his own son who disagreed with his royal father lavish live and plan to built another Taz Mahal for himself. If you go to Taz Mahal compound, there is no other Taz Mahal or the black Taz Mahal around. Every building in Taz Mahal compound was built asymmetrically and in harmony with its surrounding. The buildings erected in the edge of the river, so it has incredibly beautiful natural landscape in itself.
Made of first class marble and crafted and decorated with semi precious stones such as Lapis Lazuly, Malahit etc, it makes Taz Mahal one of the world expensive and grandeur royal tomb ever exist man made!
The King and his Queen buried in the ground of Taz Mahal. What we can see in the first floor or the entrance is the replica of their tombs. The entrance fee is 750 rupees for an adult, that is included a bottle of small mineral water and a pair of wet shoe cover since the temperature around Agra could reach up to 50 centigrade degree Celsius and we neat shoe cover to stand the heat. No chewing gum allowed into the Taz also no pictures taken inside the building in order to maintain the color of the stone. The marble wall itself is translucent, it gives white color in the morning, yellow to light orange in the afternoon and blue in the evening. When we pointed out our light or lit the matches to the wall, the light can go through the wall, so it is magnificently incredible!
There are many professional photographer around the The Taz Mahal, so we don't have to worry if we forget to bring our camera along. It will costs us only 700 rupees for ten pictures, so its no money at all considering the professional result we could get. The pictures will turn to be very fantastic!
On the way back to the hotel, our tour guide, the one who has been recommended by the embassy, led us to the handicraft shop, who sell some souvenirs made of translucent marble. The ancestors of the handicraft men were the one who crafted the Taz Mahal, so according to our guide they produce only high quality handicrafts, but the price is extremely expensive, especially for a civil servant like me. I bought the cheapest one, not so nice, but it cost me already USD 150.- only for a simple marble plate and small elephant crafts. Gee...that was only some I could bring from India since I had a condense meeting and must commute every day from Gurgaon to the meeting venue in New Delhi. I didn't even know how New Delhi actually looks, but I thanks God and my government and myself because of the small mistake I made in booking a hotel, I was then able to commute and see how the real India looks and I could take some pictures which you can see in this website.
I return home on 3rd September to Indonesia and stayed over night in Bangkok Thailand. I bring along a beautiful and incredible memory of India which I will treasure the beauty of India until I die.
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