What would you do to see the Taj Mahal?

What lengths would you go to to see the Taj Mahal? If you were like most (sane) tourists, you’d probably do a 3 hour tour bus ride from Delhi to Agra, a half hour auto-rickshaw ride, and cough up the 1000 rupee foreigner’s entrance fee. But Angela and I, we’re not totally sane people. Oh no, we much prefer to do things the hard way…

I’m Stephanie, I’m 20 and from Sydney, Australia. I’m a rising junior in Wharton, concentrating in Business Economics and Public Policy and Statistics. I’m also minoring in international development, which is where my passions lie and why I’m in India. I will be interning at Shahi Exports, the largest garment exporter in India, where I will be researching and designing an initiative to improve the welfare of garment workers.

But let me go back to our adventure. I arrived in Delhi at midnight, and had 36 hours to get a taste of this vibrant city before flying south. Being your typical go-getter Penn types, Angela and I spontaneously decided to visit the Taj Mahal the next morning. Also being your typical go-getter Penn types, we totally overbooked it on the tourist sites. A visit to the Qutb Minar, a trip to Dilli Haat (the first of many times where we tried to haggle, felt proud of ourselves for halving the price, and later realized we were ripped off anyway), and lunch with the PHFI interns Hareena and Varshini later – and we were cutting it very fine for our bus to Agra. When our Uber driver stopped for gas at a station mid-ride and we didn’t know the Hindi to tell him that we were in a desperate hurry, the bus was well and truly missed.

But with a combination of the desire for adventure and a lot of sunk cost fallacy ringing in our ears, we decided to go to Agra anyway – and ran across 4-lane-beeping-horn traffic to climb on a public bus.

This might be a good point to mention that the temperature in Delhi is over 40C (or 100F for you Americans). And this public bus, well – let’s just say that when you pay US$3 for a 3.5 hour ride, it’s probably too good to be true – and in this case, “too good to be true” means there will not be A/C, you will be drowning in your own sweat, and conservatively rationing gulps of the water you are sharing. But hey, at least there’s a Sanjay Dutt Bollywood film playing in the background.

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Hour 1 of 3.5 (pre-any dreaded realizations)

Halfway through the ride which is meant to take us to Agra by 6pm, Angela gasps: “The Taj Mahal stops ticketing at 5pm.” 5pm!! So we’d flown all the way to Delhi, driven 2.5 hours in sweat – only to miss the very Taj Mahal we’d come all the way for? Now keep in mind that we were probably pretty dehydrated, slightly delirious (to the point where laughing at our own situation was the only way to deal) and definitely falling victim to sunk costs – so when we decided to book a room for the night with the intention of waking up at sunrise to visit the Taj Mahal – we weren’t too ridiculous, right?

We hopped off at Agra, and took an auto-rickshaw to Agra Fort. Riding through the dusty streets of Agra was honestly such a sensory overload. The constant honking horns, the cows and monkeys roaming the streets , the stalls lining every inch of the sidewalk selling lemon water and fruits, the families of 8 crammed into one tiny auto-rickshaw – it was such an energetic, buzzing place. If you think Locust Walk is busy at 10.20am, you haven’t seen Agra.

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Agra Fort

After visiting the magnificently vibrant Agra Fort, past home of the Mughal emperors and present home of adorable baby monkeys, we stayed the night with no toiletries, no luggage, and nothing but the sweat-soaked clothing on our backs #lowmaintenance. The next morning at sunrise, it was time to go.

Call us crazy and extremely basic for eschewing all plans to pursue this one monument. But whatever you call us, we don’t regret it at all. So many famous tourist landmarks are over-hyped and disappoint in real life. But when I walked through that red sandstone main archway (drawaza) and first spotted that majestic marble mausoleum (sun rising in the background) – I think it was all worth it.

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About Stephanie Wu

Class of 2020, majoring in Business Economics and Public Policy and Statistics. Intern at Shahi Exports, Bangalore, in summer 2018.