I Know Why Celebrities Beat Up Paparazzi

30 Nov

First the first time, probably in my entire life, I want men NOT to notice me.  I began to feel this way not long after arriving in India and my trip to the Taj Mahal only confirmed my new desire to go unnoticed.  There’s no way to be invisible, or at best blend in, when you’re a relatively tall, blond girl in India.  In Mumbai, I’ve learned to deal with the stares, stares that last for what seems like an eternity.  Most of the time, I just ignore it, look the other way, or look at the ground as I walk.  Other times, I want men to know that I know they’re staring, but I don’t want to come across as suggestive,  so I’ll stare back, meet their eyes, tilt my head to the side, and raise my eyebrows, like, “Can I help you?”  But, most of the time I just let it go.

And that’s because, most of the time, staring is all that’s involved.  But, not at the Taj Mahal.

Johnney, our guide. Gotta love the dye job!

I had been looking forward to seeing the Taj Mahal for a while.  I didn’t go there three years ago when I was in India during Semester at Sea, so made up my mind that I would see it this time.  So, I was elated when Kanika’s family planned a day trip from Delhi to Agra.  We met our guide a couple of miles from the entrance, and he took us to the less-crowded East Gate for entry.

After passing through security, we walked into the courtyard and then up to the Great Gateway.  It was a hazy afternoon, but I could still see the Taj Mahal through the archways.  It’s breathtaking.  No picture can ever do the Taj Mahal  justice (especially not the ones I took that day with all of the fog).

While writing this post, I took a break to read what a guidebook that I once worked on had to say about visiting the Taj Mahal: Enter through any of the three gates to the complex and you leave chaos for order.  Not sure who fact-checked that, but, in the words of Shaggy, “It wasn’t me.”  We made our way through the Gateway and into the garden area, where thousands of other visitors were making their way toward the entrance of the Taj Mahal.   There isn’t much order when everyone is clamoring around the same bench in the middle of the garden for a great photo op.   There was no line, just groups of people waiting for others to get off the bench so they could shove their way on to it.  “You’re just going to have to run over there,” Kanika said, as more and more people gathered around.   I waited for a couple to take their last picture, then hurried to sit down just before another couple could.  I went first, then Kanika joined me, then her brother, and finally her parents.  We didn’t rush; we were at the Taj Mahal–we took advantage!

We then made our way to the mausoleum, which houses the tombs of Shah Jahan and his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  As Kanika and I stopped to take more pictures, her family and I began to notice Indian men taking pictures of me as well.  Sometimes they would stand behind me and try to insert themselves into the shot; other times, they would just stand right by Kanika as she was taking my picture and snap one of their own.  So, Kanika’s family took on the role of bodyguards, forming a little barrier around me, trying to keep the strangers with the cameras away.

Toward the end of the hour  or two we spent there, though, it became annoying.  Some guys would just stand in my path as I was walking or trying to take a picture and hold their cell phone cameras up to my face.  Kanika’s parents, who I have always known to be both cool, calm, and collected, would get so mad and yell at them in Hindi.  I had no idea what they were saying, but the guys with the cell phones surely did.  We would get a few minutes’ reprieve until the next group started following.

These incidents though, no matter how annoying, could not spoil being at the Taj Mahal.  It is, after all, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  And, our guide Johnney, an energetic Indian man with orange hair dyed with henna, was a font of knowledge about the place.  Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal to honor his third and most beautiful and beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their fourteenth child (ouch!).  On her deathbed, she asked him for three things: 1) That he would build a great monument in her honor that all the world would come to see.  2) That he never marry again.  3) That he look after her children.

She was a little demanding, if you ask me, but he did as she wished, and hired 20,000 workers to build the Taj Mahal,

"No cameras allowed" of the tombs. But, if you ever go, take a picture. Everyone does!

which took 22 years to complete.  And, he did look after her children, but that didn’t turn out too well for him.  Not long after completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was captured by one of his sons and put under house arrest until his death, as his sons battled for the throne.  After his death, Shah Jahan was laid to rest right next to his wife in the mausoleum.  His tomb, positioned to the left of hers, is the only non-symmetrical element in all of the Taj Mahal complex.

On the way out of the Great Gateway, after taking a few more pictures and after Kanika’s parents ran off a few more unwelcome photographers, a group of giddly little girls surrounded me and pointed to me, then to Kanika’s camera.  They wanted a picture with me.  I find it fascinating that Indian children want pictures with me, even though they will never see them.  But, because they were adorable little girls, and not creepy men with camera phones, I happily said yes.

Great Gateway

The minarets were build with a slight lean outward, so that if any natural disaster caused them to fall, they would do so away from the mausoleum.

Artwork surrounding the tombs. 52 different colors within one flower.

archways in the soldiers' quarters

Electric-powered rickshaws that go from parking lots to the entry gates. Gas-powered vehicles are not allowed near the Taj Mahal, in an effort to cut down on air pollution.


2 Responses to “I Know Why Celebrities Beat Up Paparazzi”

  1. Jackie December 1, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    Hey Steph! Wow, I remember being in China and people wanting to take my picture all of the time too… but I’m sure it’s NOTHING like this! I’m sure blondes have more fun, but they also cause the most attention! Did you at least get any cute pics of yourself with the Indian kids? I’m so glad the Taj Mahal was just as gorgeous in person! (Even if it WAS plenty crowded!). I was thinking about you on Thanksgiving when my family visited the Bontanical Gardens here in DC: this year’s train model goes “around the world” and has lots of the world’s famous landmarks made out of plant life! The Taj Mahal was my favorite! xoxo

  2. Mom December 1, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    Thanks for the history on the Taj Mahal-very interesting! I’ve often wondered about the story behind it but was too lazy to look it up. BTW, I don’t find Mumtaz demanding whatsoever! After all, she birthed 14 of his children so the least he can do is build a monument worthy of being one of the New Wonders of the World. I believe all women who have a dozen or more kids should be entitled to one. Now that I think about it, ALL mothers should have monuments erected in their honor. Let your brother know my feelings on this and get back to me……Love you, Mom

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