Maya-jaal around the Taj
You are bound also to run into wily, sweet-talking lens-men if you have forgotten to pick up your camera unlike the well-equipped foreign tourist. Price tag: Rs 50 per print. Quality assurance: Nil. I was luckier at the Taj where the photographer I bumped into knew his job. But the photo-session at Fatehpur Sikri was a nightmare, a greedy old cameraman making us stand on the iron hot red-sandstone floor for one picture after another until he could count a dozen.
Not one of the 12 prints I got for Rs 600 would be part of my personal album. The summer heat and the windswept courtyards of the Capital city Emperor Akbar built and abandoned turned photography into a rapid-fire ritual. There was no time for combing one’s hair, adjust the clothes or look for spots with a good frame.
Cloth-vendors outside the Durgah of Salim Chisti also do roaring business at the imposing Fatehpur fort constructed by master masons and engineers of the time. Riding on wishes the devotees make at the Durgah of the Saint who gave Akbar the heir to his throne, they sell cheap chaddars at prices raging from Rs 501 to 1100 upwards.
Visitors offer hundreds of chaddars daily at the Durgah enclosed by intricate marble-work. The guide you hire isn’t all that helpful. He’s just one link in the chain that fleeces unassuming tourists. His first loyalty is to the three-wheeler driver, the photographer, the cloth-merchant and even the owner of the neighbourhood eatery.
They all live off the tourist’s wallet. A bottle of beer costs Rs 250. If that is okay for some then what about Rs 40 for a roasted papad?
Group tour operators admittedly serve foreigners better and with less of a hassle. The government tries its bit but somewhat shoddily, making native travelers a bit unwanted. Public urinals can be used free of cost by foreigners at the Taj. But there’s no such concession for the lowly Indian. Each time he takes a leak, he pays Rs 2.
Taj isn’t just a monument of love. It epitomizes wisdom, a sense of history sullied by the thoughtless showcasing of our times. It’s about time Mayawati rescued Mumtaz Mahal from touts, commission agents and corrupt officials.