We were to enter the Taj by the VIP gate. More western privileges? Nope – there are 4 gates, so we were just like 25% of the tourists, most of whom were Indian. As ever in India there was security.
India must scan more people a day than Tesco scans biscuits in a year. There were two queues for the check-in/check-out. Our guide had a word with the man on the gate, rupees and nods were exchanged and we were ushered to the back of the shorter queue. I suspect we were worth about 5p each at current exchange rates. 10p might have got us to the front of the shorter queue.
There was an even faster track – the equivalent of “5 items or less” – but this was reserved for the women; their security being conducted with a little more discretion than the men’s. This is the same at the airports. You cannot even enter an airport in India unless you have valid flight papers and passport. Once checked-in, the men and women are screened separately. As here at the Taj, the women’s screening is done in a veiled area, so nobody else can see. As we had not brought our sarees with us, nor shaved our legs, the fast-track was not a viable option.
For some reason the two queues for men were not moving, and according to the dictionary definition, a queue does not have to. The result that there was a growing crowd of women waiting inside the gate for their men to emerge. Perhaps on reflection they would choose a more eligible candidate, like some Indian version of Take Me Out. They waited patiently inside in a little shade, the sea of bright sari colours looking fabulous.
We men, hot and impatient after our 6 hour drive, shuffled slowly in our dual clasutrophobic lines, squeezed between rickety barriers. You know you are too close to someone when you can smell them. Terry’s aftershave was not something I needed to experience.
There were two air-port style security gates devices for the men – one was for those who had paid the top price for their tickets (ie white people) and one for Indian nationals. The former was plain; the latter was decorated and embellished. Racial segregation was being attempted. However as the Indian’s nationals device was unmanned, the two queues were merging into the foreigners’ gate. There was some profound political analogy here. A fair amount of polite pushing and shoving was going on here. My experience of negotiating turnstiles queues at Oldham Athletic would come in handy.
Things you cannot take into the Taj Mahal
- Arms and Amunitions
- Explosive Items
- Match Boxes
- Lighters, Torches
- Mobile Phones
- Electronic Goods
- Tripod, Bipods
- Items Offered for Prayers
- Eatables, Liquor
- Banners, Flags, Display Boards
- Drawing Materials etc
As we had nothing else to look at or talk about, this list illicited much discussion and prompted many unanswered questions. Probably more than it meritted, but you know what men are like when they get their teeth into a subject.
Fortunately we had left our amunitions and display boards back in the car. We hoped we could hang onto our arms. Bipods? – are we not all bipods, or is that bipeds? And what is the material terrorist threat of drawing materials? As for bidies – did they mean old biddies? We had visions of gangs of militant pensioners, topped up with liquor, intent on colouring in the Taj with giant crayons.
After some discussion we decided we were safe, so long as they were not too strict on the mobile phones. They seemed to turn a blind eye to them at Wembley, would this not be the same?
Things you can take into the Taj Mahal (by a process of elimination)
- Sabres & Knives
- Inedible food
- Quadrupeds (e.g cows, tigers, crocodiles)
- Sticks and stones
- Paint brushes
- Flip Charts
- Items Offered for Sale
After about 3 mins, the man in charge of the Indians-only scanner retured from lunch and there was a rapid segregation. Just like when a new queue opens in B&Q and those who were at the back suddenly try to rush to the front. The Indians had to make a rapid choice – whether to stay in the origial queue or to switch. We hate those choices. In a millisecond, as we approach the checkout, we have to calculate the speed of the cashier, the number in the queue, the number of items, and the possibility of a rogue transaction (i.e.who is trying to buy the packet of screws without a barcode?). And we know we will stand imaptiently and defiantly still, looking the other way as the queue next door speeds through like they are all on roller skates.
Fortunatley, we white colonials with our expensive tickets had no choice. We had to stay in our own queue. Finally, we each stepped up to the magic gate, to be scanned and searched for ny of the forbidden items. Once again, a full body massage ensued. For a people who treat you with so much respect, politeness and discretion; these searches (which you also get at every airport) are quite incongruous. The security guy was big, gruff and uncompromising and disconcertingly thorough.
After the body search, he made us empty the full contents of our bags into his wooden table. This was what had been holding up the queue, and was something we had not prepared for. We englishmen had all packed our bags based on our guess of what we would need, erring on the side of caution. Carl had a large laptop bag. Terry and I had mid-sized rucksacks. Praveen and Gautam had no bags at all. And so it was that my emergency first-aid kit was laid out for public scrutiny, along with my spare socks and batteries. One imagined the suppressed chuckles at how many diarrhoea tablets I had brought along. But at least we would all know what Carl had in that bulging laptop bag. His secret is safe with us. And knowing we had a mobile life-support system was a comfort, even if we did not use it.
And so – finally, finally we entered the Taj. The huddle of women stood patiently for their men to be screened. We were tempted to pick one each to show us round, but we didn’t have that sort of ticket. And none of them showed the slightest interest in us – English tourists dressed as English tourists. No lighty – no likey.
In any case, we had our own guide, a very talkative man who insisted we listen to every word. “Are you listening” he said to me when I had dared to take a picture of something he had not yet descrbed in minuite detail. I was suddenly transported back to my Lower Fifths German lessons and Frauline Hess; “Bottomley, was sagte ich gerade? (what did I just say?)”. “YES” I said assertively – “I was listening”. I had no idea what he had just said. He called my bluff. It’s a good job he did, as I didn’t have any explosive felt tip pens to defend myself with.
Compared with the journey and the entrance, the tour was short and sweet, thankfully given the heat. It is a staggering monument with a Brothers Grimm story. More on that next time. I just need to fetch my display board.