The man in front of us holds his smartphone above his head, clicking madly in an attempt to capture an unobscured image of the Taj Mahal.
He’s trying to get the couple facing him – whose phones are also clutched above their heads as they try to snap a once-in-a-lifetime selfie – out of the frame.
We’ve only been inside the hallowed gates for three minutes, but already I’m muttering to myself, “surrender, surrender, surrender”. Surely the word most often uttered by visitors to India’s most famous building, which draws up to 50,000 visitors a day on busy weekends.
When my parents and I first visited Agra’s near four-century-old monument to love five years ago, the crowds annoyed us so much we were unable to take in its otherworldly beauty. We spent our hour there complaining about “the tourists” – without seeming to realise we were tourists ourselves. We were annoyed at everyone else pushing to take a photo of the very same beauty we were trying to see, and left feeling strangely empty.
On this Taj visit, on the second last day of our APT luxury train journey from Mumbai to Delhi, I have decided to accept the selfie-taking masses as an integral part of the experience. To surrender to the way things are, in other words, rather than wishing them to be some other way.
Instead of trying to ignore the selfie-takers, I start paying extra attention to them. To the Asian woman dressed in an extravagant floral gown who poses and smiles and cups her face in an infinite variety of ways, for not one but two professional photographers she appears to have hired for the occasion. To the couple dressed head-to-toe in white who twirl about in each other’s arms with ecstatically loved-up looks on their faces, as three friends snap away. To the dozens of tourists lining up to stand on a stone bench, putting one arm out to the side of their body and pinching their fingers to make it look like they’re picking the Taj up by its domed roof.
It’s terrifically entertaining, some of the best people-watching and belly laughs I’ve had in India. Which is a reminder that the best travel experiences are often had when we stop expecting the places we visit, and the things we do in them, to match our romanticised ideals. If we let every missed plane, every piece of lost luggage, every stomach bug, or every spatially unaware selfie-taker get us down, there would be no good holidays. Ever. And however we feel about smartphones, they’re now a deep-rooted part of the modern travel landscape, so to wish them away is to get in our own way of enjoying any big-ticket tourist site around the world, from Machu Pichu to The Great Wall.
As I sit at the champagne lunch we’re surprised with afterwards in a garden overlooking the Taj Mahal, I flick through my own selfies from the morning, and promise myself not to see the sari-clad tourist photo bombing me as ruining my favourite photo. Instead, I will see her as a reminder of how the Taj really was today – crowded, boisterous and loads of fun. And of how vital suspending expectations about the places we go is to getting the most out of our travels, no matter where in the world we are.
Nina Karnikowski travelled as a guest of APT.
THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN PRINT AND ONLINE HERE
Singapore Airlines operates multiple daily flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and Mumbai, via Singapore. See singaporeair.com.NEED TO KNOW
APT’s 17-day Spirit of India tour, which includes seven nights on the Deccan Odyssey, starts from $16,895 a person, twin share. See aptouring.com.au