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Unforgettable India

Taj Mahal, Jodi Ettenberg

The author with her mother at the Taj Mahal.

When I was a child, my mother would regale me and my brother with stories of historical drama. She would lower her voice conspiratorially when telling us about Henry VIII and his many wives, and she would let her tone rise excitedly when explaining the ways that our present was shaped by our past.

I’ve spent the past six years traveling and eating my way around the world while my mother followed from the comfort of her home, reading about my adventures online. [Editor's Note: See Legal Nomads.] As her 65th birthday approached, I asked her where a historian with endless stories would want to travel. After a pause, she responded, “To the Taj Mahal.”

So we went. Our visit to the Taj came near the end of our time in India. Prior, we had wound our way through Rajasthan, staying in old havelis (mansions) that were rich with ancient secrets. We had gotten lost in the markets of Jaipur and tried the best lassi of our lives in Jodhpur, thick and sweet and tasting of cardamom and lime. We had found ourselves in Delhi for not one but two major holidays, reveling in the chaos, the colors and textures and tastes of a place we had never seen before.

It seemed fitting that within the exhaustion of sensory overload, our excursion to the Taj Mahal was actually the calmest morning of our trip, despite warnings from friends that we would find ourselves combing through crowds.

We woke before dawn in Agra—to the sound of pouring rain. While this meant that we were positively soaked by the time we made it into the Taj Mahal complex, we found ourselves standing in awe, surrounded by silence. We expected that we would have to wait in line simply to capture the buildings in photos. Instead, we found ourselves marveling at an unobstructed view of the magnificent building in front of us, ghostly white marble silhouetted against a foggy sky.

Ultimately, there were more memories from this trip than I can catalog, a concentration of experiences that will last us forever. But what stands out, both to my history-loving mother and her food-obsessed daughter, is that first moment when we glimpsed the Taj Mahal, together, in the pouring rain.

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