By Caroline Byrd, Contributor
The day seemed like the one we had all been waiting for. Especially since I found out I was going to India. I had been hooked on the idea of seeing the Taj Mahal in person, and I was finally going to see a symbol of India so strong that 3-5 million people around the world visited it every year. I could barely sleep the night before and I was awake before my alarm in order to be downstairs at 5:30 to take the bus down the street to the entrance for the Taj Mahal. We had been planning our “Taj” outfits for weeks. I finally decided to wear my FabIndia kurta with black leggings, just to mix Indian fashion with a bit of American style. This mix might not matter much in the long run but in the short run was extremely necessary to capture the perfect picture for my Instagram. Kamber and I went down the elevator with as much energy as we had as kids on Christmas Day and anxiously waited for our tour guide to come down and give us the itinerary for this memorable occasion.
I have seen many monuments all over the world: the Colosseum in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House and ancient Mayan ruins. I’ve also volunteered abroad four times, learned two different languages for fun, and fallen in love with many beautiful countries — I am mostly saying these things as a disclaimer that this day was not my first rodeo in recognizing beauty. I see it everywhere, and I know that it exists in both material objects as well as the things we cannot describe. My excitement for seeing the Taj Mahal mostly came because I’ve felt the reaction to beauty before, and the idea of feeling it again was exhilarating.
After security and a quick background on the Taj from our tour guide, the mausoleum seemed as if it were getting further away with every step we took forward. Finally, we got to where we could see the Taj Mahal. My first thought was how far away this day seemed six months ago, but how close we were now. There was so much smog that in my pictures it looked as though we spent our morning in the clouds, with the Taj Mahal somehow managing to shine through without an ounce of trouble. We took group pictures, individual pictures, groups of three pictures, jumping pictures, pictures with peace signs, pictures with sorority signs and thought of perfect Instagram captions for each of them. I could hear my classmates saying “it’s so beautiful that I’m tearing up”, “I’ve never seen anything so amazing” and “I can’t believe we are really here”; I could see the wonder in their faces, I could sense how happy they were to be in that moment, but more importantly I couldn’t believe that I didn’t feel the same way.
I walked and I walked around the Taj Mahal. I took pictures of the stone and even rubbed my fingers along the inside halls to feel the individual inlays between the stones. I tried to imagine the precision that it took for someone to create something so beautiful out of marble and the amount of patience one had in order to wait 22 years for a tomb to be erected in honor of his dead wife. It wasn’t until I had left the tomb that I realized why I lacked the strong emotions that everyone around me seemed to be experiencing; I have seen so many beautiful things and I have visited so many beautiful places, but I have never experienced anything as ethereal as the way I feel when I am in love. I suppose I should be apologizing to the highest authorities of India for writing this, but the Taj Mahal was nowhere near as beautiful as the thought of hugging my father at the airport when I get home or the feeling that one has after laughing uncontrollably with my best friends. The Taj Mahal was not as beautiful as it will be to graduate college, get married or have children, and the Taj Mahal surely isn’t as beautiful as the gesture that Shah Jahan made to honor his wife after her death. There is this idea that the Seven Wonders of the World are actually some of the most beautiful in the world, but why? The wonders of the world are only wonderful because of the humans who built them, and those humans built them for beautiful purposes: to honor a loved one, to give praise to God, to fulfill their duties as warriors and to remind their descendants that they are only a small drop in a big ocean of possibilities and the wonders of our personal world are just as beautiful as the wonders they created for us. I’d like to think that at the end of the day, I’ll shine as bright as I did in my Instagram post of the Taj Mahal. I left India with a much broader idea of the beauty that hides beneath the marble and an excitement to bring that beauty to my personal relationships as I continue traveling, learning, and loving.