I don’t go to many formal occasions that require black tie. And when I travel for leisure, I never pack formalwear unless I’m going to a wedding (which wouldn’t actually BE a trip for leisure, but I digress).
But on this trip, I knew I’d be seeing the Taj Mahal, one of the most magnificent landmarks ever built. If a place commanded awe and respect, this would be it.
Wearing jeans would not do. So I dressed for the occasion.
The dress was something I bought (on sale) right before my trip to India from — shocker — Trademark. Ever the romantic, I got it specifically for this trip to the monument. The dress ticked all the boxes — it is conservative enough for a religious space; it is cotton and breathable for hot weather; it has long sleeves for cooler weather.
And it’s the perfect amount of formality when you’re seeing THIS for the first time:
The Taj Mahal is a dominating presence in the town of Agra. It drives all the visitors and money flowing into the city — to imagine Agra without the Taj Mahal would be to envision a very different, sleepier, poorer city. (My father-in-law said a comparison would be Niagara without the Falls.)
You can see the Taj’s luminescent mass of domes and turrets from miles away. I first spotted it when we were stuck in a traffic jam from across the Yamuna River. The building is made from marble, and it changes colors, depending on the time of year or day, said to reflect the moon’s changes in a women’s “temperament.”
During the heavy rains of the monsoon season, it takes on a silvery hue. In the full moon, it appears golden. When we came, early in the morning, it was a pinkish gold. (The longer we stayed, the whiter the Taj appeared.)
Once I arrived, I was intent on getting a photo on the “Princess Diana” bench. Our guide took me to a stupendously crowded bench near a reflecting pond, where I fought tooth and nail for my 10 seconds in front of the camera. (By the way, if you ever make the trek, BOOK A GUIDE. He will do all the pushing on your behalf.)
After I compared my Princess Diana moment with the real photo (seen here), I noticed that I wasn’t on the correct bench at all. But no matter.
Once you get to the marble steps, you are given a choice: Take your shoes off or buy a pair of hospital-esque shoe covers. Unlike a temple, this request is not made to preserve the sanctity of a holy place. Rather, the government doesn’t want the shoes to damage the marble. We chose the shoe covers, but all the uniformed security guards were barefoot.
Before I came to India, many told me that Indians would approach me to take selfies with me. It was such an utterly confusing concept to me (why on earth would a stranger want a photograph taken with me?) and for the first week or so, this never materialized. Until I went to my first big tourist attraction, like the Taj Mahal. (I respectfully declined the requests.)
But when my husband would take photos of me, like the one below, hoards of people would line up behind him to take photos of me, too. An alien experience if there ever was one.
Of course, I see the irony. Because I love to take photos of other people, too, although I prefer the more journalistic candids, like the one below. And the photos are almost always to document someone’s clothes.
A couple more notes about this dress: The scarf is removable and one of my favorite features of the outfit. It’s almost very “Indian” — many uniforms, either municipal or school-related, include scarves exactly like this one.
And one last thought. I wore a Maje blanket scarf with me to ward off the morning chill. (You’ve seen this scarf here.) I was absolutely delighted to notice that the pattern of the scarf perfectly chord the ceramic tiles surrounding the Taj Mahal.
Just goes to show that these architectural details and techniques are so revered, they have seeped into every angle of our lives.