A Taj Mahal Miracle
Travel to India: A Taj Mahal Miracle
Many people see the Taj Mahal at some point during their lifetime. Few people see the Taj Mahal from a wheelchair.
My friend, trooper that she is, scoured visitor gate after visitor gate searching for the right one that distributed wheelchairs free of charge to people with disabilities. Having spent the previous semester studying in Jaipur, she spoke some Hindi, and so she was able to communicate on my behalf to the staff in charge of the wheelchairs, explaining that I needed one to navigate the grounds of the Taj comfortably.
The men were confused at first. Why does a girl who can stand and walk on her own need a wheelchair? The reason was a story too long to convey. Plus it surpassed my friend’s level of Hindi.
Running had been taken away from me. A pain-free existence had been taken away. India would not be taken away.
Six months earlier, I had hip surgery to repair a torn labrum, which I had injured during a grueling, mountainous night race in Hong Kong, where I was living at the time. Unbeknownst to me, the surgeon had also lengthened my psoas tendon in a failed attempt to relieve my pain. I lost stability in my hip, causing it to shear forward and rotate my pelvis. My agony was greater than before. Everything was painful: walking, standing, even sitting.
I had lost hope of ever being able to run again, a sport I loved and competed in from sixth grade through college. Life was devastating.
My parents had begged me not to go to India because they were afraid my pain would worsen. Being the stubborn travel fiend that I am, I ignored their pleas and flew to northern India with two of my friends, desperate not to miss the opportunity to see Udaipur, Agra, and Delhi. Running had been taken away from me. A pain-free existence had been taken away. India would not be taken away.
Plopping down in the rickety metal wheelchair, I piled our water bottles, bags, and Lonely Planet Guide to Rajasthan on my lap so my friends could take turns pushing me down the lush garden paths towards the Taj Mahal. Depending on the season, weather, and time of day, India’s most famous mausoleum can look markedly different in hue.
That day, the Taj Mahal was brushed with gold.
When one of my friends first visited back in September, she said it was blindingly white, difficult to stare at for too long, like the sun. That day, the Taj Mahal was brushed with gold.
On each side of the mausoleum and its four framing minarets are two red sandstone edifices, like its sunburnt sisters. The western side is a mosque, and the eastern, a jawab, which means “answer”. The jawab is thought to be the “answer” to the mosque that architecturally balances the grounds of the Taj Mahal.
Throughout the complex congregated visitors of all generations, people with skin the color of chai, saris in fuschia, persimmon, and turquoise. Boys in short-sleeved collared shirts ran circles around their grandparents, some of whom were in wheelchairs themselves. I noticed they were mostly women.
Disability access was never something I thought much about because I never had to.
Though there are wheelchair ramps, the Taj is not exactly handicap-friendly. On several occasions I had to get out of the chair so we could lift it over a garden hose or other obstacle. I was lucky that I could stand up if I needed to, unlike many of the other wheelchair users that I saw. It saddened me to think about the daily lives of those stuck in wheelchairs permanently.
Disability access was never something I thought much about because I never had to. Even then, I knew my situation was likely to change for the better. There were other surgeries to help me. That wasn’t the case for everyone else.
Interestingly it felt as though I were the sight to behold, not just the Taj itself. Never had I been gawked at so often, so openly, in my entire life. Not only did people stare, but they also kept staring even when I made eye contact with them. Zero shame. Total curiosity. Were they staring because I was young and in a wheelchair? Blonde and in a wheelchair? Just blonde? I didn’t care. In that moment I was unabashedly loving it.
Interestingly it felt as though I were the sight to behold, not just the Taj itself. Never had I been gawked at so often, so openly, in my entire life.
Several male Indians tried to take pictures with me, but my body guards, my protective friends, would allow none of it. At one point, one of them chastised a man who had been following us, pretending to take pictures of scenery, but turning the camera on our group at the last second. “Sir! That’s enough!” she scolded.
Each time I rose out of the chair, the gawkers’ jaws dropped. Children stared at me in utter bewilderment as I walked freely, as if they couldn’t possibly be seeing straight. One family kept looking back at me for a good thirty meters after they passed. To play up the drama, I lifted my arms above my head, tilted my face towards the sky, and proclaimed, “It’s a Taj Mahal miracle!”
Travel to India: A Taj Mahal Miracle
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Travel to India: A Taj Mahal Miracle top photo credit: unsplash.com