Everybody knows about the Taj Mahal.
Monument to love built in the 1600’s by the Mogul Shah Jahan to honor his wife that many call the most beautiful building in the world.
I’m normally a skeptic about claims like that …but I have to say that once I was on the grounds and stepped away from the crowds I might agree. 
Couldn’t tell you a lot about the architecture.   But I can tell you the building radiates a presence that commands admiration. It’s beautiful from every angle. It shines in the haze and pollution and dust.  It is covered with intricate Islamic scroll work done in marble and thousands of tiny inlaid flowers of semiprecious stones. The grounds are large and manicured, and when you stepped away from the crowds there monkeys and parrots who were perfectly at home.  Children were participating in drawing contest and were scattered about with canvasses on the ground carefully trying to capture the view.
Even mobbed by tourists, even after running a gauntlet of touts, rickshaw drivers, souvenir hawkers and wannabe guides that made even this experienced traveler blanche – it still managed to convey a peace and energy that made it stand out.
After soaking in the Taj I regrouped the energy to step back out into the din of people wanting my money and walked 2 kilometers to the Agra Fort. Also fascinating, the home of the Moguls and where they governed India during the middle ages.  A huge red sandstone fortress, with additions of palaces and gardens and mosques over the various rulers.  Roaming the grounds was like exploring a warren of interconnected rooms that wound on and on and could completely change around a corner from gilded or inlaid marble to carved sandstone to ruins.
By the walk back I’d adjusted more to the chaos and was remembering my coping skills for heavy tourist areas. Things like walk with the traffic coming towards you so the rickshaw driver can’t follow you half a mile without causing a huge wreck. That it’s OK for when the 20th No Thank you isn’t sufficient  to dissuade the camel whip salesman (yes, I was offered a whip made of camel hide today as a souvenir) to stop in the middle of the road to attract attention- they really don’t want too much attention. 
Mostly I remembered that not everybody wants to sell you something, most are happy to give directions, many just like to say hello.  Many are curious about you just like you are of them – especially the children.  I had many children sing song hello as they walked by.  One girl who just picked up her younger siblings on a scooter pulled over and said hello and introduced the family and asked where I was from. When I got lost I was always helped immediately and courteously.
So today was like re-immersion day to travel –the good and the bad. But definitely net good.
Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA