After the tour of the Agra Fort, we opted for an early lunch. By 1pm we were done and not sure what to do next. The Taj Mahal was our final destination before we headed back to the railway station to board our return train at 6.30pm. Even if we pored over every nook and cranny at the Taj, we were sure it would not take 5 hours. How to kill time?
Enter Babloo, our taxi driver.
'Would you like to see the Mini Taj?' he asked us.
That piqued our interest. First Baby Taj, now Mini Taj? How many Tajs were there?
'Well actually madam, the real Taj is open only from 6am to 6pm. The Mini Taj can be viewed at anytime. Especially at night, during rainy season etc'. Made sense. Where was this midget doppelganger?
'Over at the Meena Bazar' said Babloo. That sounded very romantic. I immediately had visions of quaint shops and cobbled streets selling lovely trinkets....all the Mughal stereotypes I had seen in Bollywood films rushed into my mind.
'Ok. Lets go'
A while later, Babloo brought the taxi to a halt in a small, dirty quadrangle with dotted with small shops and spare parts of vehicles strewn about.
'What are we doing here?' we asked.
'Madam, this is Meena Bazar. You go there, you can see the Mini Taj. I don't take any commission or anything. If you like anything, you can also buy it.' The sign above the shop over yonder read 'Gangotri: U.P.Handloom'. A gentleman emerged and beckoned us in.
With the dawning realisation that we stood at the precipice of a con job, we moved cautiously towards the shop. There was really very little else we could do. The gentleman beamed at us and ushered us in.
'We came to see the Mini Taj' we said feeling more idiotic by the minute. Nodding, the man proceeded to shut the shop door. He pointed at the glass cupboard that stood behind us. As we turned, he turned off all the lights and then turned on the cupboard lights.
'People from all over the world come to see the Taj Mahal. This Taj Mahal is made of 10kgs of marble (I don't remember. It could have been more), was made by 20 sculptors (again, I could be wrong), took 7 months to make and costs 6 lakhs. It is made of pure white marble. See the light coming from inside? Fake white marble is opaque. Real white marble is translucent and glows when light from inside. This is the Mini Taj'.
As the shop lights came back on, we picked our jaws off the floor and looked apprehensively at the shop guy. What next?
'Please come over here sister' he said, leading us to the merchandise displayed at the opposite side. 'What would you like to see? Saris? Bedsheets, footwear? We have saris made of jute, banana fibre and crush proof silk'
Here is where we made a grave error. S, whose home had a mosquito problem, showed a faint interest. Determined salesman that he was, the shop guy latched on to this smidgen of interest. Out came the sheets in bright yellow and red/brown floral patterns. And I don't know how it came about, but S ended up purchasing two bedsheets.
I wandered away from that counter towards the footwear section. Having witnessed the sale of the bedsheets, the salesman here pounced on me hoping to sell me footwear. He showed me some chappals and said that the leather was so good that it repelled insects, bugs and lizards. I suppose he thought that if mosquitoes worked on one sucker, insects and bugs might work on another. But he went too far with the lizards. Even I didn't buy that.
S had buyer's regret written all over her as we stepped out of the shop. 'I don't like these sheets! They're so loud and ugly!'. I simply collapsed in shrieks of laughter. Were there ever two bigger idiots than us this side of the Vindhyas?(considering we lived on one side and were visiting the other, I think we had the subcontinent pretty much covered)
I have since recounted this episode to several people. It gets funnier with each telling. Its been three months since our trip. Time enough to test the world famous, cost effective and eco friendly mosquito repelling sheets. S says that they work. But then she would wouldn't she?!