The Taj Express

I stand in the open doorway of the train, watching the dusty villages and bright yellow mustard fields of India whoosh by. My soon-to-be husband and brother-in-law have finally given up on trying to get me to sit down with them in the seats we snagged when we got on the train earlier that day. There are many more people than seats in the third-class car of the Taj Express, which is clacking its way to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Children sit on their parents’ laps, old women dressed in faded salwar kameez balance atop their suitcases in the aisle, and young men hunch cross-legged in the overhead bins that are meant for luggage. Even though I am one of the few who have a seat, I prefer to stand so that I can see India up close and personal. Besides, it’s exhilarating to stand in the open door of a moving train. I know I could never have this experience in the U.S.

We’re on a day trip to see the Taj Mahal, which is a short train ride from New Delhi where my fiancé and two of his brothers and their families live. My soon-to-be niece, who is eight-years-old, has come with us on this outing. She is quiet, rarely saying a word as she looks out the window at the passing countryside, but I can tell by the expression on her face that, like me, she is taking in all the sights around us. (In my delight at all of the exotic sights, sounds, and smells surrounding me, I feel like I’m eight-years-old, too, not twenty-one.)

Nearing Agra, the tracks wind through a thicket of tall, green trees. I can hear the monkeys chattering as the train approaches and watch with delight as they swing from branch to branch through the trees. Now this is something you never get to see in the States, I think.

Flashback to a couple of days ago: My future sister-in-law and I walk to the small outdoor marketplace near their home to buy some groceries. Men in off-white kurta pajami and women in salwar kameez, with dupattas draped over their heads to protect them from the sun, sit cross-legged on the ground in front of bowls of spices and mounds of fruits and vegetables. I follow my sister-in-law-to-be while she chooses what she wants. I am entranced by the smell of cumin and sun-warmed mangoes that fills the air. I hear a baby cry—but, no, it’s not a baby. It’s a peacock. I watch as he struts through the marketplace, dragging his jewel-colored tail feathers like the train of a gown.

As we move slowly now towards Agra, I think about the peacock’s disconcerting call and the monkeys’ excited chatter, and I wonder what other unusual experiences I will have while I’m in India.

 Along with adventuring, Teresa Louis is also a writing coach. You can reach her at Teresa Louis Write Now.