Pick a place you’ve always wanted to see. Somewhere you dream of travelling. Now close your eyes and visualize being there. Here, let me give you an example.
When I close my eyes and think of visiting the ancient pyramids in Egypt, there are sand dunes as far as the eye can see. A few strands of my windswept hair graze my face, the breeze a comforting caress as the sun beats down from above. I see a camel in the distance, and beyond that, between the mounds of sparkling sand stand the Pyramids of Giza.
Your turn… Yes, I really want you to close your eyes and try.
Now let me ask you something; did you see any people there or was it just you? Let’s try one more.
I’m in a lush garden, a few pigeons fly above me as I walk along a cobbled path. There is silence all around, as there should be, save for the occasional chirp from the depths of the many trees whose generous branches provide me with shade. The sound of gushing water reaches my ears as I look up to see a long, rectangular pool with fountains placed at perfect intervals. They lead my eye to a vision of beauty beyond compare. The white dome gleams under the touch of the first rays of a new day and all I can do is stare in awe. The Taj Mahal, pure and untouched, a bitter-sweet reminder that life may go on, but the memory of true love lives on as well.
Okay, so I’m a hopeless romantic. Sue me.
The point is, when I imagine visiting a place, be it Santorini, the Amazon, Ireland etc., there are no other people there. It’s just me. So when I finally went to see the Taj Mahal last year, boy was I in for a surprise.
The tour guide made my family “look down until you are in the perfect position to see the Taj for the first time… No, no, no… No peeking… Okay now! Look up!”. I did and it was like a punch to the gut. I was disappointed. People. Lots and lots of people. Everywhere. Noise. Everywhere. If there was litter on the premises I would have really lost it.
I don’t even think I focused on the monument. My eyes were immediately drawn to the mass of people. My ears frantically tried to shut out the chatter as my perfect vision came crashing down around me. Immediately feeling guilty about being disappointed, especially as our guide analysed our faces, I plastered a look of what I hoped was amazement on my face. I was crushed.
Yes, I know it’s a popular tourist destination, and thus I should have expected a large number people. I don’t know why I didn’t. Looking back, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
But it’s a mausoleum. I didn’t expect to be doing cheesy poses and see people fighting over prime photo angles. Moreover, the fountains weren’t bubbling and scaffolding surrounded two of the minarets, with people working to preserve and refresh the stone’s natural lustre.
My solution? I grabbed the camera, started to walk slowly and click away. People say that you should put the camera down and experience things because it takes away from being present in a situation. I usually agree. However, in that atmosphere, it helped shut out the sounds I didn’t want to hear by forcing me to focus on the visuals. Something similar to tunnel vision, I suppose. Blocking out the throngs, I started looking for the beauty I knew was there. It worked. I meandered through the complex, only focusing on the crowds long enough to make sure I didn’t loose sight of my family.
Strolling through the gardens on our way to the exit, with me lagging behind, I turned back and stopped dead in my tracks. There it was: the cobbled path, the branches overhead, the dome in the sunlight, and very few people in my vicinity. At this point, the constant hum of the hoards had become white noise. I felt my eyes well up as I felt the magnitude and perfection of the Taj Mahal for the first time. That was the moment I fell in love and it was perfect.
On the same trip we went to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Being me, I convinced the family to go on a desert safari. I’m sure you can work out the picture I had in my head. I know you won’t be surprised that I was yet again let down. This time there was far less noise and WAY more litter. Well, out came my trusty camera and lo and behold, I found it again. My perfect moment. Just me, the sand and the silence.