The journey to the Taj Mahal
Having narrowly escaped an untimely demise on more than one occasion, it had become painfully clear to Spud that he had to escape the chaos of Delhi and head to a more serene place: the ancient city of Agra in search of the Taj Mahal.
Agra was the Mughal capital and was used as its center of power since the early 1500's. The Emperors of the time constructed a number of amazing architectural achievements in the area. Aside from the fine monuments, more iimportant to Spud was that it was also home to numerous pollution control laws and as such the sky over the city was blue, unlike the perpetual grey muslin that seemed to engulf Delhi.
It was very dangerous to walk along the streets in Delhi as the traffic whizzed by in an endless blur of activity. The roads were shared by everything imaginable, from Water Buffalo, to Elephants, Diesel belching buses to grossly overloaded tricycles on steroids, cabs and cars, to Bicycle rickshaws (known by their pilot as the Indian Helicopter). Spud needed transport, so he flagged down a tuk-tuk.
A tuk-tuk is a three wheeled covered rickshaw with a 2 or 4 stroke engine that runs on natural gas. Drivers swarm around town narrowly avoiding the other traffic (most of the time at least) in search of a fare. The highly competitive market meant that Spud had numerous offers for a ride as soon as his hand went up.
The tater made a deal with one of the drivers and then hopped into the back. The tater noted the absence of doors and seat belts and began to rethink his decision.
By then, it was too late as the driver zoomed into the chaotic wave of humanity
Horns blasted in endless random bursts as the little machine sped thru the streets. The tater rolled around helplessly on the back seat, tossing from side to side; hoping that he would not be launched out into the melee.
Amazingly enough, the tuk-tuk arrived in Agra unscathed. Spud on the other hand was covered in bruises from head to toe from the bumpy ride.
Somewhat dazed, Spud emerged from the back of the tuk-tuk and glanced upward. Rising above a massive gate, stood the unmistkable profile of the Taj Mahal.
The perfectly symmetrical white marble mausoleum, exquisitely inlaid (pietra dura) with thousands and thousands of semiprecious stones, was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan supposedly as a memorial to his second wife who died while giving birth to their 14th child. Spud would learn from the locals however, that plans for the Taj had it being built as a massive laundromat to handle the couple's tremendous load of dirty diapers.
Whatever the reason, this remarkable engineering and architectural masterpiece was begun in 1631 and took 22 years and 20000 people to construct.
The Taj Mahal is considered one of the wonders of the world and the India government knows it too. They take full advantage of its tourism draw, that they charge foreigners a whopping 37.5 times more than the locals for admission to the complex. With rates like that, the Taj probably accounts for the majority of India's Gross National Product.
Well Spud didn't travel half way around the world for nothing, so he dug into his wallet for the 750 Rupee admission. With ticket in hand, Spud approached the gate where a small group of officials were searching everyone who entered the grounds. Absolutely paranoid about possible terrorist attack, vandalism and litter, the guards were not letting practically anything get through.Fortunately, Spud did his homework and was aware of these stringent policies. As such, he was practically nude, wearing only a ceremonial turban and a smile. A surly guard at the door refused to let the potato enter though, pointing out that food was strictly forbidden inside.
Being somewhat bummed from being refused admission even after paying for his ticket, the frustrated side dish went to a nearby rooftop restaurant to drown his sorrws in a Kingfisher beer and admire the Taj from afar.
It was there that Spud spotted him: that pointy-headed dwarf from the Travelocity commercials that had been claiming to be the world's most travelled inanimate object.
The tater knew that goofball had only been jet-setting for a few years and was nothing more than a fraud. Spud knew that he was the undisputed king of all inanimate travellers having scoured the globe continually since the late '80's. The tato wasn't going to stand for this rubbish and walked over to confront the racketeering runt.
The gnome glanced up at Spud and could see the displeasure on the potato's face.. He knew who Spud was, and laughed at the carbohydrate. "I get to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and it doesn't cost me a thing", the the smug scammer smirked. "I have two things you'll never have, Potato: A corporate sponsor and a slick marketing department!"
Spud clenched his fist and prepared to perform some free 'dental work' on the arrogant pygmy, when out of the shadows emerged two monstrous no-necked goons. The deceitful dwarf had bodyguards!!
The men swept up Spud's nemesis and disappeared back into the shadows. The potato was furious! 'Next time won't be so easy..." Spud pledged to himself...