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Walking to the Taj

Will Self is a brooding English author who I happen to like and admire. In 2008 Self published a book about the relationship between psyche and space called Psychogeography , which proposes that the slow, two footed plod is the best way to observe. Psychogeographers are intent on unraveling the relationship between psyche and space, traversing the axes of sociology, history, and place, not by breezing by on a monstrous space invader of a tour bus, but by tactfully meandering, immersing, and dilly-dallying through and through.

In the spirit of Self and fellow pyschogeographers, I am attempting my own psycho(tic) effort, walking 200 km, or 125 miles from Delhi, to the Taj Mahal in Agra. That is roughly the equivalent of walking from New York to Albany, or from London (Ontario) to Toronto.

Of course, the obvious follow-up question is, “Why”, followed with an exclamation point and a look of mild confusion. The road connecting Delhi and Agra is an ugly, polluted, shithole of a path, lined with cars, autoricks, and animals. Villages are aplenty along the way, as are fruit stands buzzing with flies, and people collect and flow along the sides of the road like sewage. It is without a doubt, one of the most unpleasant roads in India to stride alongside.

So why do it indeed? I can only offer an answer that is equal parts exploration, psychology, and challenge. Firstly, the crazy Indian ads that you see on TV once you get here don’t reflect that approximately 70% of the population is in the villages. To ignore rural India is to ignore over two thirds of the populace. I will be walking through several small towns, as well as two larger cities including the holy city of Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna.

Secondly, there is the notion of the Taj itself, the monument looming 200 km somewhere out there. I am a firm believer that achievement is commensurate with effort - the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. I’ve often wondered what the awe of seeing one of the seven wonders of the world, preceded by a 200 km walk to get there, would feel like.

Thirdly, the idea of a 125 mile solitary walk down a monotonous road in 90 degree weather seems almost masochistic, but I think there are certain mental states you can get in where you can overcome anything, and the end result, much like finishing a marathon, is greater than the sum of its parts.

Logistics: I have every intention of ensuring this a safe journey, and since I am a tall white guy who blends into the scenery like a piece of mutton on rice, I have hired a driver who will accompany me (yes, I am aware there is a certain irony in hiring a driver and walking the entire way). He will meet me every 5-10 km to effectively check my pulse, ensure all cells are operational, and give me a slap on the ass in the right direction (easy since there is only one road). He will also help to arrange ad-hoc accommodations – I know pretty much zero Hindi, except for some pick-up lines Lhotsie taught me, which probably won’t help me here. I’m not sure how long it will take me but I’m anticipating doing 30 km a day which would be roughly seven days.

As Self says, “Walking blows back the years”, it puts you in the same relationship as the past, and the villages in India are indicative of a present that doesn’t look a whole lot different from its past. Is an epic, dusty, perhaps foolhardy walk the average person’s idea of a vacation in India? Hell no, but at the very least, it should give me something interesting to write about – stay tuned.

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