Miami Globe Trotter: ‘I went to India, but didn’t see the Taj Mahal’

Hiking trails in Munnar (Kerala, India) maze through lush green tea plantations.
Hiking trails in Munnar (Kerala, India) maze through lush green tea plantations.
Hiking trails in Munnar (Kerala, India) are like a maze through lush green tea plantations. Jamie Servidio // Contributing Photographer

I went to India, but didn’t see the Taj Mahal. Should I be upset?

At first, I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be traveling to see the Taj Mahal during my time in India. People travel from all over the world to stand in awe before this particular manmade structure. To go or not to go – that, quite literally, was the question.

After weighing my options, I came to the conclusion that staying in southern India was the more practical. The MV Explorer (our ship) ported in Cochin, so if I wanted to see the Taj, I would have to take a flight to Agra. I spent so much time traveling in other ports that I decided it was time to stay put and save the money.

Most will argue that Semester at Sea is a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity, so seeing the Taj Mahal is an absolute must. I would argue a different method of travel.

Instead, I went to Munnar and spent three days hiking and camping through the tea plantations. Before Semester at Sea, I didn’t even know Munnar existed. It certainly does not attract the same crowd as the Taj Mahal, and for that, I was thankful.

For those three days, I retreated to nature, syncing my breath to the fresh, crisp air. Each morning I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to catch the sunrise. We hiked in the darkness to a higher altitude from our campground until we were above the clouds.

I sat silently, surrounded by only the sounds of nature.

We hiked all day through the lush greenery and ended the day by camping under a sky of seemingly endless stars. Each day was a rich 24 hours. I found myself eager to wake up and start the cycle all over again.

While admiring my surroundings, I truly realized where I was. I was in India surrounded by the most breathtaking natural environment I have ever experienced.

I was in India, but I was not at the Taj Mahal.

So often on this trip I’ve felt obligated to turn my travels into a checklist: the places I’ve gone, the sights I’ve seen, the Instagrams I’ve posted. When travel turns into a matter of fulfilling expectations, the culture gets lost. You saw a country, but did you really experience it?

I’ve learned it is nearly impossible to experience an entire country in six days, so why rush it? Taking time to really explore a small part of a country – in my case, India – is a much more fulfilling method of travel.

And then again, who says I’ll never be back in India? Until next time!