Virtual Or Real Taj Mahal?

The Taj Mahal, Agra (source: wili_hybrid)

The Taj Mahal, Agra (source: wili_hybrid)

Once, sitting on a bench by the Taj Mahal while waiting for the sunset to kick in, hanba dissected the experience she was busy having. The monument and the landscape surrounding it were spectacular indeed. Sharing the monument with thousands of people, however, was not entirely pleasant. Endless touts pushing expensive paraphrenalia. Pickpockets, classes of school children, numerous khaki-wearing tourists, gold-diggers. Hundreds of people queuing to get the shot of the Taj with the lake in the foreground.

Walking around the area and sitting on the bench, waiting for the sunset, hanba wished the “Taj crowd” would disappear for just ten minutes. It was hard to concentrate, to meditate on the building, amongst all the hustle. This made hanba wonder if the people in the future may prefer a virtual tour of the Taj instead? Here I do not mean just a computer-screen experience; maybe we can create  a “3D-helmet” that gives us a complete spatial experience together with smells and sounds. Or maybe, in the future, we can look at the Taj on a Star Trek style holodeck?

Many people would automatically give the real experience more value than the virtual.  However, it can be questioned if the tout-laden business venture the monument has become can be defined as “real” either. Perhaps the solemnity of this tombstone monument can be better appreciated alone, without the hustle?

Given the chance, we would probably want to see the monument in a natural state. This, however, is impossible. The world has an ever growing number of citizens, many of whom want to travel to the great monuments of civilization.  A single individual cannot see the monuments in an entirely natural state.  In both the “real” and virtual cases, we are bound to be fed an experience provided by business entrepreneurs. It is best to drop the illusion of a “natural state” and make the best of it. Be it the tout-laden reality or the calm but virtual experience.

Hanba is big on lists. Here’s yet another, comparing the benefits of a “real” vs virtual Taj experience:


  • The chance gets a greater role. Perhaps you talk to a stranger and end up having an interesting conversation.
  • You get to experience the culture around the monument, not just the building.
  • You get to see the aging of the monument, which is an important part of the real experience. You get the latest decay update.
  • The weather conditions will vary; you will get a unique experience based on the weather.
  • You support the local enterprises.
  • The real experience is the “default”. It is hard to say you have experienced the monument in today’s world if you have not been there physically.


  • You will not be disturbed, you will be able to focus.
  • It is cheaper than traveling all the way to the monument (this is also better for the environment).
  • While with the virtual tour may not give you a the cultural experience, your architectural experience may be stronger.
  • You will skip the ugly feeling of being exploited by the touts.
  • The net generation is accustomed to seeing virtual, 3D images since childhood. A virtual tour of the Taj can hardly be considered revolutionary for this generation. Furthermore, this generation may not have the same predilection for “real” things that the previous generations have had. In the future, virtual may be the default over the “real”.

When the sun finally set behind the Taj, the wind was soft. The clouds covered most of the vivid colors, but it was still a very beautiful sunset. Flashlights were busy, and  the surrounding tourists were chattering. Tea and bisquits were being sold. Afterwards, all the tourists all headed out to the city at once.


3 responses to “Virtual Or Real Taj Mahal?

  1. Hi Hanba,

    I don’t think virtual could ever compare to real because the former can’t compare to the sensual experience of the latter; and you will always feel as though you’re being deluded. Smell, touch, taste(!), sight and hearing… the fidelity of reality is just astronomical isn’t it? But that aside, I think theres one more very important point – that even though the virtual article is premised upon the real one, they are still two separate things. One doesn’t equate “i’ve been there virtually” with ‘I’ve been there”, that is almost the farthest thing. But perhaps if you have an interest in architecture only it would be very different as opposed to my wanting a sensual experience. But I’m agreed on Mass Tourism, its deplorable, but are you and I not also part of the mass?

    Also, I’d like to ask you about your trip through Asia. Which route did you take and where did you stay? And how much do you think it would cost per day?

    • hey thanks again for the comments! 🙂 hmm..i think the real world is “smelled, touched, tasted, seen and heard” elsewhere, not at the taj, since to me, the taj as such, was not real.. there was fakeness all over .. don’t get me wrong, i thought the place was very beautiful and special. However, I spent a lot of time in India, seeing designated “pretty places” like taj and forts in Rajastan, where it was so obvious that thousands and thousands of Western tourists had been before me. Not before I went to a city not famous for anything and without any official “sights” did I meet the wonderful, real, friendly, awesome people. That’s where i’d have the “smell, touch, taste etc” thing.

      As to the rest of the trip, I spent lots of time in nepal, where the people were so extremely friendly and interesting, and where i still today have most ties. this was a few years ago so i don’t really have an understanding of today’s monetary details, but nepal was also the most affordable of the countries i went to. i stayed in np for several months, then went to india, back to np, tibet, china, mongolia, russia. on my way home to europe i didn’t do any flying. i believe the train from ulaan baatar in mongolia to moscow was like 50 € at the time (04/05)? i stayed both in people’s homes and at guest houses… in the places i stayed longer, i got to know people and got the amazing honor to stay with them. i preferred lingering in places instead of rushing through looking at a bunch of sights just so you can say you’ve been in a place.

      in still more details ?- > hanbablog at

      aww now i got all nostalgic.. i wish i could do all that over again!

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