My late Great Aunt Donnie never wanted a job that she couldn’t leave at a moment’s notice in order to travel or have a new experience.

My Great Aunt Donnie on her 91st Bday
My Great Aunt Donnie on her 91st Bday

Years ago, when I first decided to quit my job and travel, Donnie told me I had “the wanderlust:” a condition she was proud to share.

If only I were younger…” Donnie would say, before sharing wonderful stories of her traveling days.

* * *

This past February, Aunt Donnie passed on to life’s next big adventure. Her one wish was to have her ashes scattered across the Rockies.

Whenever I eventually return to the USA, I will fulfill that promise. In the meantime, Donnie is along for my current journey through India, Southeast Asia and beyond.

Since March, Donnie has gone on a puja down the Ganga river, had swim in the Pai River, snoozed under a tree in Khao Yai National Park and visited the Taj Majal.

WHATS A PUJA?  The word puja can be used to describe a wide range of religious or spiritual practices. In the case of a deceased loved one, it usually involves placing their remains in a vessel, saying a prayer and floating them down the Ganges River.


Performing a puja for Aunt Donnie in the Ganges River near Rishikesh, India
Performing a puja for Aunt Donnie in the Ganges River near Rishikesh, India

Getting Donnie Past the Taj Mahal Security Guards

What better way to spend eternity than staring out at the Taj Majal,” I thought.

My plan simple: bring Donnie in, take her on a tour, and leave a handful of ashes under a tree overlooking the Taj Majal. What I didn’t count on was a thorough security inspection by a pair of stern and armed guards.

* * * * * * *

Upon arriving at the Taj Majal’s front gate, the security guards checked everything. First they took out my tripod and laid it on the inspection table. Next, out came a simple set of crayons. There was no doubt in my mind that Donnie was soon to follow.

What is this,” the stern and heavily-armed security guard asked in broken English?

It’s my Great Aunt Donnie’s ashes. She was 91 years old. I want to take her to see the Taj Majal,” I replied.

My words were met with blank stares.

Next, I tried hand gestures. “My aunt. Puja. Like the Ganga. Puja.”


The sun sets behind the Taj Mahal in Agra, India
I wonder if I would have been able to get this shot of the Taj Mahal if I didn’t get delayed for 10 minutes at security

Breaking Through the Language Barrier

This seemed to click, as the guard uttered “Ahh” and moved on to the rest of my bag. Once he was done, the only items on the security table were my tripod, crayons, and Donnie.

“What is this,” they asked again?

“My Aunt. For Puja. Ganga.”

“Where did you get it?”

“At the funeral home. In the USA. Cremation. Ashes.”

More blank stares, as they tried to comprehend why this strange American was taking a box of gray powder into India’s most treasured national monument.

* * * * * * *

Finally, just when it seemed hopeless, the guards’ eyes lit up as they quickly began talking in Hindi. All I understood was:

words words words PUJA words words words GANGA. AHHH! Acha acha ahca.”


Donnie enjoyed this beautiful sunset over the Taj Majal

Now I Understand… But Still, No

Like night becoming day, stern faces were replaced by those of compassion.

Instead of calling for backup, one of the guards now put his arm around me and spoke in a kind and gentle tone.

I’m sorry for your loss. What you are doing is very good.”

Breakthrough or not, Donnie still was not permitted into the Taj Mahal and had to be kept in a nearby storage room. I was just about out of ideas.

These two, no problem,” I said, referring to the crayons and tripod. “But please, I want to take my Aunt to see the Taj Majal.

They debated in Hindi for a moment before ‘secretly’ telling me to put Donnie back in my bag. The other items, however, still had to be stored.


A classic "postcard photograph" of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India
A classic “postcard photograph” of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India

Let’s Go See the Taj Majal!

With my tripod and crayons gone, I exchanged one final round of compassionate smiles with the guards before finally entering the Taj Mahal compound.

From the grassy lawns to the infamous white marble mausoleum and the surrounding buildings, Aunt Donnie saw it all: securely tucked away in my backpack.

I never actually left her ashes at the Taj; it just didn’t feel right. But boy, did she have a nice tour!

If Donnie could have shared her thoughts on visiting India’s most famous monument, it would have gone something like, “Baby, that sure was a grand building! Now let’s go get something to eat!


Monkeys roam the grounds of the Taj Mahal
Donnie loved all animals: especially monkeys and gorillas. She would have had a blast watching these guys play behind the Taj Mahal

Have you ever tried to sneak something past security?
How did it go? Was it worth it?