Friday, June 29, 2012

The Taj Mahal, People!

We just got back from two weeks in India, where I seem to have lost my motivation. I think I left it next to the bathroom sink in the hotel in Lucknow. I wonder if they’ll mail it back?

At one of our hotels, we were eating breakfast in the restaurant when another American sat down at the table next to us. This older gentleman looked at our kids and said, “Wow. Three little ones in India. You’re brave travelers.” Now, I know there are plenty of you out there who wouldn’t use the word “brave” when describing The Intrigue Family, or any other family who would drag their three very young children all over Third World South Asia. To you I quote Billy Joel, “You may be right, I may be crazy.” At this point, we’ve heard it all. There are plenty of naysayers who say, “I’d wait until they’re older and can appreciate it,” or, “I don’t want to raise my Little Explorers in a hotel room.” Luckily for us, for every naysayer, there are a dozen people who support us, even if it’s only so they can read our misadventures on Facebook or this blog. The truth of the matter is, it is hard to travel with small children sometimes, but we have been given an amazing opportunity and I think we’d be even crazier to let it pass by without seizing every chance for travel. It also helps that we’ve become experts on what to pack to make travel with Little Explorers a breeze. I’ll share the information with you for a small fee. Here’s a teaser: It helps if your Little Explorers are awesome. If they aren’t, well, I’m not sure even I can help you with that.

Despite all best efforts, sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Take our day at the Taj Mahal. We got up early on a Thursday and left New Delhi to make the drive to Agra, planning on heading straight to the Taj Mahal, since it’s closed on Friday. I had convinced the entire Intrigue Family to dress in coordinating colors. (Ok, really, I convinced The International Man of Intrigue to wear a blue shirt, which made up about half of the shirts he packed anyway. I made the Little Explorers wear what I picked out.) A picture of The Intrigues in front of the Taj has the potential to be blown up and framed or make a really awesome Christmas card.

Less than ten minutes from the Taj Mahal, it happened. I heard that sickening, wet, awful sound that strikes fear into every mother’s heart. It was coming from directly behind me, where Amelia Earhart was sitting. I was powerless, in the middle row with Arthur Dent on my lap. (I know, carseats. Have you been to India? Then don't judge. Read my rant here.) The International Man of Intrigue was safely ensconced in the front seat, oblivious. I interrupted his conversation with our driver, which was taking place completely in Hindi, to call for emergency help and baby wipes. He said, “Did someone spill?” I said, “You don’t recognize that sound? Amelia Earhart just threw up. All over.” It was at this point that I finally turned around to assess the damages. Yep. Vomit, everywhere. Now, The Intrigue Family is pretty unphased by a good barf. There was a period of time where Gertrude Bell threw up in her plate at least once a week at the dinner table. Unfortunately, that period of time was almost a year, and may have resulted in some of our childless friends remaining childless to this day, but that’s another story. The problem with the current situation was that we were 5 minutes from the Taj Mahal, in a rented van, with a rented driver, and now that van was carrying what looked to be about a gallon of barf. I’ll bet you suddenly find yourself wishing I was doing my usual and referencing poop instead, don’t you?

Calm and collected as (almost) always, we changed plans and headed for the hotel, fingers crossed that our room would be ready. Thankfully, it was, and thankfully, our driver didn’t bat an eye at the mess (which, to continue using the word thankfully, was mostly on the floor mat, Amelia Earhart, and her backpack). After convincing every hotel employee we passed that I didn’t need help carrying Amelia Earhart’s backpack, (It’s covered in vomit, people! You don’t want to help!), we made it safely to the room and got my girl cleaned up. It was at this point my hopes for the perfect family photo at the Taj, with all of us in coordinating, but not matching, outfits were dashed. The disappointment was offset by the revelation that Amelia Earhart had just been carsick and had made a complete recovery, so we were at least going to be able to go to the Taj Mahal as a family.

Less than an hour after turning our van into The Vomit Comet, we rolled up to the parking area at the Taj Mahal! This was the moment everyone who visits India waits for! We got our tickets and got into the little electric shuttle bus that took us the quarter mile or so to the entrance. It’s at this point I had a moment of panic. The temperature in New Delhi and here in Agra had been unseasonably hot. It had been either 44 or 45 degrees Celsius every day since we arrived in India. I am not fluent in Celcius, but I know the weather in Colombo stays in the lower 30’s most days, and that’s on a tropical island. I also know that the locals were so hot that events like the New Delhi Gay Pride Parade were being cancelled due to heat. I didn't dare do the math to find out the actual temperature, but you can. Here I was, about to take my three Little Explorers to stand around on unairconditioned marble. I was wearing Arthur Dent on my back and we were both already soaked with sweat. They are amazing little travelers, but was this asking too much? There was nothing to do but press our luck. Big Bucks, No Whammys!

All of that was taken away when we caught our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. A little history lesson: The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. He loved her so much he wanted to make the most beautiful building in the world to house her earthly body. It’s made of white marble inlaid with precious stones and is perfectly symmetrical. If you are fortunate enough to be in the actual burial chamber when there aren’t many people around, you can hear the wind whispering through—it is said to be the sound of infinity. It took 10 years to build the Taj and another 12 years to build the surrounding buildings and gardens. Soon after its completion, Shah Jahan’s son forcibly took the throne from his father and had him imprisoned in Agra Fort, across town. The Shah’s prison rooms afforded him an unobstructed view of the Taj Mahal, and he spent the rest of his days staring at the Taj and mourning his wife. He had this to say about the Taj Mahal:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.

Yes, beautiful. Pretty much one of the greatest love stories ever told, right up there with Romeo and Juliet and The International Man of Intrigue and Dorothy Gale. You know what? The Taj Mahal totally lived up to its hype. It is breathtaking in its beauty. Even in the sweltering heat, the beauty makes a person want to stop and linger. Amazing inlaid flowers and Arabic script are around every corner. Screens are carved out of marble. The heat also gave us a wonderful gift—a day without too many tourists. We were able to take our time and even catch the whisper of infinity.

In true Intrigue style, the day was a memorable one. From vomit to sweat to one of the most amazing landmarks on the planet, it was a day that will go down in family history. Stay tuned for more Intrigue Family adventures, just as soon as my motivation returns from India.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Bollywood Commercials

I've told you all about our cable TV programming here. What I haven't shared with you are the commercials. They are strange. In India, companies want only the biggest movie stars doing their commercials. I mean, imagine seeing celebrities like Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or Tom Hanks shilling everything from face whitening cream to candy. Now imagine them doing it in the cheesiest way possible. Welcome to Indian TV. Here are a few of my favorite examples:

This commercial starring Priyanka Chopra gets on my nerves and in my head. As near as I can tell, the "chip chip" she hates is shine.

Hands down, the biggest female Bollywood star, Kareena Kapoor, is on every other commercial here. This one is the weirdest. I mean, can you imagine Julia Roberts practically making out with a CGI bear? Check this one out. (You have to scroll down past the first picture to get to the video.)

The number one actor, director, producer, game show host, singer, and dancer, philanthropist, humanitarian, and diplomat in Bollywood is Shahrukh Khan. He's easily the most recognizable person in India, possibly in the world. With an estimated net worth of $600 million (US), the dude is not hurting for cash, but he is the spokesman for at least 25 brands, from paint to Pepsi. Our personal favorite are the Dish TV commercials. Here is the one that we enjoy. It's so catchy that we started calling Arthur Dent "Art Sawaar Hai," which loosely translates to "Arthur is the advantage."

Next time you're bored, just YouTube Indian television commercials. There's something entertaining for everyone.