Category Archives: monuments and palaces

Encountering the Taj–a tale of two kiddos

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Our trip to the Taj Mahal was a tale of two kiddos. If only I could have cloned myself into two parents!

Both initially posed for obligatory shots with mom.

  

But Kaden was the kid who really embraced the spirit of the Taj Mahal.

She took at least as many photos as I did, and she was captivated by the designs of the structure and its beauty.

Although we kept swapping cameras, so I’m not entirely sure which shots are hers, these pictures really captured her eye for design and her interest in the details of the monument.

    

   

  

  

When in the Taj Majal itself, we had to either go barefoot or wear these shoe covers. Kaden chose shoe covers, Carson chose barefoot.

   

While Kaden enthusiastically embraced the Taj Mahal, Carson fell apart. The day before, we got up early, took a flight, then drove for 9 hours with many stops. Then the next morning we got up before dawn to see the Taj Mahal. It took just one silly comment from his sister for Carson to have an absolute melt down temper tantrum just as the Taj Mahal came into sight.

He whined, he complained, he cried through our entire visit at the Taj Mahal. And solo parenting, I was in charge of all of it.

    

The only way I could figure out how to deal with his horrible moods was to strategically sit him in various locations and let him sulk and sob while we took in the sites. In this picture up to the right, he was carry on so dramatically that a security guard came up to him to see what was the matter. I told the security guard that perhaps he could talk some sense into him.

   

Then, miraculously, as suddenly as it started, it was over. On our way out of the Taj Mahal, we spotted some green parrots in the trees. After looking at the parrots, we left the Taj gates and suddenly he was fine. Go figure.

With the histrionics, the kiddos differences in the kiddo’s interest continued to vary. After breakfast and a quick swim at the hotel, we visited this shop that demonstrated how the inlaid marble in the Taj Mahal is constructed. Kaden had such  a fascination that she took many photos and asked many questions about the artisan process.

  

 

The above flowers, for example ,are actually up to 40 different pieces of precious stones inlaid into the marble. One person can make only 2 flowers in a day.

While Kaden was learning these facts, Carson was showing his WWE wrestling cards to the store clerks!

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Exploring Agra and Jaipur with friends!

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Fresh out of school, we joined the Varvarigos family on a trip to Agra and Jaipur!  My friend Kathryn’s parents were visiting from Seattle, and we were so grateful to join them on this journey. We couldn’t visit India and not go to the Taj Mahal, and it was so much more fun to go with friends.

We started our journey at the Dehli airport, where we boarded a van that felt like it had stepped out of the 1970s and started the five hour drive to Agra.

The kids took over the back seat and became fast friends. Carson and Ducky enjoyed playing motorcycle games on the I-Pad, and Kaden was very sweet with four year old Gogo. Here she is showing him the Wild Kratts show.

  

We arrived in Agra much later than we hoped due to the long drive. No swimming time that evening! The kids collapsed into bed and all too soon it was 5:30 Easter morning. Time to rise and shine and head to the Taj Mahal! We got to the Taj that early because of the heat and the crowds, plus we had a long ambitious schedule for our day that would end us in Jaipur by dinner time.

As we arrived at the Taj Mahal grounds at sunrise (6 a.m.), I was shocked to see that the local park was FILLED with local people enjoying the morning. There were hundreds of kids and adults playing cricket, relaxing under trees and visiting with one another. When the heat of the day gets to be over 100 degrees, I guess you take advantage of the one time in the day that you can be out and enjoying the weather!

Right at the Tajgate (above), we found some locals engaged in prayer.

Once we gained entrance to the Taj, our tourguide (in the white hat), gave us a brief history of the monument. This trip was my second visit to the Taj. The first was my visit to India as a teenager. That first visit I remember being bowled over by the Taj’s beauty. With two kiddos with me, I was a bit distracted this time, but the sheer beauty of the place is hard to describe.

We all stopped to pose at the entrance gate.

 

The entrance has scriptures of the Koran written around its edges. The architect designed the letters to be bigger on the bottom and smaller at the top so that from a distance they appear to be exactly the same size.

The white building, the one we think of as the Taj itself, is a mausoleum. It was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died during the birth of their 14th child. It is considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, which is a blend of Persian, Turkish, and Indian styles.

Throughout the day the Taj Mahal seems to change colors, from pink in the morning, to yellow mid day. On a full moon, it looks pure white. Always it seems like it is floating above the earth.

Even at six in the morning, the crowds were quite heavy. I can’t imagine the crush of people mid day, and the heat!

  

Above, the Taj is flanked by mosques on both sides. This one here is an actual mosque. The other side hosts an identical looking mosque that is actually a shell of a building–placed to provide absolute symmetry. Amazing!

  

Behind the Taj is the Yamuna River, one of two holy rivers in India (the Ganges being the other one). Behind the Taj, the king had hoped to build a black Taj that was an exact replica of this one for his own body. But his son put a stop to that and instead the king is buried inside the white Taj Mahal next to his wife. His casket is the only part of the Taj that is not perfectly symmetrical since his burial was not a part of the original design.

Mumbai, Oh My….

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When our responsibilities, we headed into Central Mumbai to do some sightseeing. While I had really, really hoped to see the Elephanta Caves, it took a long time to arrange a meeting with the TISS director and we were only able to get down into Mumbai at 5:30. First stop in any Mumbai tour–the Gateway of India. The Gatheway was built to honor British Royalty at the turn of the century. It is right at the edge of the sea.

  

Above is the first Taj Hotel, located right next to the Gateway of India. The Taj is one of the fanciest chains of hotels in India. It was built by an Indian businessman who was turned away from a British hotel. The Taj claims to allow anyone in it’s doors–if you have the guts to do so. They are very fancy, intimidating places!

  

Some people sitting by the Gateway of India. The guy in the white outfit was really giving me a look!

This guy was shouting “Samosa chat! Samosa chat!” If only we could eat street food and not get sick. They looked delicious.

Sunset at Nariman Point.

  

This section of land by the sea is also called the Queen’s Necklace was the lights come on and dot the curved bay.

   

As we drove about town, we saw this Wedding Chariot. Plus some gorgeous British architecture.

  

It is kind of sad that the most beautiful buildings in Mumbai are emblems of British dominance. Below is the Victoria Railway Station. It is now an official historic site.

Hali Aji Mosque–right at the edge of the sea.  You can only reach the mosque during low tide via a small causeway. The place is famous for snacks and juices at night for locals.

These horse rides reminded me of the carriages in New York’s Central Park. They paraded around the Gateway of India area.

We ended a very long day in fabulous fashion–an INCREDIBLE seafood dinner at one of the best seafood restaurants in Mumbai: TRISHNA

White Salmon–to die for

  

One of the best garlic butter sauces I have EVER had.

We thought our night was done, but then we saw a street lined with clothing stalls, just closing up for the night. Using the camera-as mirror trick, Kim and I ended up with $4 shirts. Leti got the steal of the day. Three elephant handbags for the price of one!

  

We left for Bangalore the next day after more meetings and a bit of shopping. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mumbai. Although I did LOVE the food that I had there. I think if I returned I would try to focus my visit on eating in as many fabulous places as I could! I also appreciated that the city was built to be a large city. The roads were the appropriate size for the traffic. The sidewalks were in better shape. Bangalore is a garden hamlet that has exploded into a large city and completely lacks the infrastructure to do so–the roads are too small, the water is insufficient. But still, I was happy to return to Bangalore–my home away from home!

Penn State faculty take on Bangalore!

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Kim and Leticia, my friend/fellow professors at Penn State joined me here in Bangalore for a business/sightseeing trip. They  planned their trip in India to last only SIX days due to commitments back home. Quite a whirlwind tour.   They arrived at 2:30 in the morning.  They met the kids when they awoke for school and then bravely joined me in my yoga class by 9 a.m. Then we headed off to see some B’Lore sights. First stop: Nandi the Bull

Kim and Leti got blessings from the Hindu priest at the Nandi statue

  

We also visited the Ganesh that is supposedly made out of Ghee (butter). But I swear it looked like stone to us.

  

Then I showed them the bats in the nearby park! Flying foxes!

Kim and Leti had the misfortune of being here on the day that my driver situation self destructed. After Nandi the Bull we were to visit Tipu’s Fort and Tipu’s Palace. But  instead, the driver started heading to the other side of town. We gave up on the sightseeing and decided to head to the Taj West End for a delicious buffet lunch at Mynt. Below are two photos from the Taj Grounds.

We then set out to do a bit of shopping. But the driver got lost again heading to Commercial Street–one of the biggest landmarks of Bangalore. We just had time to stop in at our favorite bedspread store.

Back home we spent some quality time with the two new additions to our neighborhood–a one month old Golden Retriever puppy named Angel

And  a three month old Golden puppy named Flash!  We love them both. But quite the different personalities–a newborn and a mischievous toddler!

   

Kaden’s lens

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It has been fascinating to see what Kaden finds interesting in our travels in India. Here are some of my favorite shots that she has taken so far.

Swimming pool at the Lemon Tree--our home for the first 10 days

Dada waiting for Rafiq the driver at the Lemon Tree

Ice cream at Baskin and Robbins. One of her most favorite places. She especially likes Cotton Candy, Banana and Strawberry, Cupid's Delight

Playground at Cubbon Park

    

Majarajah's Palace in Mysore

   

More scenes of Mysore

Colors at the Devraj Market in Mysore

  

Goa

  

Baby Caur in Rajiv Ghandhi National Park on safari

  

Hammock outside of our villa in Goa

Hanging out in Jew Town (yes, that’s really what it’s called)

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On our last day in Kochi, we hired a car/driver to visit the historic area of town called Mattancherry. We visited “Jew Town”, the area of town that has the oldest synagogue in India. They didn’t allow photos, but here is a picture from the internet of the inside of they synagogue. The chandeliers were very unusual and the blue tiled floor was beautiful. While this area used to be the largest Jewish population in the country, the synagogue now only has 6 families attending. For some ceremonies, this synagogue must rely on Jewish tourists to have enough people to properly conduct the rituals.

We also visited the Dutch palace (to the right). It was half under renovation and not really worth seeing. Then we walked around Jew Town, with tons of shops (above). We got some fun treasures including a new Elephant tea cozy, a pashmina, and some gifts. We found a lovely European cafe (below) where we had Swiss Cake and some delicious drinks before continuing our shopping.

  

On the way back to the hotel, the driver suggested that we stop at the Folklore Museum. The building was pieced together with parts of old buildings. The whole museum is the private collection of one man. Very extensive!

   

Lots of statues and great masks for dance and theater performances!

  

The top floor was a beautiful auditorium for performances. Would have been great to see one here!

  

  

Sunset at the Chinese Fishing Nets

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The first night at the conference, I wanted us to head into Fort Cochin to do a bit of sightseeing. I didn’t realize our hotel was so far away from everything! We hired a cab, which was a rather junky car. Air conditioning was an extra 100 rupees or $2). On the way, we saw a fantastic set of elephants along the way though, headed to a big temple celebration.

  

The elephants were beautiful, but unfortunately this temple celebration also included fireworks and cannons that lasted for an hour–at 10:00 at night and then again from 5-6 in the morning–TWO NIGHTS in a room. And the hotel sounded like it was being bombed each night!

When we go to Fort Cochin we had trouble finding our way. We had one of those annoying vacation moments when we’re hot, tired, we are lacking a map and we just are wandering aimlessly down yucky streets wondering what the fuss is about.We did come upon an old Catholic Basilica. As it was Saturday evening, they were holding mass in the local language.  People were spilling out of of the back of the church listening to the homily when we arrived.

When then backtracked to the waters and finally found our way to the beautiful pathway that lines the seashore of Fort Cochin.  The coast is lined with Chinese Fishing nets.

Fisherman lay out their catches along the walk. The adventurous buy the food and take it to one of the huts along the short and have them fry it up on the spot!

  

We were lucky to get there just in time for the sunset.

  

On the way back to the car, Carson wanted to do some climbing in a local park.

Then it was time to head back to the hotel for a fancy dinner on the back veranda.