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Friday, December 28, 2012

The Taj Mahal

So we did go to the Taj on Christmas Day. Getting there and back was a royal pain and it took forever, so we didn’t get to see anything else but I don’t want to write about that. I want to write about the the Taj because being there was amazing. I guess it’s one of those things that you just have to see to appreciate. It is bigger and more magnificent than what I thought it would be based on pictures I had seen. And there are some terrific pictures of it out there. We took a bunch too and I thought I’d share them with you here, so let’s take a “tour,” shall we?

First, here is a nice map of the whole complex to help you follow along, courtesy of the Smithsonian Magazine:

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We entered the complex through the East Gate (2 above, left below), went through the forecourt (4 above) and found ourselves in front of the Great Gate (7 above, right below), which is made of marble and red sandstone, decorated with semi-precious stone inlays and calligraphy.

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Even though it’s called a “gate,” inside the Great Gate is a room which is kinda dark and as you enter it, you immediately see the Taj beautifully framed by the Mughal style arch.

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Then you step out and get a full view of the Taj and the Mughal gardens around it. The gardens are said to represent heaven on earth. The view is truly breathtaking, or at least it was for me. I remember thinking, “Wow, he must have really loved her!” because it was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, who died delivering their 14th child. Of course, he was the head of a very large empire and he could afford to do something like that but the point is, he didn’t have to. She was already gone. He chose to do it and that’s beautiful. Because the Taj is a true masterpiece, evidenced by the millions who make the trip to see it. We went on Christmas Day thinking there would be less people because Christians are a minority in India but it was packed. Go figure…

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On each side the Taj is flanked by two matching buildings (pictured below, and 13 and 14 on the map up top)  constructed in the same style/materials as the Great Gate – one is a mosque and the other was a guest house.

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The Taj itself is made of white marble and is also decorated with semi-precious stone inlays and calligraphy.  It is surrounded by 4 tall marble minarets. Here are some close ups:

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It backs onto the Yamuna river, the largest tributary to the Ganges.

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We did not go inside the Taj because the lines were very long. See those people on the balcony and below it - they are all waiting to get in.

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We did get some nice people to take a picture of all of us in front of the Taj though.

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So there you have it, a tour of the one and only Taj Mahal. Hope you liked it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Warmest wishes from our (temporary) home in India to yours! Hope Santa brings you everything you wished for, if you’ve been good that is, and that you have all the love, health and happiness your hearts desire.  Our holiday photo was taken by the awesome Dani from Hot Pot. Thanks so much Dani, I look forward to returning the favor!

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We are doing well. I just spent most of the day preparing our holiday meal, which is not very traditional. We are having a beef tenderloin with Russian and Shopska salads and eggplant, fresh mozzarella and tomato stacks. Other than the meal, we’ll take it easy tonight because Paul and Nia were in the US for a week to visit Paul’s parents for the holidays and just got back a few hours ago. They are awfully jetlagged but we already opened our gifts and we must have been nice because we got some really cool ones.

Tomorrow, we are going to make one more attempt to go to Agra and see the Taj Mahal. It’s been 9 months since we moved to India and we still haven’t made it there, which is wrong on so many levels, so we are going to try to do something about that. So stay tuned for pictures from the Taj.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Block-printed Awesomeness

I was fascinated by this Indian craft when I fist saw it done in Jaipur back in August and have been meaning to blog about it but kept running out of time. I finally managed to carve a little time for it, so let’s get to it.

People have used blocks to print on fabrics all over the world for centuries but it’s an art/craft that has been largely replaced by machines. In case you are wondering, when I say blocks, this is what I mean:

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In India block-printing it is very much alive and well. It’s not that there aren’t machine-printed fabrics here but many people do like the hand-printed ones better and that keeps the craft alive. We got a demonstration of it at a block-print fabric and craft store in Jaipur and this is how it works:

First, you get the wood blocks (stamps) and the colors ready.

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You pick your design (we picked an elephant) and colors. The blocks the dude is holding below have already been inked.

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The more colors you want, the more stamps you need and the more skill is required because you basically layer the colors on top of the first block-print which gives you the overall shape. You have to be careful and align the stamps just right, because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a messy design. Of course, these guys were pros and did this elephant design in a couple of minutes. When they are making a big item like a table cloth or bed cover, several people line up, each with the respective block/stamp and stamp their color/shape in succession.

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After you add all the color layers, you dip the fabric in a special solution, which fixes the design and changes the colors a little.

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Here are some wonderful light quilts made of block-printed silk and stuffed with wool. Those things felt so heavenly to the touch that I don’t know how I didn’t buy one right then and there. Actually, I remember now, it’s because it was ungodly hot in Jaipur when we were there in August. I am definitely going back to rectify that. The quilts come in many different colors and designs but I fell in love with the blues, made using natural indigo.

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I did not leave the store empty-handed though – I did buy this cotton tablecloth and napkins set.

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And have since acquired a few more cotton block-printed items from markets in Delhi: a couple of bed covers and a wrap-around skirt. If you look closely at the designs, you notice slight imperfections from where the stamps meet. And if you know me, you’ll know that I am a little bit of a nitpicker perfectionist and things like that bother me more than they should. Interestingly, now that I know how block-printing is done, I find those little imperfections special – they remind me that we are all human and thus perfectly imperfect. I’ve also got a few blocks – a paisley, an elephant and a peacock, hoping to use them to make cards one day.

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Finally,  here are block-printed fabrics in a myriad of designs and colors.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bye, Bye, Binky!

Max has some news to share:

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It wasn’t easy and the first three nights were downright dreadful. I didn’t want to cut the binkies because I felt it was a mean thing to do to the items that had given my baby boy more comfort than I realized but it seemed like if I didn’t do something radical he was going to suck on those suckers for the rest of his life. So out came the scissors and we had 5 binkies around the house that looked like this:

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After we cut them, we didn’t limit his access to them. We let him have them as much as he wanted, which wasn’t much at all. He was very puzzled and upset about them because they didn’t work. He did carry them around the first couple of days. He would put them in his mouth and then take them out and examine them very carefully. He couldn’t understand what happened to them. He would talk to them and about them when they weren’t in his hands but less and less so as the days went on. He doesn’t seem to be talking about them anymore. Perhaps he has even forgotten about them, which is such a relief but boy was it hard at first.

Next up, potty training… If you guys and gals have any great ideas to share in that department, I am all ears.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nine

Her Cuteness turned 9 a couple of weeks ago. Her birthday was 10 days after I got back to India, so I didn’t have much time for organizing. We had a little party for her at the bowling alley on the embassy enclave. Her school friends came and had a great time. I was all intent on decorating the room where her party was going to be with streamers and tissue paper flowers. Some of her friends were already there when I started and they really wanted to help, so I let them. They ended up doing all the decorating and had a ton of fun in the process. Then they had pizza and bowled. After that they decorated cupcakes. Nia wanted to have cupcakes at the party and take some to school as well, so I ended up making 100 cupcakes that weekend. I was going to decorate the ones for the party but then I was kinda running out of time and decided to let the kids do it instead. Best. Idea. Ever. I just made a couple of kinds/colors of frosting and brought several different types of sprinkles and the girls had a blast. They were definitely sugar high as a result but they needed the energy to help me take the party decorations down when the party was over. So, admittedly, I was a bit hands-off with the party this year but it turned out great. It could be that Nia and her friends are growing up and are at an age when they actually want to do these things. It was nice to see the girls helping and having a blast at the same time. Wonder how long this phase will last?

Anywhoo, here’s the birthday girl bowling. It does look like she’s aiming for her feet but that’s how she rolls and, believe it or not, her feet were no worse for the wear.

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And here she is making a wish

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Instead of gifts, we decided to ask her friends make a donation of their choice and help Indian girls in need. We stole borrowed the idea from one of her classmates, who had recently had a birthday. We collected about $200, which Paul and I are going to match and donate the whole amount to a girls’ school in Uttar Pradesh. We’d very much like to make the donation in person, so Nia can go and meet with the girls but have to see when we can make that happen as the school is about 4 hours away. It should be a neat experience and we look forward to it.

She did get gifts from us, of course, and her favorite was her new scooter. She’d been asking for one ever since we moved to India because all the kids on the compound use scooters to move around. We had sort of promised her and when I was in the US, I got her one. She loves it and is scooting on it all the time.

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