Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Birthday

Yesterday the difference between my sister and me was shown quite concretely.

My mom asked us if we wanted to wake up early and go see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. I'd already said 'yes,' but Ileana looked at Mom with a look that clearly said, 'are you crazy?'

She went on to say, "The whole point of birthdays is sleeping in."

"Maybe for you," Mom begins, "but—"

"The whole point of birthdays is waking up obscenely early so you can savor them."

And I did wake up early. I woke up at five and worked on a spreadsheet I'm making for MilWordy '12, then terrorized both Ileana and Ioan awake at 5:30.

The driver that took us to Fatehpur Sikri yesterday was outside waiting for us when we strode outside at 6:15, and within fifteen minutes we were at the parking lot for the Taj Mahal. Getting there meant walking on a practically abandoned foggy road for who knew how long until we saw the right turn. Since we couldn't see more than ten feet in front of us, and since it was pitch black, we weren't sure whether or not it was the right place until we saw the LARGE sign that said, "Forbidden Objects in the Taj Mahal."

The list includes guidebooks and passports.

We waited at the ticket booth until about 6:55, crossing our fingers that the sunrise wouldn't happen without us. Everyone in line for tickets seemed to be shivering. I wasn't cold, but my hands made up for that admirably with their debilitating numbness.

We did not see the Taj until we were practically on top of it. One of the things you never see in the pictures are the flowers carved into the marble, or the inlaid semi-precious stones on the walls. Or the writings of the Quran over the doorways in beautiful, flowing script that doesn't look like anything but remarkably sophisticated doodles.

Besides the Taj itself, the main objective is the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal and her husband. Inside the mausoleum no pictures are allowed— but that doesn't mean anything— there are small panes of glass removed from the outside, and people sometimes press their camera up against them to take pictures of the intricate marblework surrounding the two graves.

The fog still hadn't lifted by eight o'clock, and upon meeting a young woman who had been to Romania four years ago and spoke, in her own words, "Baby Romanian," we started up a conversation at the exit to the mausoleum, sitting on the marble inlaid with black designs, and, to be honest… rambling. Heidi and Brandon (her boyfriend), however, listened to us very nicely, almost like Emma, and it was a relief to finally meet someone new who had time to listen. We've missed that a lot— the basic day-to-day conversation with people who haven't seen the exact same thing we've seen all day.

At nine o'clock it was time to head back to the car so we could eat breakfast— all we'd had that morning had been half a banana and two biscuits each, and we were hungry.

After breakfast (omelette and toast with butter and jam), we checked our emails and responded to birthday wishes, (and sent some of our own— Happy birthday, Rowan!), getting up at 12pm to head to the Itimad-ud-Daulah— nicknamed the "Baby Taj." Though it doesn't look like it at all, the Baby Taj is cozy and delicate and is the Taj Mahal's forerunner. It was built for Mumtaz Mahal's grandfather, by his daughter.

After about an hour at the Baby Taj, we headed toward the Red Fort.

This Mughal fort was featured in Jodhaa Akbar (awesome historical movie with Indian Bollywood stars Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan). It was amazing to actually recognize some areas in the Red Fort as scenes from the movie— and as we looked at the real thing, I could imagine the rich splendor of the movie, the characters outfitted in heavily embroidered royal outfits— discussing in the throne room, walking in the courtyard… all in all a very red experience. The stonework is carved intricately, with flowers and honeycomb and zigzags and all sorts of things… and you kind of wonder who has time or money to pay for all this.

There was a mosque at the red fort which was pure white— we had to take our shoes off to go in, and it was absolutely beautiful with the blue sky and the white marble. It was also nice that we were almost completely alone inside the mosque.(XXX?)

After the Red Fort, we headed back towards the Taj Mahal to try and get some pictures of the Taj— with the fog we hadn't been able to get proper pictures even close up, let alone from in front of the fountain in front of it.

After taking a plethora of pictures and videos of the Taj Mahal that was becoming hazy in the fog and distance, we started walking towards it.

At one point we stopped to try and jump in front of the Taj Mahal, taking many pictures while Mom headed off again to see the mausoleum, which I'm sure was much more crowded than it had been this morning.

With beautiful pictures and tired feet, we headed back to the car, ignoring the various boys with Taj Mahal keychains, and the men with camel-drawn carts asking us if we wanted a ride, and the various tuk-tuk drivers.

At the hotel, we ordered dinner and dessert.

The food was delicious (something sometimes hard to find in the world), and my family sang "La Multi Ani" to me as everyone in the hotel stared proudly. Instead of blowing out candles (the boy the hotel sent out to find them had not yet returned), I blew a kiss to the camera.

But one last thing:

As we waited for the food to come, I talked with two women from China and told them about our trip.

"WHAAA!" one of them exclaimed, covering her head with her hands, "Fifteen months! That's crazy! Don't you miss your friends? Your family?"

"Sometimes." I said, smiling, "Today especially."

I wish you were all here!

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