So yeah, we went to the Taj Mahal. Love story between Shah Jahan and his 3rd wife yields large white mausoleum. She had 14 children. Guess how many the first two wives bore? Zero. Yup, she’d be my favorite wife too.
We took some generic pics in front of it, so be on the lookout for the Anderson family Christmas card. I’ve never been a fan of such pictures for holiday greetings. Like Halloween is the one time girls can dress as skanks under the pretense of being a cat, Christmas is the one time you can shove your life down everyone’s throat under the pretense of sending cheer. I mean, really, let’s shout a little bit louder, “What did you do this year, suckers?”
Besides, everyone and their mother has a shot in front of the Eiffel Tower/Statue of Liberty/World Landmark of your choice. They all look exactly the same. You are trying so hard because you know this it, this is the picture. Everything has to be perfect. Fix your hair, check your teeth. Your trip could have sucked, but as long as you have a solid Facebook prof pic in front of a wonder of the world, your social status is set for at least 6 months. But it all comes down to that one shot, so get a good look of ours:
That picture, does not sum up that day one bit. Rather, I default to this one to illustrate the day:
My dad hired a driver and a van that left at 7 a.m. to take us the 3-hour trip from Delhi to Aggra, home of the Taj. The hotel staff must have pitied my siblings, Deirdre and me because they opened their breakfast buffet at 6:00 even though it doesn’t open until 7:30. This was a big win, because we kids knew had we skipped breakfast we weren’t getting anything until dinnertime, as lunch interferes with touring. We all stuffed our faces with naan, hashbrowns and tropical fruit and instructed Deirdre to do the same.
The Thalananys met us in the lobby and we were off. Our driver had an interesting playlist, he was a fan of Hindi rap and 2007 Akon singles. There was already a hustle and bustle about Delhi. When the Indian rap was playing I felt like I was in a movie: Opening credits rolling, me looking out the window at the the sights that rolled past us as India wakes up for the day.
Upon arrival in Aggra we parked kind of far away and had to figure out how to get to the Taj from there. Some guys driving autos and some other guys with a horse and carriage competed for the job to take us to the Taj.
“You guys want to take the auto or a horse?” my dad asked.
The option of a dinky yellow and green three-wheeled car versus a horse and buggy driven by an adorable 4-year-old Indian boy is like asking a kids if they want Kashi or Cocoa Puffs for breakfast.
“The horse!” Elizabeth said it first. Way more fun.
The horse it was. We hired two to take our group of 10. The dads got off and bought tickets along the way. It took us a little bit further and then stopped. The drivers told us this is where we got off.
“Wait, I still don’t see the Taj, though. Are we close?” My mom asked.
“Yup, you get off and walk from here.” The driver told us. We’d only gone a quarter mile.
We paid the drivers anyway, but realized that we somehow missed the part about the free shuttle that takes you to the Taj. So there you have it, the first time we got played in India.
We walk a bit further and arrive at the entrance. There are security checks, ones for Indians and Non-Indians. We obediently split with the Thalananys, pass through the check, and wait to regroup on the other side.
I hear yelling from behind me. Rosemary is having an exchange with the security guard.
“kjahdsfjkadsfjk taxes asdkjjhaskdjfhalkjsd taxes! oiucsmvdgafg !”
Hindi is a funny language to me. There are a lot of words that they just take from English that are pronounced exactly the same. At least when other people like the French do it, they struggle, They can’t get the “H” of hamburger so it comes out more like “‘ambergair.” But on the safety video of our Air India flight, you could make out the words perfectly: “kadfkjhdfljadfh oxygen mask akjjhakdkjjadjfaldl seatbelt akdfakjha;fhjfks floatation device.”
I turn to ask Elizabeth what’s going on.
“They don’t think we’re Indian and say we need to buy foreigner tickets,” she explained, “unless we show them our ID cards.”
ID cards? What is this, Nazi Germany? I ask our guide, Bharat (which actually means “India” in Hindi so I will henceforth refer to him as Mr. India) why they don’t think the Thals are indian. He explained that to the Indian eye, the Thals are clearly Western. They walk, talk, and dress differently. The ticket for Indian residents at the Taj is 15 rupees, about 27 cents. The price for foreigners is 750 rupees, just over $14.00. It’s quite the discount if you qualify.
The Thals are indeed Indian, and they have an apartment in Delhi for when they return to visit. Rosemary told the security guard that it is BS how they are being profiled when they pay taxes to India.
“I am so sick of this,” Rosemary said. What amazes me about Rosemary is that even when she is really pissed off, her voice remains soft and even toned, the antithesis to my mother. Maybe that’s why I like her so much. She doesn’t take anyone’s BS in the nicest of ways, something I aspire to. As a candidate running to be my favorite of my mom’s friends, she’s got a solid resume. I’ve gone to movies with her and discussed Kate MIddleton’s latest outfit with her. Whenever my parents are out of town, Rosemary always drops off Panera bagels and fruit for we starving Anderson children. The only thing she flip-flops on is her opinion of her native country. Sometimes, she’d remark, “Isn’t this such a magical place?” and then the next day she’s telling me, “You see why I left this backwards country?”
Mr. Thalanany decides to suck it up and run back to buy the foreigner tickets. To the Thals, being Indian is like qualifying for an AARP card. Am I going to shove it in your face and make a big deal about it? No. But I sure as hell am going to play it up if I can get something for it. But all the while, Rosemary starts alerting the security guards of every other non-resident American-looking Indian entering the Taj through the Indian line.
She blatantly points at people, “They’re not Indian…they’re not Indian…either are those people…”
“Mind your own business lady!” a woman shouts back. No one else gets busted.
After about a 20 minute delay, we enter the Taj. On the tour, Kevin became best friends with Mr. India, as he was only a few years older than us. I knew this because Mr. India couldn’t stop talking about him to Rosemary in Hindi:
“lkadfkkjhadsdfh Kevin asdkjfadjksfajshdf Kevin…”
Friendly and knowledgeable with great English, Mr. India was easily the best tour guide we had. Getting a tour guide in India is not the same as a U.S. museum, where there are employed curators in suits who have PhDs in topics like Van Gogh’s Influence on Jay-Z. In India, someone will walk up to you, tell you that they’re a tour guide and you hope for the best. It doesn’t always work out. At the Red Fort we had a crazy tour guide that told us nothing about the Red Fort, even though he showed us a magazine with a photo of him guiding the Queen of Bhutan around. All he wanted us to do is quiz him on the mayors of every city in the U.S. He knew Bloomberg, Rahm, and well, those were the only ones we could quiz him on. We did, however, stump him on the mayor of Long Grove, IL (Maria Rodriguez duh). We wondered if the Queen of Bhutan was as annoyed by him as we were.
Mr. India’s only flaw was that he spoke much too highly of us at the end of the the Taj Mahal tour. “Thank you Anderson family for letting me tell you about this Taj. You, Anderson family, are a wonderful family and I wish you all the very very best.”
Then he looked at Deirdre. “And you,” he spoke with purpose and authority even though he was no longer giving a tour, “you, my friend who is not in Anderson family but is very much like Anderson family, I wish you all the best too.”
Dee nodded and smiled but was likely thinking about how badly she just got dissed. Very much like Anderson family? My mom actually coined the term “andersonlike” to be synonymous with anything negative: weird, slacker, or just not with the program. I’ll use it in a sentence for you. Ex: Alex is very andersonlike, you can always expect her to be at least 15 minutes late to meetings.
“How’d you know she wasn’t in our family?” I asked him.
“Kevin told me,” he gives Kevin an acknowledging nod.
I should’ve known.
We stop for a late lunch (amazingly) and visit some other ancient fortress in Aggra that no one cared about. This time I felt bad for our guide because no one was listening to him. His English was heavily accented and for some reason he rolled his R’s when he spoke, speaking with what sounded more like a Hindi-infused Latino accent. None of us remember his name, so we nicknamed him Jorge. We were all mentally checked out though because we had already been up for 13 hours and it was only 6:30 p.m. It was time to head home.
We all fell asleep as soon as we got back into our van. I woke up a few hours later to see Deirdre looking out the window, distressed.
“I think we’re lost,” she said.
“What? No we’re not, Dee.”
“We’ve already been driving more than three hours, and I don’t remember any of this on the way there.”
I look out the window and see farmland. Beyond that, there’s just wide open land that is not even farmland. We weren’t even on a road anymore, just a dirt path. There isn’t a sign in sight.
“Haha, Dee this is hilarious! This makes it an official Anderson vacation!” I tried to brush it off. “This stuff happens to us all the time! I’m sure if you just go to sleep again we’ll be there when we wake up, but in the meantime savor this typical Anderson moment”
I fell back asleep and was awoken an hour later by pounding on our van. I thought I was dreaming. More pounding.
I look out our window and see tons of hands banging on the windows on both sides of our van. I look at Dee, who has been watching our van be attacked from the start.
“Oh my god, what is going on?” Dee asks, even though she knows she’s not going to get an answer.
“Close your window curtains!” Rosemary told us from the front. Our van is being mobbed. There are so many people around it that the driver has to go very slowly to make sure he doesn’t run anyone over. I knew something was wrong because he turned off “Bartender” by Akon.
Rosemary then calls her friend who the driver works for, tells her that we are lost and says, “I have seven Americans in the car and I’m very concerned.”
“Glad she cares about her daughter and husband,” Elizabeth said to the rest of us.
“And this is where they kill us!” I said in my fake scary voice.
“Will you shut up Amanda? What is your problem?” Morgan yells from the seat in front of me.
“Ya really, please Amanda,” Dee chimes in. We pull the curtains shut and Deirdre puts on her hat. I’m still not sure why, I guess as some sort of disguise so the mob won’t know we’re white, but it was a cute JCrew floppy brimmed hat so you can make that call yourself.
No one seems to be getting my humor, which allows me to deduce that some people in our party actually thought we were going to die or at least get abducted.
As Kevin always says, “The only way this trip is going to be worthwhile is if someone gets taken hostage.” The prospect that it might actually happen this time excited me.
I still don’t know what exactly happened. I guess we drove through a riot of some sort. My other theory is that perhaps because where we were no one ever sees cars, people figured any car that goes by is an outsider. Or a celebrity.
But just because we escaped the riot didn’t mean that we were any closer to Delhi. Rosemary estimated that we had at least 3 more hours to get back, and that’s assuming the driver knows what state we were in. Drive a few hours in a certain direction and we could be in Pakistan, significantly increasing our chances of being kidnapped. At least then maybe Rosemary will be concerned about her husband and daughter, because the only thing worse than being an American in Pakistan is an Indian-American in Pakistan. There would be an occasional sign every 45 minutes or so, but none of them ever said Delhi. This surprised me, because no matter where I am on the east coast, there is always a sign to New York City. Not the case for Delhi. No one even bothered pulling out their smartphone. Even Siri couldn’t help us here.
In the end, all the mob ending up doing is push us that much more quickly back onto a dirt path that goes through a ‘’town’’ with no electricity. Everything was pitch black–there wasn’t a light for miles. The van shook from side to side because the path was unpaved and bumpy. Now it was impossible to sleep. Not like we could anyway after almost dying. I pulled the curtains back. I was waiting for the dirt path to just end around every corner we turned. We weren’t quite driving through slums, nor was it the hood. Really it was just middle-of-nowhere India with houses made of patched together pieces of scrap metal and tarp. There were also strips of what looked like one-car garages that doubled as houses and little shops. Some people just slept on makeshift beds outside. There were tons of kids lying on the path. At first I thought they were dead, but upon hearing a car coming and the headlights lighting up the entire community, most of them would get up and move. Our driver spoke with one of them, as he stopped to ask for directions at least six times. They were just hanging out from what I could tell. I mean, what would you do in rural India with no electricity at 10:00 at night? Sometimes they needed a little coaxing to move off the path with 10 honks of the horn, but I am pleased to report that to my knowledge no one was killed on the Anderson family vacation.
By the grace of Buddha we got back to our hotel after a 6-hour tour through rural India. We said goodnight to the Thalananys and headed to our rooms, but not before the driver asked, “What time should I pick you up tomorrow?”