India Holiday – Day 6

Our last day in Jaipur: rest day. We get up at 9 and have breakfast, after which I have a much-needed whole body massage and Mamta and Iain relax.

Our driver (did I mention that he’s super friendly and helpful?) picks me up before lunch so I can go and try out the suit and shirts I bought yesterday – and wow, they are great. At less than £25 for a good quality tailored shirt, it’s a steal, and I let myself be convinced to buy 4 more shirts, for a total of 10. The suit is also nice and fits well – amazing that they could put it all together overnight.

I do resist the temptation to buy a carpet, although my steadfast refusal to buy clearly is the right way to bargain. Where the lovely fine 270x180cm camel hair carpet started out at £1,600 yesterday, today it’s all the way down to a “today only” price of £1,000. I’m fairly sure this is a good deal, but nevertheless say No Thanks to both carpet and more suits. The Indians really as businessmen at heart, but my suitcase is already full and my wallet empty!

While waiting for the suit to be fitted, I had a cup of Indian tea – and the special thing about Indian Tea is that it’s very, very sweet. It’s sweet for the simple reason that they heap huge amounts of sugar into even a small cup, with the effect that it’s a fairly syrupy drink that results. I like it 🙂

After a light lunch (Mamta is still feasting on Parathas), we went for a sightseeing/shopping trip in downtown Jaipur. Or at least in a part of town where there were both a lot of shops and a lot of people; once again, the effort of navigating this maze plus taking in all of the impressions and sights meant that we didn’t even last 2 hours before deciding to head back. We did get a few pieces for Mamta and for Anna though, and took a bunch of colourful photographs.

Iain has really taken to photography: he snaps away without much restraint, has an eye for interesting compositions and is willing to experiment. I look forward to seeing how long it takes before he beomes a much better photographer than myself – if he keeps practicing, I suspect it won’t be long.

A quiet evening at a local restaurant turns out to be quite a loud affair, as a local troupe performs song and dance inside the restaurant. The music is definitely an acquired taste, but the curry – mmm, the curry is delicious. My belly seems to be holding up well, so I am hopeful that I can continue to enjoy the local food and not have to order from the “continental” part of the menu…

Mamta feels a bit unwell so we call it a night early as tomorrow, we leave Jaipur for Nagaur; our driver says it’s a 6-hour drive with a stop about halfway. I am sure it will be interesting!

India Holiday – Day 5

After a late night, we had a relatively early start, setting off to the Amber Fort at 8:30, to be there in time to get our planned elephant ride to the fort, up a steep cliff side.

The queue was fast moving and our guide for Jaipur was both friendly and competent, which was nice. The tens of very persistent hawkers were slightly less so, but we just treated them as part of the ambience. After the same hat, guide book, elephant figurine and “excellent gift idea” consisting of cheap pens has been pushed in your face for the umpteenth time, it does get a bit tedious though 🙂

The 30-minute elephant ride itself was great! Elephants have a pleasant slow rythm, that was only interrupted when our elephant – 35-year old Chumpa – stopped to have a 30-second piss that sounded like a sizeable waterfall happening underneath us. There are 123 elephants working here going up to the fort in a constant stream, all female, and they go on doing this until they retire at the age of 50!

The 17th century fort itself is imposing, with ornate carvings, sophisticated plumbing for both heated baths and “air conditioned” rooms, not to mention bedrooms and entertainment spaces for the Raj and his 12 (!!) wives. Imagine the strife, rivalry and competition that would cause; in general, Hindus do not allow multiple wives (only for the Raj), and I think that’s a good idea.

After the fort, we went to the Wind Palace in downtown Jaipur. It is an impressive-looking structure but it is only a facade that is 1 meter deep – designed for the ladies of the palace behind it to sit in privacy to observe city life, processions and such.

Jaipur itself is a mad, Indian style city, but at 3.5M people is much smaller than Delhi and also feels both cleaner and nicer, relatively speaking of course. The air is certainly cleaner, allowing for both nice sunshine and views uninterrupted by thick smog. In the evening, huge numbers of stars are visible, something I have been looking forward to.

On the trip, our guide took us to a jewel maker; Jaipur is known for employing something like 80,000 people in the cutting and polishing business alone. “Just know that it is my duty to take you here, but not for you to buy anything”. Good advice: My kind of guide!

The jewel crafting we saw was interesting but we did not really want jewelry and instead toured the huge selection of other craft items also for sale and ended up buying a lovely bronze Natraj sculpture that will look great at home. It is one of Mamta’s old wishes to get one of those, so mission accomplished 🙂 The sculpture that I really liked was more than a meter tall and cost several thousand dollars, not to mention it being a bit awkward to find a spot for in the house, so we passed on that one…

The Jantar Mantar is an old observatory, Indian Style: it is full of instruments to measure solar positions, time and celestial positions with great accuracy – all mainly in order to develop accurate astrological predictions. Talk about confusing accuracy and precision 🙂 Anyway, the structures are impressive – the huge sun dial that can show the time with 2 second precision is rightfully in the Guinness Book of Records.

At the City Palace we had lunch in the local cafe (and even though there were Western dishes, it was impossible to resist the temptation of the delicious native dishes) and then toured several separate areas of the palace. The Indians make a big deal out of the fact that Prince Albert visited it in 1947 for the Independence, but the highlight for me was definitely the armoury: a couple of rooms full of interesting weapons from the 19th century and earlier, ranging from the ornate to the truly lethal.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Palace, so I have no pictures – only of the outside, which is beautiful in all its pink/terracotta glory.

Here, we also went to a small arts/crafts place where artists exhibit their goods, and ended up buying a couple of drawings. The artist spun long stories about just how fine the drawings are and how long they take to make (8 days, 6 months, …) but I think that is exaggerated by a few orders of magnitude. Or maybe it’s elapsed time, with lots of other stuff also being done at the same time. Either way, beautiful stuff, and an educational half an hour.

Finally, we went to a place that does “block printing”. It is a technique that is used to print layers of patterns on natural cloth, and we were shown examples of this. They also produce carpets here, and we got a thorough look at just how much work it takes to first hand knot each individual knot, then cut, scrape, clean, wash and burn the product until it’s both smooth and somewhat dirt/spill resistant.

We also looked at several carpets made from wool, silk and even camel hair. Because camel hair is quite thick, it undergoes a lot of different treatments before it can be used in a carpet – and the results are stunning.  My favourites are the silk ones though, but the colours are very delicate, and I’m not sure the several-thousand-pounds-price is worth it over the more boring £50 carpet from IKEA we have. It’s certainly a big investment to make.

For me, the real treat was upstairs, where they sell fabrics as well as custom made garments. I decided to get a custom-made suit and 6 tailored shirts – I hope they will be nice when I pick them up tomorrow!

The tour of the day was long but excellent! And we went back to the hotel to collapse for a few hours, to get energy for the evening. Here, we went to a restaurant with live music and dancers and enjoyed a Rajastani Thali – delicious in its variety, although not very spicy! Iain was completely rapt with the dancing and music and even joined in for a bit; it was lovely to see the gleam in his eyes…

Perhaps the dancers mistook him for a girl, with his smooth face and long hair? Our guide today did the same earlier, repeatedly referring to Iain as “she” and “her”, until Mamta gently pointed out the mistake 🙂

Here in the capital of Rajastan, I can truly say that India is not a relaxing place to be. It’s manic in its intensity of sound, colours, people, noise, tastes and smell – from sewers to fresh mangoes with everything in between. The assault on the senses is intense and interesting, but very tiring.

Tomorrow is a free day: time for a massage, a bit of shopping, and some time in the pool…


India Holiday – Day 4: Jaipur

Today, we checked out of the Metropolitan to make our way south, into the province of Kings: Rajestan. Jaipur is the capital and our destination, just 230km from Delhi, and we started at 8:30am. Our driver, the affable Mr Prakash, assures us it will take 5-6 hours, which means we will average perhaps just 35km/h, or 20mph!

We set off on one of the big modern highways leading past the airport and out of Delhi, and quickly find ourselves in a vast sea of cars weaving in and out and slowly making progress. The road is a toll road that goes all the way to Mumbai (eventually), and Mr Prakash assures us it is a good road all the way. Ha! 🙂

After leaving Delhi, a long stretch of modern India awaits us: rows of gleaming, modern office towers in various designs that would not look out of place in Manhattan or San Francisco stretch for kilometers, competing with construction materials and low huts of more typical Indian provenance. None of this was here 25 years ago on Mamta’s first visit – the highway was a dirt track in places, and there were no offices for IBM and other multi nationals.

Traffic moves constantly, but in fits and starts, and never very fast. Slow moving lorries drive in the “fast” lane next to tractors pulling ridiculously huge loads, leaving other lorries, uses, vans, cars and motorbikes to overtake wherever there is room – on the inside, or often between other vehicles. Many don’t have side mirrors, and custom is to honk the horn before passing someone, meaning that a constant barrage of horns can be heard all the way. It’s never quiet in India!

The roads have lane markings, but using them for target practice seems common; nobody sticks to a single lane. Instead, many drivers constantly weave left and right to slip through temporary gaps in traffic, sometimes to heart-stopping effect as lorries, buses and other cars pass within centimeters of what feels like fairly unauthorised manoeuvres.

It also is common to see someone drive the wrong way – motorbikes do it a lot as a shortcut, but when loaded lorries do it, it’s a bit scary. As with everything else that happens on the road, the drivers take it stoically and just drive around whatever the obstacle is, be it ghost driver, meandering cow, crashed lorry, or whatever. It quickly becomes obvious why the drive will take many hours!

Further along, the highway is abruptly diverted to what looks like an older parallel road, to allow construction on the highway to happen: they are building flyovers to allow roads to pass underneath. This happens not just once, but every few kilometers – I think I saw at least 20 such projects being actively worked on along the way!

Construction abounds next to the road as well; it is several hours before we get our first glimpse of agricultural land as until then it is built up, or being huilt up with houses, offices, shacks, shops, and general enterprises.

When we finally turn off the main highway around 30km short of Jaipur to get to our lunch stop at the Samode Palace, we breathe a sigh of relief. Here, there is actual countryside next to the road, and our eyes feast on the calmer vista of plots of land being tilled, the odd house, a small group of women walking next to the road, and the odd house, sometimes derelict and sometimes in decent repair.

The road gets increasingly narrow, bumpy and windy and we finally arrive at the Palace around 1:30pm. It turns out to be a gorgeous former Raj residence, now converted to a hotel, and we get a lovely relaxed lunch – surprisingly of non-Indian food! The proprietor/chef turns out to be Mrs Flora, a Danish lady who now lives in Mumbai, who has designed the menu to be a mix of cuisines. We liked it a lot!

The rest of the trip to Jaipur was quick, and we arrived at perhaps 4:30pm, but it is surprising how tiring it is to be a passenger on a long drive! 🙂

Our residence in the Pink City of Jaipur is the Samode Haveli, owned by the same people as the Palace, and it’s nothing short of gorgeous. A lovely old, restored building, it has all of the facilities we would want, and they upgraded us to a huge suite that is just fantastic. I am sure our 3 nights here will be super memorable.

Last night, I sent an email to Transindus with feedback on our annoying Delhi guide, and was anxious to see what they would do about it. The answer was quick: they reprimanded him, he apologized, and they not only sent a nice reply back to me but also called us directly as soon as we arrived here. Perhaps the upgrade here is also part of this?

The welcoming lady said we got upgraded because Iain is so sweet, which is of course true so perhaps we’ll just leave it there 🙂

A delicious Rajestani Thali for dinner and then bed. Tomorrow will be a very busy day seeing the sights of Jaipur and going for a elephant ride… Can’t wait to see more India!