Friday, July 8, 2011

The Grand Tour: Jaipur

Despite our apprehensions about traveling second class on an Indian train (first class was sold out, apparently one has to book these things in advance), our trip to Jaipur was quite comfortable and relaxing.  We took a snooze on our berths, took advantage of the chai wallah's sweet, steaming offerings and stared out the window for ages, taking in the dry, dusty landscape, which was stunningly punctuated by brilliant bits of vivid color in the form of saris and marigold garlands.

We arrived in Jaipur after dark, and were met on the train platform by Ajay, the man who would be our driver during our stay.  Dhruv, appalled that we had not called him to sort out a driver in Delhi, insisted that we have one in Jaipur and we were glad to be bullied into it.

Ajay took us to the Diggi Palace, which would prove to be a welcome, if quirky, refuge from the frenetic city outside.  In the dark I could not see much,


but I could see an expansive courtyard, walls surrounding the little oasis and the welcoming manager, which was more than enough for me.  After dinner at the Handi Restaurant in town we fell into our ornate bed and snoozed deeply and happily until morning.

We awoke to this.


and this


and this.


We loved the Diggi, and loved it even more so after a delicious breakfast in the courtyard spent musing over our experience thus far.  Paul:  Where are all of the snake charmers?  Isn't India supposed to be full of snake charmers?  Me:  Oh babes, don't be ridiculous, that's just in the movies.

Presently, Ajay arrived to take us to see the sights.  First up was the Amber Fort, in the town of Amber, just outside of Jaipur.

We drove up mountains,


passed hauntingly beautiful ruins,




a smattering of wildlife,


(tragically we didn't get a photo of the magnificent elephant with a mosaic pattern painted on its forehead which we came upon after a hairpin turn)

and drove through the town of Amber



before coming upon the glorious Amber Fort.





We were approached by a tour guide, whose services we reluctantly accepted, half expecting a cursory tour for an inflated price.  But we needn't have worried.  The man was an exceptional guide (or at least an exceptional story teller) and a lovely person to boot.

He took us in






and presently took us to the most magnificent palace within a place.


Once through that we came upon the Mirror Palace.  As one might expect, the whole place was inlaid with mirrors, which we were told make the whole place sparkle in the evening when candles are lit within.  I would kill to see such a scene one day.


Overcome by the incredible room, Paul and I were so distracted that we acquiesced to a classic tourist shot.


As we moved further through the fort, we learned more about the family that lived in it.  The more ostentatious part had been built by the nouveau son, the older part by his powerful father.  The father seemed more concerned with providing accommodations for his wives (you'll notice from the vantage point below he could survey each of their rooms...funnily enough the wives couldn't go between each other's rooms, the only way in to each accommodation was from above, so the king could see them whenever he wanted) than with ornate decor.



Ironically a blind dating show was being filmed in the very courtyard the wives used to inhabit!


After a quick refreshment in the cafe, we stumbled upon these fine fellows on the way out.


Snake charmers indeed.  Paul is still upset with himself for not buying the instrument the guy on the left is playing.

We took a quick spin through the Jaigarh Fort just up the hill from the Amber Fort.  Far more minimalist,


there was something about its rugged, simple vibe that I really enjoyed.


And the garden clinched it for me.  Who could resist this much greenery in the middle of a desert?  


Apparently loads of Bollywood films are shot in this garden, and really I can't blame them.  There's something terribly romantic about those mango trees.

But enough culture for one day, it was high time for a cocktail.  We headed to the Rambagh Palace for some true luxury.


Sitting out on the terrace overlooking the grounds, I couldn't help but feel a bit royal.  I asked Paul, what do you think it would have been like to be a colonial English person back in the day here?


Gazing over the perfectly manicured lawn with a cool drink in hand, he replied "it would have been amazing".


We had actually considered staying at the Rambagh, but our friends in Delhi had, upon hearing that we would be at the Diggi, exclaimed "oh fucking lovely!  Such a vibe, man!"  Me:  "We were thinking of maybe the Rambagh?"  "No!  Yes, it's luxurious, but it's all about the Diggi."  Given that the Rambagh costs about five times what the Diggi does I was all too happy to follow their advice.  And when I came across this scene in front of the hotel, I have to admit I was glad that we did.


Waiting for Ajay to pull the car around, we heard a thunderous roar of a crowd.  Turns out the cricket grounds were just across the street, and the famous Rajasthan Royals were playing that night.  A true sports fan, Paul immediately suggested we head over to check it out.  There was a bit of miscommunication at the front gate...we asked where to go to buy tickets, but instead got waved around to the VIP section.  Despite our lack of passes we made it into VIP parking.

Paul, who is quite skilled at talking his way into places, was drawn to the challenge.  After all, he reasoned, he'd talked his way into concerts in New York for which he didn't have a ticket (nevermind that he knows a few people in the music business and absolutely no one in the cricket business).

After five minutes of name dropping at the entry gate, he was politely but firmly rebuffed.  Alas there would be no cricket for us that night.  A pity, because the energy was absolutely electric.

We headed back to the Diggi to relax.  We were so relaxed, in fact, that our plans to hit the Oberoi for dinner were scrapped in favor of dinner under the stars in the Diggi's courtyard.  The food was fabulous, and we discovered Kingfisher Blue, a delicious variety of beer that we would seek out in vain for the rest of the trip.

After watching an amusing display by a british couple next to us who were busy spreading out loads of textiles that they had bought that day on the lawn, trying to decide which would look best in their house in Essex (I admit they all looked the same to me), we turned in.  

The next day was a big one, as we would be traveling to Agra to see the famed Taj Mahal.

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