India Part 3| Jaipur
The drive from Agra took a few hours and headed south into the Rajasthan desert. The highway was a mix of busy 2 lane roads and 4 lane highway, each of which went through towns and villages — there are no exits (or entrances) in India. You just kind of pull over when you need to. Or are forced to because a cow happens to be walking in the fast lane. No joke.
By now (at the end of my 2nd day here, I’ve been here 24 hours) cows milling about, dogs scavenging and camels pulling carts is not a big surprise — although the camels are much rarer than the others, and are way cooler. Saw my first two pigs today, too. They were in front of a slum on the edge of Jaipur. I expect to see elephants tonight as part of an effort to help them from abuse.
Yesterday and today I was very lucky to have had a private guide (today two) to walk me through the local markets. Peirce and Leslie, our partner in India, is amazing. They have gone so much above and beyond what I’ve ever experienced while traveling – and as you all know that’s a lot. Overall the hospitality we’ve been shown by them and by the hotels has been nothing short of perfection.
Today’s afternoon excursion was a walk through the city checking out the local vendors, buying a sari and a girl’s dress for a friend and a kurta (a long shirt) for me. This isn’t Prada or even Banana Republic — it’s just what your average person buys. I did see a BMW and Mercedes yesterday (but today not – just your generic small car.) Today’s excursion was capped off by chai at Jaipur’s most famous place, a subterranean hole in the wall with maybe 5 table. Chai was 12 rupees – or about 25 cents.
Yesterday’s waking excursion was through the wedding stores. Alley after alley of stores selling special saris, special wedding clothes for men, bangle stores (whole stores selling nothing but bracelets), stores selling pots for the bride’s kitchen and other required items to make up the dowry.
This morning we visited the current palace of the Maharaja of Jaipur (yes, there still is one and he’s a teenager) which is a pretty stunning complex in the middle of town. A museum displaying their old clothes was fascinating. We visited two rooms where the old guys (many maharajas since the 18th century) entertained special friends. One room was small, made of reflective glass and seemed suited for a singular purpose. The other larger room was at least big enough for dinner and had lush furnishings, more glass, dramatic architecture — and I’m thinking of recreating it in my basement.
We also had refreshments in the State Ballroom where the Maharajah has entertained President Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, Charles & Diana, Charles & Camilla, Oprah and the like. There were actually photos of all the above in the room which is still used. This private access we had was astonishing.
The Oberoi Rajvillas is a resort just outside the city and is done in the style of Rajasthan. The outfits the staff wears are very authentic, down to the folds in their turbans. Whereas the Oberoi Amarvillas in Agra was quite glitzy, this place is all dark woods, white linens, wonderful prints and white marble bathrooms with a private opening to a garden. You can have a tent, too, if you wish. Service levels continue to impress above and beyond. Watch for photos on my Flickr site.
Fast forward 24 hours and I’ve now visited Amber Fort and taken a walk to a nearby lake and experienced the domicile of simple farmers. The fort we only saw from the road due to time restraints but I understand the presence from the road – the external architecture – is what makes this place and I’d add this to my list of one of the most impressive constructions I’ve ever seen. It literally commands an entire mountain. Elephant access to the top is not politically correct and has been severely limited by the government, so the way to get there is by car.
We also had lunch and toured the Rambagh Palace Hotel, managed by Taj. Yes, you can still live an authentic maharaja life (or actually maharana in Jaipur).
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