Monday, January 05, 2009
From Udaipur to Jaipur, the pink city and a hotel fit for a King, on the road from Jaipur to Agra and the Taj Mahal, the world famous monument of love
This post covers days 8, 9 and 10 of our Indian adventure which means we are already half way through it. Our experiences are so intense that time literally flies.
On Saturday 3rd January we drove from Udaipur to Jaipur which was to be our longest drive, 408 km. Jaipur was our driver Rajesh Sharma’s home town so I’m sure he was looking forward to sleeping at home and seeing his family.
Thankfully the road was better than other days. Nearly as soon as we had left Udaipur we stopped to see the Nagda or Sas-Bahu Temples (meaning Mother and Daugther-in-laws) built or finished in the 10th century. Today they are ruins as they were partially destroyed by the Moghols. There seems to be some connection with the famous Karma Sutra as a lot of the sculptures are copulatin or in erotic positions. We semi understood from a guide that the Karma Sutra was written or promoted amongst people who were becoming too religious and not reproducing. If this is the case, it certainly worked!!!
We drove through marble and granite stone country and stopped briefly at a town called Bhim, a poor dusty location on the road. Here we observed the usual outside market where rural people bring in fruit and vegetable to sell. Of course we also saw the usual rows of tiny little shops and the inevitable barber or seamstress.
The smiling seamstress of Bhlim.
Approaching Jaipur from Udaipur you turn onto what is supposed to be a new motorway. It is not finished so often you have to take a diversion and then come back on. People go faster on the motorway but you often find the odd motorcycle or even car driving in the wrong direction which is incredibly scary. Also the motorways have divided some villages and so people end up crossing the motorway at a terrible risk.
We had a hitch with the hotel in Jaipur. We were supposed to be staying at the Savista Hotel which turned out to be totally unacceptable. So after some wrangling with the travel agency we were finally booked into what turned out to be the best in town, at our own expense I am sorry to say. So after more hassling and frightening traffic in the Pink City as Jaipur is known because of the colour of its walls, we checked in to the marvellous Samode Haveli Hotel.
There we entered civilization and a true oasis of the city. The Samode Haveli is an old palace dating possibly 400 years. That was our best experience so far in Indian hotels.
The next day, Sunday 4th January our driver took us to the famous Fort of Jaipur, the Amber Fort. We stopped to take pictures of the view half way through the climb only to be met by snake charmers. They are supposedly very typical in India but this was our first experience.
Eladio and the snake charmers in Jaipur on the way up to the Fort.
Our next experience was to be an elephant ride up to the Fort Palace, just below the fort. Here we could hardly enjoy it as were literally plagued by street vendors who wouldn’t leave us alone until we took the bait. Eladio bought a tacky turban in which he actually looks great.
Eladio stroking our elephant, "Nuri", after the ride.
On our way back from the Fort we stopped by the reservoir to take a photo of the beautiful Water Palace. From here, we drove back into the centre to see the Observatory called the Jantar-Mantar and then the City Palace. We visited the palace quickly and then went in search of the markets. Our driver, preferring to take us to his friends’ places where he has a commission, tried to make us understand the markets were closed because it was Sunday. This was not actually the case. In Jaipur we bought baggy trousers for the girls, some very pretty embroidered parasols and yet more pashminas, or rather colourful shawls.
After our shopping we stopped to take a quick photo of the incredible Wind Palace and then went to the travel agency, Real Incredible India to pay for the 2 nights in Jaipur (no reimbursement for not staying at the Savista) and to pick up our flight e-tickets and hotel vouchers for the rest of our stay.
From Jaipur we made our way to the Samode Palace (different to the Samode Haveli in the city but belonging to the same owners). This was to be our best night throughout our whole trip. Here we were given one of the 4 royal suites! This time it was me who did a bit of cheating, but for a good cause, of course. We told them that this trip was to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and they asked if it was that day. I was naughty and lied and said it was. That’s when we got upgraded to the royal suite. Later we were to find a cake in our room on a yellow petal filled tray and champagne for breakfast. We could not have asked for more.
The Samode Palace near Jaipur, a hotel fit for a king.
The Samode Palace hotel is at least 40km from Jaipur and takes over an hour to get there. It is not a secret place at all as we find out a lot of famous people retreat there. When I signed the guest book I found I was signing after the French Ambassador in India! The place is a wonder of a palace nestling in the mountains with a labyrinth of rooms and courtyards as well as marvellous frescoed halls as befits a palace built by a king.
Our suite was wonderful with its own patio and outside Jacuzzi, fireplace, coffee maker, huge flat screened tv, music centre, four poster bed and wonderful drapery. Will we ever go back? You never know. But if anyone reading this ever goes to India, I urge you to stay there. You will not be disappointed. The Tatler magazine rates it the 5th best hotel in the world and the Tatler magazine is a tough judge.
So reluctantly after our champagne breakfast, we had to leave early this morning for Agra which was 300km away.
On the road we were to see the usual vehicles but also trucks carrying farmers who were taking milk or cauliflowers to be sold in the markets of Jaipur.
And then we were to have one of the most interesting experiences of our trip. It seemed we were going to be passing very near our driver Rajesh Sharma’s home outside Jaipur and he wanted to stop off to pick up something and, of course, show us his house and introduce us to his wife, Bimila, and his daughter aged 25, Simpal. We were felt very privileged and found it interesting to see inside an Indian home. It was small and modest but well kept. It was fascinating to see the altar to the Hindu Gods and the huge portrait of Gamesha. Rajesh told us his sweet wife prays 2 hours every morning! We had tea in their bedroom cum lounge and were offered biscuits. It was a lovely experience.
Rajesh and his wife and daughter, Bimila and Simpal.
Soon we left Jaipur. Jaipur, a city of 2.5m inhabitants seems to be the most advanced and prosperous place we have seen so far; although the same squalor and poverty coexists. Here there are brand new big “malls”, big brand shops, traffic police (at times), some supermarkets and new designer multi storey flats. I asked Rajesh what a 100m2 flat in one of these new blocks could cost and after a lot of calculations I think the price is around 80.000 euros, a fortune for India.
The road from Jaipur to Agra is better than many others we have encountered. Here we went past stone cutting industries, brick production with awful polluting chimneys, mustard fields and then cow flap production (from drying to using as building material!).
Nearing Agra we left Rajasthan and entered a new state, Uttar Pradesh. As soon as we had gone through the red pillars indicating this, a man stopped us on the road waving a stick. Here it seemed we had to pay the tax for entering the new state. The total sum was 500 rupees for one day only, quite a lot again for India and a great way of making money for the state.
About 30km away from Agra, the road was suddenly blocked and we had to turn back. It was nearly 3 pm and we were in a rush to see the Taj Mahal before sunset. It turned out there had been an accident on the nearby motorway and 3 people had been killed which, given what we had already seen, was no surprise. Apparently the villagers were making charms against these deaths and we could not get through.
The next hour and a half was a total adventure and an insight into what is probably a life, if you can call it a life, not much different from the stone age! After waiting for ages at a level crossing for 2 trains to come past, we ventured into the most rural roads and areas we had seen so far. This seemed like the centre of the cow flap industry. The road when it had tarmac which wasn’t often was eternal and it seemed we would never reach Agra. We went through the poorest villages we had seen so far and with our heart in our hands finally reached Agra very much affected by the intense experience.
In Agra the guide Rajesh had organised for us, Disi, was waiting for us. For a reason to do with shorter queues at another entrance, we were whisked into a “toto” taxi to another gate for 30 rupees (less than 50 Euro cents!).
Eladio on the "toto" taxi in Agra
Here we bought the tickets for a scandalous 750 rupees when Indian only pay 10! Disi guided us through the entrance to the main red archway and here he found us another money making person, one of the non official photographers who gives you the photo prints after the visit. You are in their hands as it is really difficult to get good photos because there are so many people.
As we walked through the red arch, I saw for the first time the world famous monument to love and one of the 7 marvels of the world. And you know, I nearly cried. No other building in the world has ever had that affect on me. It is captivating and more beautiful than you can ever imagine.
The story of its building is equally beautiful. In short it was dedicated to love when the Emperor Shah Jahan tragically lost the love of his life, his wife, the Queen Mumtaz Mahal. She was extraordinarily beautiful and bore him 14 children. She made him promise 3 things: that he would look after their 14 children, that he would never remarry after her death and that he would build a mausoleum for her. Mad with grief and sadness when she died he vowed to build the most beautiful building the world would ever have. And so he did because for many people, and certainly for me, there can be no more beautiful, wonderful or magical a building in the world.
People come from all over the world to visit it and it is the heart and symbol of India, together with Mahatma Gandhi. And these two are the main reasons we came to India. We have not been disappointed.
Tomorrow we leave Agra for Delhi which is a five hour drive. At 14.30 we take the flight to the sacred and holy city of Varanasi (Benares) by the river Ganges, the holy river of India and for me one of the most fascinating rivers in the world. It will be possibly the most difficult part of our trip, owing to the filth and poverty. We hope, however, to be enlightened by its mystery and spirituality.
We will see.