INDIA TRAVEL: JAIPUR

Oh, Jaipur. The Pink City.

Jaipur holds a special place close to my heart (Coincidence, it’s called the Pink City?).  I’ve been to India three times.  Each time I’ve gone to Jaipur, and each time I’ve appreciated it more.  First, this is the city closest to Udayan, the home for street children where I spent 5 weeks in 2006. I flew to India by myself as a 19 year old girl to experience a different culture and help other people.  But let’s be blunt — While I taught English, Drama and Painting, it was really I who learned a life’s worth of lessons.  I gave them the love that I could, and I hope it helped.  But the perspective and resilience I witnessed on the trip changed me for life.  I plead to whoever wants to volunteer in another country – stay for a significant amount of time for a greater chance at making an impact, as well as experiencing more immersion.

But back on topic!

Founded in 1727, Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan.  It is called the Pink City, because the entire city was painted pink, the color of hospitality, for a visit by the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria in the 1800’s.  The population has maintained the practice ever since, which may be one of the contributing factors to making the city one of the most visited by foreign tourists.  In some ways it has resisted modernization and therefore is a bit more charming than New Delhi.  But with close to 7 million people, it’s still on the crowded side.

DSCN1404
Public works… no orange cones here

Clothing Store

clothing shopOn Day 4 we arrived in the evening.  One of our goals on the trip was to get some clothes tailored.  This was under the guise of having Indian clothes to wear at future events, but let’s be honest – they’d essentially be souvenirs.  And why not!  I highly recommend you engage a tailor for a salwar or even a man’s button up shirt.  Just make sure they have enough time to make it and deliver it to your hotel (24 hours preferred).  If you want a sari, I suggest using the time for this, because unless you want a stretchy, one-size-fits-all blouse, you’ll need it sewn (blouse material is included in price of sari).  Warning: They will take every bolt of cloth off the shelves to lay out in front of you.  You will feel awkward and guilty as you know someone will have to fold it all again.  But there’s little you can do.  It’s how they like to do it.  Just be clear with what you want.  And try not to get frustrated when you say “blue” and they show you red, green, and black.  It’s not a language barrier thing, it’s their theory that they’ll magically inspire you to want all of them.

Having eaten Indian food for several days, that night we took a break with an Italian restaurant.  To our confusion, despite looking like an Olive Garden type chain, they were out of half the things on the menu.  I’ll never take endless pasta for granted again!

Hotel

Hotel Mansingh | Sansar Chandra Road | MI Road, Jaipur 302001, India

A large step up from the Hotel Mansingh in Agra, this hotel was clean and spacious with greater sense of grandeur.  The quality of breakfast was measurably better and included a manned egg station.

Concierge Doctors!

After all my worrying about my family getting sick, it was I who ended up needing to check in with a doctor.  I’d experienced stomach issues on a previous trip; a case in which the prescription diarrhea pill did the trick.  However, a trip to the bathroom the morning of our only full day in Jaipur seemed a tad different.  Asking the front desk for the best local urgent care facility or doctor, they offered to call a concierge doctor.  About 30 minutes later, a well dressed, middle-aged woman arrived with a leather briefcase.  Up in our room I described my symptoms.  Accustomed to travelers like me, she didn’t seem the least bit alarmed.  Out of her magical leather briefcase, she produced dozens and dozens of different colored pills.  I had to start writing the dosages and timings down and pleaded with my husband (who has a much better memory) to try to catch it all.  There were medications to every symptom and then medications to deal with the side effects of the medications.  She drew up the bill and I think her visit plus the medications came out to about $22.  I don’t even want to think about how much red tape and cash I’d have to go through to get the equivalent service and medications in America.  I popped some pills and grabbed an auto rickshaw to meet up with my family.  India may have been the source of my ailments, but she also made the solution just as quick.  We’ll get into the consequences of over medication, particularly antibiotics, another day…

SIGHTSEEING

Amer Fort

An encapsulation of Jaipur’s history, this amber sandstone and marble fort is built above its water source, the Maota Lake.  More palace than fort, this site had a huge impact on me on my first trip.  It was unfortunate that I missed it, but at least my family got to go.  As many guide books will mention, you can choose an elephant ride or jeep ride up the long stone path to the gates.  Inside, the opulent rooms will bring palace life alive in your imagination.  Like most forts, it also has a public and private audience hall, plus a mirrored room.  A personal favorite is the peacock mosaic artwork.  Watch out for the number of hawkers that will be there since it’s such a hot tourist spot. You may need a guide to appreciate all of the history, but make sure you can understand them before you hire them!  Also, some say this could take a day.  I think 2-3 hour works.

Jantar Mantar

I’ll talk about it because I should.  But I’ll be honest, I’m not a science/math girl, so I’ve never been particularly intrigued despite how advanced this yard full of astronomical instruments was at the time it was built.  Plus, I was so miserable from the heat and my stomach issue, that I could only stand for 5 minutes before my poor husband took me back to the air conditioning in the waiting tour van.  This Rajput-built UNESCO World Heritage site is the home of the world’s largest sun dial.  The stone monuments allow the viewer to see astronomical movements with the naked eye.  It’s impressive… don’t listen to me…you should go see it.

 

City Palace

city palaceThis is another impressive, famous site; but when you’re starving, and you’ve already seen a gorgeous, massive palace/fort that morning, it’s not a sin to pass up.  Since the majority of the palace is still a royal residence, you may only walk around a museum set up within several of the rooms.  You should do it if you trip to India is short. Why not? It’s literally across the street from Jantar Mantar.  But with 5 more cities to go, we were hungry and we were feeling cheap – so we passed this time around.

Birla Mandir

Mandir = Temple

Birla = The wealthy family who has been building temples throughout India for the past 80 years.

We hit up this temple on our way out of town.  We had hoped to visit Pushkar that day, but the guide alerted us to the fact that it was a religious holiday, and therefore would be so crowded that it would ruin the entire experience (the city is a main pilgrimage site).  Instead, we decided to spend some time here and arrive in Jodhpur a bit early.

This gleaming white temple is modern and active.  In Hindu fashion, you will see carvings of the world’s great religious teachers and figure, not just Hinduism’s. You’ll leave your shoes with an attendant and walk on the cold white marble in your bare feet. If you want to donate a bit, you can walk around the idol clockwise.  The carvings on the wall depict popular Hindu stories.  A moment that sticks out from this stop was when some young Indian men told my husband to take a hike so they could have a photos with us all.  At this point, we were used to the celebrity status, but I had decided that if they want a photo of me, my husband was going to be in it too.

Since we’d be in the van for hours, I suggested we check out the local temple nearby dedicated to a different deity. Locals take off their shoes walk in through one of the lines, receive a blessing and leave.  Some buy sweets to have offered in the temple.

McDonald’s

McDonald'sSeeking another break from the norm and a fun exercise in globalisation, we ate at McDonald’s.  With Hinduism’s worship of cows prevalent in the culture, there is no beef burger served.  Beef is so rare in India, that I suggest never eating it because you don’t know where it came from or how long it’s been there.  I had some bland Mcnuggets for my stomach, but the McSpicy Paneer was a big hit in my group.  If you look around, you’ll see that McDonald’s is a regular restaurant for middle class families without the negative connotations that Americans put on fast food these days.

Camera Shop

IMG_0065A short anecdote.  My dad needed a camera battery.  If you know my dad, a camera on a trip is not just an accessory, it’s an extension of his arm.  We tried to think of all sorts of things to solve the problem, including using Amazon to ship something in country to a future destination.  But the answer was right in front of us – our guide, Sanjay.  Between sightseeing and shopping stops, he pulls the 9 passenger van into what some might call an alley.  To the left and right were closet-sized shops overflowing with gadgets and tech-type things.  Apparently, this was the neighborhood to get all things camera.  Sanjay, my dad and the guys left the van to look.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the details, but in entailed every shop owner swearing they had the battery.  One finally produced the goods.

DSCN1493In the meantime, the ladies are in the van watching the scenery.  The driver stood guard by our van.  Across the street there was a woman selling oil from a vat.  Behind a colorful door was a mother and her children.  She would occasionally come out to wash dishes in a bowl of water, spilling the dirty water onto the street.  Monkeys darted in and out of the scene as easily and unremarkably as would cats.  We bolted from our seats when we saw an elephant lumbering down the extremely narrow street.  He just meanders past us.  All of us just laughed at the absurdity if it all. My dad was haggling in camera alley as monkey and elephants meandered by.  Welcome to India.

Jewelry Stop – Shopping!

If you are on a tour, you will be brought to a jewelry store to be “taught” about Jaipur’s famous industry.  The lesson consists of showing how semi-precious stones are ground down and polish.  Then the real fun begins in their showroom… As long as you know going in that you’ll be plied with drinks and salesmen will follow you around, it won’t be so horrible.  We found the prices to be fairly comparable to the U.S., but if you’re looking for something with significance, at least you can tell people where you got it.

 

I’ll wrap it up with restating my undying love for Jaipur, and these amusing photos of a whole family on one motorcycle and a turban shop.

 

 

INDIA TRAVELS: NEW DELHI

I love the smell of air pollution in the morning! I kid, I kid…

November is the best weather of the year, but without significant winds, the pollution lingers heavy over the city.  When I mentioned how surprised I was that the air was SO polluted, an Indian American friend of mine said, “Of course, it’s insane.  Everything in New Delhi is insane.”

Sprawling and crowded, both modern and historic, Delhi is the seat of India’s government, an international hub, and arguably its most famous city.  Old Dehli was founded in 1639 and was the center of the Mughal Dynasty until its collapse, which is why we have incredible forts and monuments to look at hundreds of years later.  New Dehli was built from 1911 – 1931 by George V, Emperor of India.  A good visit includes sites in both.

Here are some of the highlights of our day in New Delhi, in case it can help you plan your travels.  If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me at samosasandsunshine[at]gmail.com

HOTEL: The lalit Hotel

Barakhamba Avenue, Connaught Place, Near Modern School, New Delhi, Delhi 110001, India

Clean and modern.  A perfect choice for an international traveler who isn’t looking to “rough it.”  The breakfast buffet was mediocre by my measure, but did include international food.  For my family’s first trip, I think it was a good transition for them.  The formal doorman is always a nice touch.

RED FORT

My favorite part of this World Heritage Site is imagining what it must have been like day-to-day. The fort includes the public audience hall where the local farmer brought his grievances to the emperor.  The wives and concubines would watch the proceedings through grills carved into the the marble and sandstone because they weren’t allowed to be seen by the general public.  There is an entire carved building just for dancers to perform for the royal family.  There are the Emperor and his wives private quarters, including what must have been a very luxurious bathroom.  Just take a moment to let the other visitors disappear and see the fort in its heyday. These pictures don’t do the sprawling fort justice.  If you’re a fan of WWI history, there is also a military museum dedicated to the period in the entrance archway that once housed the musicians that played the emperors entrance music.

Open: Tue-Sun; Mondays closed
Timings: Sunrise to Sunset
Entry Fee:  10 (Indians),  250 (foreigners)
Photography: Nil (25 for video filming)
Sound & Light Shows: 6pm onwards in English and Hindi
Ticket: 80 (adults), 30 (children)

 

 

HUMAYuN TOMB

Mathura Road, Nizamuddin, New Delhi, Delhi 110013, India

Look a tad familiar?  Humayun’s tomb is the predecessor to the Taj Mahal.  Humayun, the second Mughal Emperor earned his place in Delhi. After his army was driven out to India to Persia, he made his triumphant return in 1555, only to die falling down a flight of stairs shortly after.  It definitely leaves an stunning first impression.  There is a steep set of stairs to enter the tomb.  It is not handicap accessible.

Location: Opp. Dargah Nizamuddin, Mathura Road
Metro Station: JLN Stadium
Open: Daily
Timings: Sunrise to sunset
Entry Fee: 10 (Indians), 250 (foreigners)
Photography Charges: None (`25 for video filming)

 

Parliament & India Gate

Big, impressive and covered in monkeys.  They can’t fit their parliament into one building, so they have three.  I’m not sure if a tour is possible, but the traffic was nonexistent on the weekend, so we were able to pull up in front, get out and take pictures.  The India Gate is a straight shot from the parliament building through a long park, very similar to

LUNCH: The imperial

Janpath Lane, Connaught Place, New Delhi, 110001 ‎

Have you ever wanted to live at Downton Abbey?  Have you ever wanted to live in Downton Abbey and then take a trip to India?  The Imperial Hotel makes you feel like you’re walking into a novel or Masterpiece’s Indian Summers.  We had the impeccably presented lunch buffet.  If you ask the concierge, you may get a tour of the other restaurants and bars in the hotel – each have their own story and history.

http://www.theimperialindia.com

Nap

If you’re too tired to enjoy it… take a nap!

Old Fort

A.K.A. Puranas Quila

After a quick walk through of the small museum earlier in the day, we came back for the light show (after dark, about $30-40 pp).  About 80 folding chairs are set up facing one of the only crumbling, yet standing walls left of the Old Fort.  For about 30 minutes brilliant colors and loud music guides through the history of the six Mughal emperors that ruled Delhi.  If I was quizzed, I’d say I remember Babur, Human, Akbar and Sha-Jahan…4 out of 6 ain’t bad!  I’d say the content was a bit dense and the program overall a bit long, but it was certainly a unique experience.  However, if you’re a history buff and can’t make it, you will hear their stories many times in your travels across the North.  The Mughal emperors’ lives rival soap operas, with wars, romance, family betrayal and more.  For example, the emperor who built the Taj Mahal was arrested and locked away before he could build the black mausoleum that would have mirrored the Taj and been his own resting place. Or there’s Akbar who had one Hindu wife, one Muslim wife, one Christian wife, and 50 concubines.    While there may have been drama in his personal life, his open and accepting love life reflected his political beliefs, and the region enjoyed tolerance, peace and prosperity.

Location: Near Delhi Zoo, Mathura Road
Nearest Metro Station: Pragati Maidan
Open: All days
Entry Fee: 5 (Indians), 100 (foreigners)
Days Closed: None
Photography Charges: Free (still camera); 25 (video camera)

Old Fort Light Show
The red curtain is still “closed” before the show.

Restaurant: Bukhara

Diplomatic Enclave, Sardar Patel Marg, Chankyapuri, New Delhi – 110021

I saved the best for last!  Bukhara – a “frontier”, rustic themed restaurant with the best grilled meat (tandoori) I’ve ever had.  I’ll admit I didn’t have the average experience.  Our dinner was a wedding reception of around 35 people, so our menu was set.  Dish after dish of meat kept rolling out: prawns, lamb, chicken, fish…  It was all dowsed in Indian spices, predominately a coriander mixture – my favorite!  They serve exclusively North Indian cuisine, but that seems to let them perfect the food they feature.  The online reviews are over the top and for good reason.  You can view the chefs as they cook from behind a class wall (probably to keep the smell of the grill from overwhelming).  This is not a cheap date… but if you’re OK with the price, then you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.  Trip Advisor has some pictures of the menu, if you’re curious about the price.  Note: The restaurant is located inside a hotel.

Bukhara

Contact: Bukhara, ITC Maurya, A Luxury Collection Hotel

For reservations or details, please call 011-46215152 / 26112233 or email mytable.itcmaurya@itchotels.in