I was up late last night, trying to figure out a good plan for seeing Rajasthan, and I slept in until 9:30, when I heard my cell phone going off. I jumped in the shower, and before I was done someone from the hotel was kicking on my door. I didn't get out to answer it and soon my hotel phone started ringing - well, they just wanted to make sure I didn't miss bfast LOL! Bfast was an omelet in the pavilion dining area. I watched little chipmunks scurrying around and picking up pieces of toast that someone had dropped . The mgr let me borrow his pc to look up a hotel in Jaipur that I was interested in and then called and made arrangements for me. I'd hoped to walk around town before leaving for the airport, but I ran out of time. I flew KingfisherAirlines (yes, like the beer!) and they were GREAT! Everyone was very nice and the plane was clean and there was lots of legroom. We stopped in Goa and it was so beautiful! It was lush and prehistoric-looking. I've decided I must go back there someday. I fell asleep during our descent in Jaipur, but I could tell that it was a lot greener than I had expected. There was someone waiting for me outside the airport with my name on a piece of paper - I've always thought that'd be cool! And he drove me out to the Raj Mahal. I got there and the room they had for me was fantastic, but theinside lock didn't work. When they couldn't fix it, they changed my room... and put me in a suite! It was huge! and gorgeous! Wit h18ft ceilings and peiod furniture, a sitting area, chandelier, fancy lighting, and marble inlaid floors. My jaw really dropped when I saw it. I have a huge front porch area that I'm sitting on now, though I think I may walk to the back lawns where there's more of a breeze in a moment. I just saw the gorup of Indian guys who'd been hanging out back there leave. Nevermind, looks like they shut the doors the one way I knew how to get bck there.I had a very nice dinner at the hotel restaurant, then I grabbed my camera and started walking around. Not many people were out, so I didn't go too far, but the grounds are lovely. The pool looks so inviting and the night sky is very clear. there are lots of little lizards running around here. Did I mention that the maharaja of Jaipur lived here? Looks like he entertained many royal guests in his day, too. The decor of the palace is perfect, and all the tiny details are here. This is, without a doubt, the best hotel I've ever booked! I just wish Chris was here t oenjoy it with me. It's a little odd, bein galone in such a romantic atmosphere... Well, tomorrow I've scheduled a guide and a car from 8am-6pm, it's not a bad price, but I'm wondering if I could accomplish as much on my own? Probably not. I remember how well that work out for me in Rome! If only I had a better sense of direction! Well I'm going to get to bed early tonight but I still need to make a list of things to see tomorrow so I can make the most of my personal guide. Oh, it's very hot and muggy here! That pool would be great right about now!
I woke up at , did an hour of yoga, showered, and met my guide at , after a small breakfast at the hotel.First we drove past a religious parade, there were people on camels and elephants and music all processing through the street.I forget the Hindi word, but it means Eleven Days, and is celebrated each month eleven days after the full moon and charity is given to the poor. It was very colorful and festive. Then we drove past the Hawal Mahal, which was under renovation.Then we drove on towards Amber. On the way there, I saw a snake charmer with a cobra – apparently they remove the poison, but I still didn't get too close. At the bottom of Amber Fort I took an elephant ride up to the top of the hill. I walked around the palace and saw the gardens and the women's apartments and the maharaja's apartments above theirs. There was intricately carved marble that created a screen that you could see out of, but people couldn't see in. We visited the Temple of Kali, where my guide claimed there used to be human sacrifices, although I'm going to look that up next time I get to a computer. Amber was a great place, I'm very happy I was able to visit. After Amber Fort, we visitedKanak Vrindavan and saw very pretty gardens that the maharaja built for his sister. There were fountains, & monkeys! Then we took at look at Jal Mahal, which once sat in the middle of ManSagorLake, but the lake has dried up, and now it looks very odd, sitting out in a baked mud field, all alone. I could see the Tiger Fort of Nahargarh on a hill, but we didn't go inside. Next, we went to Galta. There were a lot of snake charmers here! Galta is a holy place and I saw the priests bathing and there was another pool for women to bathe in. At the top of the steps was "MonkeyPalace" with another pool and lots of monkeys lounging outside in the shade. There was a group of school children and they were very curious about me, especially a girl named Rosa. She asked my name and shook my hand and then they all wanted to touch my hand. They were very excited to interact with me and were very happy for me to take their picture. That was really a highlight of my day, it was a very neat experience. On the walk back towards the car, a snake charmer told my guide that for Rs500, he would release his snake into the wild. My guide talked him down to Rs200 and they walked off to release the snake. I've really started to come into contact with the poverty in this country; outside of Amber there were 20-30 hungry-looking children begging. It was heart-breaking. But I'm still glad I saw it. It would be wrong, I think, to see only the beauties of this country (of which there are many), and avoid seeing the harsher side of life here. It's a bitter-sweet experience, and makes me appreciate the wonders even more.
Next, we head back to town and enter the CityPalace, where we stop for a bite to eat at the City Café. Then we walk through the Palace, seeing the miniature paintings and the old books written on palm leaves and royal hand-knotted carpets. VP (my guide) explains to me that some of the gods are blue in color because of poison – Krishna was poisoned by a watersnake as a boy and the god married to Parvati drank poison that came out of the sea during a task when he had to take everything the sea offered him. Then we saw the large silver vases for water that the maharaja filled from the Ganges to take to Europe with him. We saw the royal artist shop where they had their goods set up for sell (and I got completely ripped off on a painting – Thanks a lot VP!) Next we saw Jantar Mantar, which is the astrological observatory and has the largest sun dial in the world and can give the time within 2 seconds. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so it was difficult to see exactly how some of the equipment worked. There were sundials for each of the zodiacs that the priests used for horoscopes. It was a fascinating place! Afterwards, I visited a few shops (Good 'ole VP, trying to make a commission off of me!). Almost everything I've seen has been grossly overpriced. I may soon start claiming to be Canadian. All the shopkeepers are happy to hear I'm from the US and seem to think that spending US$300on a bracelet is "not much money" for American! I'll have to experiment with being Canadian tomorrow. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I came back, napped, spoke w/Harsh about taking tomorrow's train to Jaisalmer and had dinner. Now I'm falling asleep as I write. So I think I've talked enough for one sitting!
I woke up early this morning, around . I guess it's bc I happed and fell asleep early yesterday. So I thought I'd get a few photos of the sun coming up. Unfortunately, it was raining. So there was no sunrise to speak of . Instead I got a few pics from my balcony, but my lenses were fogging up from the heat and humidity. I sat outside for a bit, watching the rain in the early morning, before the bustle of the hotel workers took over. Around 7am I had breakfast (a tasty veggie omelet and what I think was mango juice – even though he called it "orange" juice… which it was…) I spent a hwile laying everything I'd brough out on my bed and putting everything back into its plastic baggy (I've been told this is crucial, but luckily, it hasn't been necessary yet). After a quick shower (water shortages are a problem, so I'm keeping water usage low), and some more packing, I get a call from Harsh from Know-Well India Tours. He'll be at the hotel in 10 minutes to drop off my train ticket for tonight. I thought he'd told me they accepted cc's but I must've misunderstood. But it's ok bc Harsh offers to take me to an ATM if I ride with him on his motorcycle. Let me say that the city streets are scary places in India. People say Italian drivers are nuts, well, that's NOTHING compared to India! I don't like crossing the street as a pedestrian, and I'd be much too scared to ride a bicycle here. That being said, going in search of an ATM w/Harsh was FANTASTIC fun! Cars were so close to us that I had to make sure my knees and elbows weren't jutting out too far – or they'd be bumped by other vehicles! It was a little scary, but tons of fun once I got used to it. After finding an ATM, Harsh took me to an internet café so I could check my email. He waited for me and then dropped me off at the hotel, where we talked a bit about what I could do for entertainment this evening. He suggested Indiana for dinner with Indian dancing, or seeing a movie at Jaipur's famous movie-theater. I decided to walk around and take a few pictures of the hotel pool and grounds, then re-confirmed a late checkout with the hotel manager – he said 5pm would be fine, after which, I could leave my bags at the desk until my train-time. Then, I deci9ded to take a dip in the pool! But quickly changed my mind when I sawthe pigeons using it as a birdbath!So here I am, laying out, sweat dripping off of my nose, elbows, legs, and everywhere else, just watching the pigeons cool off in the pool, and what I think is a male pigeon's mating dance. It's really entertaining!! The pool is completely deserted except for about 30 pigeons, 2 tangoing doves, and an orange & white kitty that's been stalking me from under the pool chairs. Time for a quick rinse and to decide on my plans for the rest of the afternoon!
Well, I lounged around until , and then went to checkout. I met the GM who was a great guy with a British accent. He recommended I go to the Spice Court for dinner rather than Indiana. So I'm going there for dinner tonight, they'll have transportation at 8pm. When I asked if I could leave my bag behind the desk, he insisted I keep my room until I left for the train station. This has been the most amazing hotel I've ever stayed at ! If only it were in Bangalore – I'd never leave! I've decided to try and keep to a Rs2000/day budget, with Rs8000 set aside for long distance traveling. I relaxed for a bit and then took an autorickshaw to the Spice Court for dinner. It was a lovely restaurant with a musician playing outside. I took an outdoor table so I could listen to him, he played a lot of Western music, I know I caught "Don't cry for me Argentina…" in there! The food was delicious, and afterwards, I had a few minutes to burn before riding home, so I took a walk. Behind Spice Court was a hotel that was having a gorgeous wedding on the back lawns. Everyone was dressed extraordinarily well – the women looked like Indian princesses, some with their colorful veils over their faces. I saw some men in Jodhpur riding pants! There was someone playing the drums, pavilions in pink and white, and the whole area was strung with garlands of yellow marigolds and green leaves. It was a wonderfully exotic site! At I met up with my rickshaw driver to go back to the hotel. Anyone remember Opryland's Tin Lizzies? Well, that's what this RS reminded me of! It would sputter and jerk, but kept chugging along… if you mixed the Tin Lizzies with the bumper cars then you'd really get an accurate idea of what it was like! Harsh picked me up at the hotel at to drive me to the train station. He really has been fantastic. When we got to the train station, I was definitely having 2nd thoughts about getting on the train. The station floor was a mess of sleeping bodies. It smelled like a restroom, and I'm fairly certain a lot of the puddles on the ground were urine. Looking down at the train tracks, it was easy to spot rats scurrying along. I was the only westerner that I could see – and I was looking! It really was a scary moment for me. I kept thinking that if my mother could see me, she'd slap me and drag me out of there… and I knew she'd be right! My train was scheduled to leave at , but it was running late. Harsh, God bless him, stayed with me the whole time! We talked about our families and different parts of India. Then I saw another train depart – with people actually hanging on outside the doors, it was so packed! I asked Harsh if that was common for trains to be so full. He told me that the number of Indians riding the trains each day was equivalent to the population of Australia! Then he assured me that I wouldn't be on that part of the train, but in the AC 3 tier with other tourists and business men… I was doubtful. It was getting later and still no train! People were staring at me and Hasrh told me that I looked like a famous Bollywood actress that the people were crazy about. It dawns on me now that maybe he was just trying to make me feel better, but regardless, the flattery worked a bit. Then, a Canadian tourist (so he said!), came over and asked where his car would be – finally, another westerner! He had an unreserved ticket and would most likely be with the people hanging off the sides, poor guy! At least he was asian and blended in more than me. Then Harsh pointed out a western couple a little down the track. I was starting to feel a little better. Just before , the train finally showed up and Harsh (who has to work at !) helped me find my "bed". They had gotten me a top bunk (on my request). I was in Car B1, bed 14. It was much better than I'd expected (my expectations had drastically plummeted a few hours ago). Harsh helped me get my bag on my bed – it took up ½ the bed – and warned me to hide my shoes, so no one would steal them while I slept! Oh! My moment of confidence faltered a bit! Harsh hurried off the train and I promised to email him. Now to make this "bed" sleepable. I can't sit up straight in it bc the ceiling is too low, so I push my backpackto the far end, against the outer wall (where most people are putting their heads). I unfasten my sleeping bag roll and put it at the "foot" end of the bed. Then a man walks by distributing sheets. I lay one over the blue vinyl bed and roll it around my sleeping bag like so: @ - clever, eh? Now I can use the sleeping bag as a pillow that won't easily roll off the bunk and no one can easily steal it. I have the rest of the sheet draped over my backpack and tucked under itself so the zipper areas aren't easily exposed. I have just enough room to lay down with my legs over my backpack, one leg guarding the outside zipper. Everything of the utmost importance – passport, visa, credit cards, $, malaria meds, and my ticket home – are either in my fanny pack (go ahead, laugh! I may look silly, but my stuff is safe! And, I look like a Bollywood actress!), or in my money pouch I wear around my neck. I tuck my neck pouch under my t-shirt, pull out my pink Indian dress/shirt and put it on to cover my fanny pack and shield me from the AC that's 2 feet from me. I pull another sheet up over me (covering my shoes, which since they're against the far wall, I figure are safe), and – quite comfy, really – get ready to sleep. Then I hear the guy snoring in the bunk below me – it was insanely loud! I couldn't block it out, so I put on my relaxation music on my iPod, string the earpieces through my clothing, zip the ipod into the fanny pack, and tuck the fanny pack on my right side, against the wall. I do have Chris's knife in the fanny pack, and I consider wearing it like he showed me – clipped onto the inside of my pants, above the butt. But that sounds very uncomfortable right now, and no one looks threatening, and the guy on the other side is an Indian who grew up in CA and very western, so I decide against it. With my ipod on as loud as it will go, I can just barely hear the snoring man, especially if I don't think about him. The train has been moving, and people are already asleep. It comes to me that this is the most (physically) comfortable I have ever traveled! And I drift off to sleep for the night, as the train rocks me.
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