The pool at the Haveli
From Jaipur we are headed north west of Delhi into semi-desert. Atul consults with us about what we would like to do for the day. We can drive on to our next destination and have lunch there but we have an organised dinner there in the evening too and breakfast the next morning and he offers us an alternative. We can make a small detour of about 20 kms and visit a palace where if we pay 250 rupees we can go in and look around and then if we choose to eat something at the hotel/palace the 250 rupees will be deducted from our food bill for a fairly expensive set lunch. The group considers this and would like to visit the palace but want to buy food from cheaper, local sources.
Part of our haveli room
Tonight will be our last night as a group as about half of us are going back to Delhi as we are doing the 7 day tour and the others are going on to continue with a 15 day tour.
Our unscheduled visit is along an appalling road and through a tiny village where it seems impossible that our bus will make it through the streets, The palace is extremely ornate inside and the walls and ceilings are inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones and mirrored finishes, A setting of couches with silver legs and arm rests provide us with a great photo opportunity to act the Maharajahs. We choose a snack for lunch anyway and drink mango lassi and still they take the 250 rupees off the bill so it is a real bargain. The touts are ready for us and I get hassled by an artist selling his pics.
Visiting another haveli
I spot a picture of an ornately decorated green elephant amongst some art works that I like but don't really want. The vendor asks me how much I would pay for it but I tell him I don't want it. He persists and I tell him 250 rupees which instantly offends him and he shows me others he would sell for 250 rupees. I tell him "No, thank you" and he persists and persists. I get on the bus and suddenly the picture is 250 rupees. It is pretty but I feel bad that I bought it for so little ($7.50 Aus) and didn't really want a picture in the first place.
We have a long drive ahead and one of our group expressed a desire to sample some real Indian samosas as they are his favourite snack food in the UK. Atul spots a street vendor selling what he considers to be reasonably safe food and rushes out of the bus in a traffic jam to buy a bag full of them for us.
View of roof tops from the haveli
We try to pay him for them but he says that they are only 4 rupees each and they are his treat! Out into the roads of agriculture and mesmerising driving in the mid-afternoon. The bus driver stops after some consultation with Atul at a roadside cafe that has one brick wall painted with a large Pepsi advertisement, a roof of tarpaulins and bed frame seating. Pepsi doesn't appear to be available! Atul asks who would like tea and about half of us who aren't coping with delicate tummies get off the bus and perch on the "beds". Andrew looks at the vessels the tea is being made in and his tummy tells him that he will take a rain check on the tea. The locals seem a lot surprised that we have chosen to stop there but they press on making tea and Itul tells us that there will be a slight delay as they have sent for some fresh water buffalo milk as the 6 extra clients were a bit unexpected!
The tea is fragrant, spiced, sweet and delicious.
Our wonderful travel companions with the two fabulous Alisons at the right hand rear of the table!
We drink it and take our leave and Atul pays the bill. The small bus presses on and the driver's smile becomes more manic, bottled water keeps getting passed out on request and we watch the people from our window as the road deteriorates. The outside temperature is still very hot. We are now out on a road that has diminished to a single lane stretch of tar that ends in a ragged pattern with huge drops from the edge into sand. The driver plays chicken with oncoming school buses and trucks to see whose courage will fail first sending the unfortunate one off the road and onto the sand. It is now approaching 5.30pm and we left Jaipur at around 9am and we finally appear to be entering a small village called Alsisar where the houses close in on the narrow streets and again I wonder how the little bus will get through what seems to be only wide enough for a donkey and cart.
Looking over our manic driver's shoulder
The driver seems uncertain as to exactly where he has to go and Atul doesn't seem to know either but we get to a large unimposing Haveli.
Havelis are courtyard style mansion homes that were built by wealthy merchant families of Muslim clans. They appear to be nothing much from outside, entry is usually through a large wooden gate leading into a small courtyard which then leads into another courtyard. The largest of mansions have as many as 4 courtyards and were up to 6 storeys in height. As the families in this region made their wealth from trading with those on the caravan routes on their way to the coastal port of Gujarat and had built size-able mansions to reflect their wealth, they liked to decorate the interiors by painting them in remarkable intricate ways.
The outdoor puppet show
We climb out of our little bus and are welcomed with a glass of juice in a beautiful courtyard, rooms are allocated and we follow our porter to our gigantic room with aircon and stencilled wall decorations, a huge bed and thick stone walls. Before it gets too dark we are hustled out into the village to walk around and look at other decaying havelis. They are some three hundred years old and families still occupy them, often trying to sell home made puppets, incense and touristy items that have been mass produced. There is a brother and sister at the first and I give them my two remaining koalas. In the streets children follow us and I give one young boy a pen and notepad and show him in sign language that he must not share the source of his gift with the others,
Some of our group spot a small clothing shop in a small room in the streets and the females make a beeline into it.
visiting a haveli
Bedspreads, skirts, shirts and fabric door hangings are purchased in a frenzy as it is getting darker then we continue our street walk as peacocks fly overhead to find a roosting spot for the night. A large telecommunications tower seems to be a favourite and I count in excess of 30 there and I didn't know that peacocks flew! Back to the haven of the hotel and we give ourselves an hour before we meet for dinner. The whole group descends on the huge outdoor swimming pool in the darkness except the other Alison. Andrew is still not able to swim as the wound on his back has not entirely closed up though I am now finding it hard to pack much of the packing in during the daily attention and it has been about 5 weeks since the cyst was cut out.
temples glimpsed all the time
The swimming pool water could have benefited from a couple of ice cubes added but we swim under the starry night sky of the northern hemisphere as bats skitter overhead and little pink frogs hop around the massive walkways around the pool area.
After an hour we all meet on the open courtyard which is two levels above the first two, before we go in to dine for the last time together. The buffet Indian dinner is once again impeccable and I particularly enjoy the spinach that is crispy, somehow cooked in a light coating of batter. Photos are taken of the group thanks to some guests from the Netherlands on a nearby table and e-mail addresses are swapped. We will be really sad to farewell the other Alison and her brother David as they have provided much merriment with their quirky sense of humour and we really hope that they will visit us in Australia one day soon.
another roof top view
After the wonderful dinner there is a puppet show for us to watch and a young man does some fire eating before it begins. The puppets are available for sale and the price quoted earlier in the evening is naturally not for the ones we were enquiring about, ours would be dearer of course!
Next morning Atul farewells us as he is going with the group that is doing the 15 day tour for the first day or two. We will continue alone with the manic bus driver and his boy as they are taking the rest of us back to Delhi which will be at least a 6 hour trip for the last part of the circle. We are once again grateful we had the foresight to leave our world travelled suitcases back in Delhi as our small backpacks are loaded into the bus and our treasures are added to the parcel rack above. The small bus begins the tortuous drive back along the single strip of tar and we see the others branch off as they are headed southwards. For weeks now we have been counting down the days to our return to Australia and we have only about 5 days to go.
We have learned so much in just a few days here, seen only a fraction of the country, experienced some of the most delicious foods and the most stately accommodation possible for 3 to 4 star living. Our decision to tour Egypt and India with a budget tour group was the best choice we could have made. Never would have seen and learnt so much if we hadn't, with all the anti-terrorist measures needed to allow us to pass through Egypt especially. Our manic bus driver really wasn't that manic, it was just his smile and not his driving that gave that impression! He did have a great deal of drama finding his way back on to the main thoroughfare to Delhi asking at several villages and towns which way he should go. We did notice that the signs for Delhi were often non-existent in their language and most often never in English so again, I don't think that we would have been able to drive ourselves anywhere let alone cope with the other drivers. Would we have coped by train? Probably but there is a lot more stress doing it on your own.