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Trip Report INDIA: "A Pleasant Surprise"

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In early April, we spent 12 days, mostly in Rajasthan, trying to capture the best of India in a short time without tourist burnout. I’ve separately reviewed our very capable tour operator, Castle & KIng, but now I’ll give an idea of what we did. We had just come off a 16 night Seabourn cruise that disembarked in Mumbai, and I had a husband who was reluctant to tour India due to bad press, so I planned to see the highlights as efficiently as possible. Our itinerary included Jodhpur 2 nts (Raas Haveli); Devi Garh 1 nt; Udaipur 1nt (Fateh Prakash); Shahpura Bagh (2nts); Jaipur 2nts (Samode Haveli); Agra 1 nt (Oberoi Amarvilas) and New Delhi 2 nts (Leela Palace)

I’d asked C& K for a driver to take us from the ship to the Mumbai airport, and, while not a bargain, it was still less that what the ship charged. While the old colonial buildings that we passed looked interesting, the miles of horrible shacks we passed on the way to the airport looked dreadful Caught a Jet Airways to Jodhpur, an ueventful and good flight that just arrived 30 minutes late. After we collected our luggage, a rep from C&K welcomed us and accompanied us, along with Krishna, our driver for the rest of the trip, to Raas Haveli and facilitated our check-in process.

Raas Haveli is very cool. Set in the old town at the foot of the Mehrangarh Fort that looms above it, it’s actually a modern take on an old style. The exterior is red sandstone to blend with the cliffs and Fort with a top floor painted indigo. The black and white rooms were great with black marble floors and a balcony that looked across the stunning pool with the Fort as backdrop.

We met our guide, Raghu, at 4:30, a very personable and handsome young man. We set off on a walking tour of the old town, through Sarder Market and climbed the old British Clock Tower for views. He helped me buy some lac bangles and MG Spice Co for a pack of Indian spices. Market was very interesting and not cobbling shoes, providing dental service, fixing tires, fabric shops, copper cooking untensil shop, veggies and fruits, and of course, cows wandering at will. He walked us to Pal Haveli to show us where we’d be eating dinner the next night and saw a man-made lake and an old step well. Nice and easy introduction to the city, but I was a bit disappointed because, this being the Blue City, I thought most of the buildings in the old city would be indigo while only a few were. Apparently, the blue buildings were on the other side of the fort where the Brahmins used to live.

We ate dinner in the hotel tonight at Darikhana on a lovely terrace with the Fort lit spectacularly behind it. Another tip for the Tourism Board...don’t shut off the lights at 9am! Too early...I missed my chance to take photos thinking I could do it after dinner. Dinner began with a yogurt, tamarind, pomegranite starter and papadum (crackers), had an Indian Sauvignon Blanc by Grover Winery, Butter Chicken and Dal Makhani (made from black lentils) and Garlic Naan bread followed by dark chocolate ice cream. I discovered I HAD to eat ice cream, if possible, after every Indian dinner.

Slept very well despite the raucous Call to Prayer at 5:45 close by and went back to sleep until I got out at 7:30a trying to catch some “blue” photographs of an archway nearby...much quieter then, just me and some cows and Brahmin bulls eating garbage.
Back for a lovely alfresco breakfast seated next to the pool with a great buffet and eggs or pancakes made to order. At 9a, Krishna & Raghu came to get us for our tour. They are both delightful and glad to hear that Bob from Fodors recommended them. “Very Happy Man” was Krishna’s succinct words.

First we drove into the countryside hills to see Jaswant Thada, cenotaphs of the old rulers of Jodhpur. This is the Royal Cremation area where the maharajahs were cremated and then beautiful marble monuments were built above the sites. Here, Raghu spent time explaining the Hindu practice of cremation...the meaning behind it and the practical aspects...very interesting. Lovely gardens and a man-made lake, used by family members to purify themselves following the cremation, complete the scene. Inside the main mausoleum framed photographs of Maharajah Jaswent Singh and his son were displayed while a turbaned flute player played evocative music. Quite lovely.

Now a quick drive to Mehrangarh Fort, 400 feet above the city, where an elevator whisked us to the top. From here, you could look down and see the blue buildings of the Brahmin section. Then we explored the many palaces...can’t go into the detail but they were ornately carved and decorated...the Sheesh Mahal, the mirror palace, Phool Mahal, the flower palace...all gorgeous. An excellent museum on site showcasing the Royal Howdahs (elephant chairs), cribs, turbans, palanquins, textiles, and weapons. We were also introduced to the art of Miniature Painting where paints ground from natural minerals like lapis lazuli, malachite and turquoise were applied with a brush with a single squirrel hair...all augmented with gold and silver bits. Exquisite examples on display.

When leaving, you pass through an excellent museum shop where a man who’s family has created these painting for generations is selling his wares....and we got talked into buying two of maharani’s arriving by elephants and a matching opposite one of maharjahs arriving by elephant. No idea if the price is good or it if you like it.

By now, it’s very hot so went back to the hotel for lunch and hoped to jump in the pool, but internet tasks interfered. Later in the afternoon Raghu came back for another venture into Sarder Market. I had earlier asked him if he knew an economical way for me to ship home a package of dressy clothing/shoes from the cruise that I didn’t want to lug around. He told me we’d visit the textile section of the market, wholesalers who ship to Hermes, Anthropology, Donna Karan, etc. So, we walk past open shops with throngs of colorfully dressed women in their saris sitting on the floor buying fabrics and enter a “warehouse” store, a man leads up the stairs and invites us to sit down, and starts laying out bedspreads, etc. Oh no! I hate shopping like this! And, I had no need of bedspreads or tablecloths...or so I thought. They ranged from simple cotton eyelet to silk and pashimas in beautiful paisleys. We get the whole spiel about how much this would cost in the US or Paris...shown photos of Richard Gere visiting the place, and see magazine articles featuring the shop and owners, Jain Enterprises. Then, he tells me the prices in US...and they are surprisingly good. Suddenly, I’m interested, and most surprising, my husband is interested. I want a blue silk patchwork type and he wants a lightweight pashima (the more expensive option) coming off a cruise, I don’t have that much room in my suitcases. He tells me what his shipping costs to the US are...again very reasonable. So, decide to take both...then he brings out pashima shawls...beautiful, lightweight and only $30 US. I take 3 and I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not getting more. But, I didn’t want to buy a lot at the first place we looked at and expected that Jaipur would be a better shopping town. Oh well. So, to ship a queen size pashima and blue silk bedspread (that I’m going to use as a tablecloth) 3 shawls, and my package of 2 pairs of shoes and a long formal and short dress (that was 8 pounds alone), the shipping charge was $45, which I thought was cheap. I told them the date range I wanted it delived (since we were going to be gone another 3 weeks) and it arrived the day after I came home.

For dinner we walked to Pal Haveli and ate dinner on their highest rooftop at “Indique”, with a great view of illuminated Mehrangarh Fort (until 9p) when we had to console ourselves with dining by the light of a full moon. Food was excellent and very reasonable...Chicken tikka, an eggplant dish, biryani with vegetables, naan bread and Kingfisher Beer. Felt safe walking back and forth at night.

Originally, I thought perhaps I should skip Jodhpur as it was a bit out of the way, but it was a good way to ease into India. And, the Mehranghar Fort was one of our favorites, as was staying at the Raas Haveli. Most importantly, after spending two nights in Jodhpur, my husband said he was “pleasantly surprised by India.”

Next: Devi Garh

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