India - Jaipur

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, May 7, 2007

Our Agra guide left us after Fatehpur Sikri and we got on the road for the long 5-hour drive to Jaipur. The roads between Agra and Jaipur were a complete mess, with potholes and debris scattered everywhere, causing our driver to zigzag constantly for the entire journey. It was amusing to finally see the reason for all the horn blowing we had encountered during our travels - hardly surprising when the trucks actually ask you to do it! (PIC)
Arriving into Jaipur we got our driver to take us straight to the office of Jet Airways, a low-cost Indian Airline with whom we had booked our flight to Kathmandu. We had to pick up our tickets by the end of the day or they would be cancelled - luckily we got there with less than an hour to spare!
We drove back to our hotel; the Hilton again, through the old city known for its red painted buildings, spotting a monkey sitting quietly atop one of the characteristic flat-roofed houses (PIC).
The next day we headed straight for the main attraction in Jaipur, the Amber Fort. En route to the fort we caught a glimpse of the diversity of wildlife that India has to offer, even within the towns and cities. In the space of a ten-minutes journey we passed Monkeys, Camels, Pigs, Elephants, Horses, Donkeys and the commonplace Cows all in and around the streets! It was mind-boggling! (PICS)
The giant fort is built on the peak of a large hill towering over Jaipur and there are two options to get to the top, by car or by elephant. The elephants only operate for a few hours during the morning as the law only allows them to work for restricted hours, especially during the summer when temperatures can reach close to 50 degrees.
We trawled through the many nooks and crannies of the fort with our new guide. He was nowhere near as good as the one we had in Agra but was still fairly informative and added something to the experience as we would have spent far less time and discovered less of the fort had we been on our own.
The fort was separated into three parts, each designated to one of the emperors wives and all of which were elegantly decorated. The architecture and inlay work were markedly different to the Taj Mahal, especially the rather saucy Karma Sutra designs in one of the bedrooms (PIC).
One of the most attractive and vivid parts of the fort was the emperor's own private room which featured a stunning stained glass window and a massive veranda with thousands of convex mirrors inlaid into the walls and ceiling. Strangely the mirrors were actually imported from Italy!
One of Jaipur's emperors (okay we can't remember which one) had a real thing about astrology and the prediction of futures and fortunes through the use of the position of the sun, stars and planets in our solar system. His interest was so extreme that he had four observatories built all over India, the biggest of which was in Japiur. The observatory is basically a huge outdoor arrangement of sundials, one of which is the largest sundial in the world.
It was an impressive array of sandstone and marble sculptures and looked amazingly modern, even though they had been built hundreds of years ago. There was one dial that could tell the local time to the nearest minute, and it indicated that the local time is actually different to the national time - this difference varies by up to 40 minutes either side of the national time and changes daily. The local time is important, as the Hindu people strongly believe in creating an accurate horoscope for their loved ones before they get married. Their exact time of birth and star sign are critical in producing this horoscope.
As a result of this horoscope there are sundials for each of the 12 signs of the zodiac - so we just had to find ours, Aquarius and Libra (PICS).
On the way out of the observatory we spotted what can only be described as a 'Red Indian' (PIC). This is something we saw all over the country. For some strange reason many Indian men decide to dye their hair a bright red - even though it is clearly not, and never could be, natural!
Jaipur had one more key attraction that we wanted to check out, the City Palace. The king and his family still live in part of the palace; hence there were sections we couldn't get into. Nevertheless there was plenty of palace to be seen and again the entire place was immaculately kept and well restored for the most part.
As a rather strange addition to the palace artefacts was two of the world's biggest silvers jugs - large enough to fit a couple of people in (PIC) - unfortunately the two turbaned maharajahs weren't up for demonstrating the fact!
The palace also had a vast collection of textiles and costumes, carpets and an amazing assortment of weapons, from knives and daggers to broadswords and rifles (PICS).
One final interesting feature of the palace was the large courtyard with its four ornately designed doors. Each door was decorated with a different design (PICS), representing the religions of each of the emperors wives, who were only allowed to use their designated door to meet with their emperor.
Back at the Hilton we had a number of problems with room service and housekeeping, namely taking ages to deliver our meals which were then incorrect and our room was barely touched by the cleaners who didn't give us enough towels or toiletries. To top it off we had the busboy hanging around for a tip despite the Hilton policy being that no member of staff should be individually tipped.
On checking out we filled out a comments form but for once had no intention of complaining to the staff, as it wasn't that much of a big deal, especially compared to the sort of issues we had encountered in other countries and hotels. Regardless, the hotels duty manager came out to apologise to us and said that these sort of things shouldn't be happening, particularly when it was the low (quiet) season. As way of an apology he cancelled our entire room bill - over 40 quid! We couldn't complain too much about that! This is where the difference really shows between 2/3* and 5* hotels - they realise what level of service they should provide and are normally appalled if they don't provide it. Sadly this level of service was a rare situation to find ourselves in after so many problems in many other hotels - an apology can go a long way...40 quid back in our pockets goes even further!
As one last quick-stop before we left Jaipur we called at the wondrous eye-sore that is the Wind Palace. It is plonked right in the middle of one of Jaipur's main streets and looks completely out of place. Apparently the interior isn't worth looking at - so we didn't, we just pulled up outside and took a quick photo.
Then off to Jodhpur!
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