For a change of scenary, we decided to hire a car and driver to take us from Agra to Jaipur so we could actually see the countryside. On the way to Jaipur, we stopped in Fatephur Sikri on the way which was a spectacular old fort that the Emperor Akbar lived in during the mid-1500s. The views from the fort were simiilar to the views from St Wulstan's in the Malvern Hills - miles of yellow flowers as far as the eye could see. Rather embarassingly, at one point an Indian family wanted to take our photo with them. Unfortunately, there was a slight delay as the Dad had to change the film but the family thought it was fantastic fun and we were only too happy to oblige, even if we (or at least Jonathan) did feel a bit self conscious.
The journey was slightly stressful in that we were in a very small car with one seatbelt - and there was no issue with driving on the wrong side of the road to "pass" directly into the oncoming trucks!!
The standard of driving in India has been appalling and in Jaipur we have experienced the Indian method of negotiating roundabouts for the first time. It goes something like this.
1) When entering roundabout, do not look for traffic already on roundabout. Enter at speed without flinching and head for the lane closest to the inside of roundabout.
2) Once on roundabout, beware of kamakaze vehicles entering roundabout without looking.
3) When leaving the roundabout pull over from your middle lane position to your exit lane without looking but maybe, and only maybe, use the universal hand signal for such a manoveure. For those unfamiliar with such a signal, it involves putting your hand and maybe half of your forearm out of the side window in the direction you intent to turn and then, and this is the important part, with your index finger you VERY slowly draw a circle about the size of a tennis ball in a forwards direction.
4) If you see a vehicle making such a distinct signal be very cautious. They are about to perform an erratic manoveure although please note in need not be in the direction actually indicated!
On all Indian roads, using anything but the lane closest to the middle of the road immdiately labels you as a wimp. In fact extra kudos can be gained by actually driving on the wrong side of the road for as long as possible while still keeping your vehicle in one piece.
In spite of all of this, we arrived in Jaipur safely - The Pink City - which seems at the outset slightly more developed than the other parts of India we have been to so far. Entering Jaipur you immediately feel as though you've entered a different era. Camels and elephants join the rickshaws, autorickshaws and cars on the crowded streets, each bustling towards their final destinations whilst trying to avoid hitting each other or the now ubiquitous wandering cows.
We are staying at Hotel Maduhuban in the north of Jaipur in the Bani Park district - which is the lovliest little place we have found so far and we highly recommend it if you are planning a trip here!! We have enjoyed a very nicely furnished and clean room and fantastic service.
The City Palace is home to the present Maharaja of Jaipur; Bhavani Singh, and hosts a number of museums displaying traditional artwork, arms and clothing. Not particularly interesting but also on display are the two largest silver vessels in the world (and they are very large), mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records. These were used for carrying water from the holy Ganges for personal use, by Madho Singh II on his journey to England in 1902. Apparently he didn't trust the English water........(Andrea said she doesn't blame him...)
The Observatory (Jantar Mantar) next door was slightly more interesting. A small park containing what appear to be sculptures turns out to be a scientific observatory with many precision intruments, each used for a specific task such as measuring the position of stars/sun etc.
Finally, the Palace of the Winds. A small palace built to seven stories that is just one room wide by the top, essentially just a facade. From the street it spreads up and out like a pink and white fan dotted with latticework, screens and balconies. It was designed for the court ladies of Jai Singh to view royal processions without breaking purdah (ie showing their faces or interacting with men outside their families). Sadly, it is the "highlight" of Jaipur and it is in a great state of disrepair. Inside there was a rather spartan museum with a few paintings and marble carvings on display.
New Years Eve seemed like a good excuse to break free from the confines of our hotel restaurant and have a bit of a budget defying blowout meal (not for the first or last time!). We popped into the Taj Rambagh Palace hotel and made a reservation, booked a car to take us and donned our party rags. As seems to be the norm so far, our first experience of service at the apparantly "famous" Polo Bar was far from satisfactory
and Andrea's patience was tested to the limit. Even I (Jonathan) found my usual cool persona tested to it's limit and a few cracks appeared in my calm facade!
However, let's move swiftly onto dinner. Indians have a habit of eating late and our entry into the dining room was a bit surreal. One family were seated in the
far corner, but apart from that the place was empty. Given our bad experience at the bar, we decided to take the plunge and be seated at that time; someone has to be first (or second!). A lovely dinner, accompanied by some long-missed bubbly, was
enhanced by the promise of a prize draw later in the evening with many fantastic offerings to be given away. Unfortunately Lady Luck turned out to be off partying herself that night and Andrea and I must have been the only table not to receive a prize. I'm not sure that we would have used a free weekend at the Taj in Bangalore (to be taken between April and June 2005), but it was the principle of the matter!
Midnight approached and we were asked by another English couple if we would like to join them for midnight (which seemed to come 4 minutes early to most people who were checking thier watches!). We (Andrea and I) got up on our chairs to "Jump" into the New Year - apparently some strange Hungarian tradition that Andrea's family has followed since she was small!! We accepted and shared another bottle of bubbly with Alexei and Susie before heading off to the hotel nightclub for a bit of a new year boogie and lots of light-bulb turning by the Indian dancers!
Our final sightseeing excursion was a day trip out to see Amber fort, the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachhawa clan of Amber. Constructed by Raja Man Singh I in 1592 and completed by Sawai Jai Singh I the fort is made in red sand stone and white marble. Very impressive. Even more impressive was the little "Non-Lonely Planet" (!!) sanctioned restaurant we stopped for lunch - excellent little roadside place - a whole lunch for $1 - and we live to tell about it!
On the way back into town we stopped at the Nahargarh (Tiger Fort), built in 1734 on a hill overlooking city. While part of its purpose was to be a fortification, it was primarily built to house the 9 wives of the local Majaraja (Jonathan said he wouldn't be able to afford it!). The view from the top was spectacular.
...And so onto Udaipur. I was honoured to be able to queue at the train station at a line that was not only for Foreign Tourists but also Freedom Fighters. I'd never imagined Foreign Tourists and Freedom Fighters to be linked in some way but it appears that we are held in equally high esteem!
If there is one memory of Jaipur that will remain with us, it is of our first experience with a cycle-rickshaw-wallah. An elderly looking gentlemen, who looked as though the effort of pedalling us up any minor gradient would be the end of him, rekindled our faith in the honesty of Indian people. After agreeing a price of 10 rupees for a short journey, he then refused point blank to accept any more than that, even though we were offering him a tip of 20 rupees. He reiterated that we had struck a bargain at Rs10 and refused to accept any more.