A Travellerspoint blog

Traveling through Rajasthan: Jaipur

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Acting on the advice of several friends and my own frustration with trying to do it my way, I went to a travel agency to book a trip to the Rajasthan region. They agency was recommended by my hotel in Delhi, so I thought they would be good. Let me just say from the outset that they were not. Remember this name, Destination India, and stay clear of it! They suggested a 12 day trip to four cities. I signed a contract that covered hotels with breakfast at each location and a 24/7 car and driver. (The driver, Mr. Sharma, turned out to be quite good but more on him later). We agreed on a budget and things sounded very promising. I had to pay up front for the package...a real mistake I later learned.

The trip started well. I stayed at a beautiful hotel in Jaipur called Shapura Haveli. Here are several pictures...

180_3E74D1CA2219AC68172456F6C07FFE8E.jpg. The exterior.

180_3EB9FDD42219AC681753E55CAD685D3F.jpg. One of the guest lounges.

90_3F9D64E72219AC68171BFAD50D176485.jpg. The breakfast room.

A Haveli is a mansion in Hindi. As in the case of Shapura, nobility allegedly lived (or currently live) there. I was soon to find out that there is a big discrepancy in the application of the term.

Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan and is the lapidary center of the country. Everywhere are stores selling jewelry which I managed to avoid. It is also known for its many buildings and beautiful architecture. The first we visited was a recently built temple, Govind Devji Temple, which is the second most important temple in the world to Krishna believers. The statutes are solid gold and can only be viewed certain times of the day. I lucked out and the curtains were open. Before I left, the bells were rung and the curtains closed. Photos are forbidden inside but here are several exterior shots...

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Everyone must remove their shoes before entering 180_402EBC0B2219AC6817D8071DD91F4757.jpg

My driver took me to many Hindu temples over the next three days. They are as numerous as churches in Rome. I guessed after a while he was hoping to convert me to Hinduism but gave up after an episode in Pushkar. Here is Mr. Sharma, during his early attempts at proselytizing...

90_47BC9B072219AC68178D794B734DA397.jpg. He was especially excited to take me to The Monkey Temple, Galwh Bagh, And you might guess what was there.....

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Jaipur is known as the pink city because the old city area has houses and shops painted kind of pink. They were painted during the reign of one of the Singh dynasty to welcome Edward, the Prince Of Wales in the late 1800's. The coolest places to visit are the Amber Fort where the first of the Singh dynasty established his base. Subsequently, he planned a very well-laid out city. It includes a beautiful City Palace which encompasses one-seventh of the Pink City. There is also the Palace of the Winds, Hawai Mahal, which is where the women were stuck. Actually it is quite beautiful architecture.....180_48F2307A2219AC681761B39F42A6BD57.jpg. And another...180_48FE0E952219AC6817947960DE0D549C.jpg

I hired a guide by the ticket office and he was great. Lokesh Mathur has a Bachelors of Tourism Studies (BTS)....hmmmm. His email is lokesh_indiaguide@yahoo.com. He spoke English very clearly and knew quite a bit about architecture. I highly recommend him.
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Of all the sites of interest, the one I found fascinating and different was Juanta Mantar, This UNESCO world heritage site is the largest of five astronomical observatories built by Maharaja Jai Singh during the early 1700's. He was the same guy that planned the city layout and was a renaissance man. The observatory consists of fourteen major geometric devices (or yantras in Hindi) for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, ascertaining the declinations of planets and determining the celestial altitudes etc. Here's a sign to explain one of the yantras...

90_5296F8FA2219AC68177255D31039FBE0.jpg. And a picture of another.

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I was bound and determined to see a current Bollywood film at an India theater. Jaipur was the place to do it at the Raj Mandir Theatre. Once known as the best movie theater in India, and still the best in Rajasthan, it offers an unique experience. The Indian film audience really gets into the movie with laughs, cries, cheers, claps, and cellphones as part of the ambience. I took Mr Sharma and we had great big comfortable seats on the first balcony to see Chennai Express with some famous male actor. I enjoyed because I love the singing and dancing segments but I don't expect it to be nominated for an academy award. None of my pix of the inside turned out...too bad. It is opulent in an old, tired way. I was amused by the intermission ads on the screen. They looked like glued notes on cellophane...

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The visit ended on not so good a note. Mr. Sharma invited me to his friends' house for dinner. He said it would give me a chance to commune with a real Hindu family. First as is there norm, we went to their favorite temple. It reminded me of one of the Evangelical tent events I attended as a kid.
180_53D0AC302219AC68175E0DA5D227082D.jpg. After which we went to the friends' house which was a textile shop. We did have dinner there after an exhausting sales pitch.

Posted by Dayts 07:13 Archived in India Comments (2)

Seeing Dehli from a Different Prospective

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Knowing I was going to Delhi, a friend back in California offered me the telephone number of her brother who lives there. She said he would help me with anything I needed, including a driver. After spending four harrowing days, I finally called Shuab. He was extremely gracious, inviting me to dinner to join him and his wife and offering his driver. I was a bit unprepared when the driver arrived at my hotel that evening in a big, new Jaguar. Now a little background. The hotel, Bloomrooms, is used by business people and tourists alike. It's an excellent value with all the right conveniences. And it is a short walk away from the Jangpura Metro station. It is situated in a working class neighborhood, very safe, but, well...here's the shopping area:

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He drove me to meet my hosts at the Spice Route in the Imperial Hotel. This is one of the top ten restaurants in the world according to Conde Nast Traveler. And the decor throughout is just beautiful, a museum of sorts. Shuab has a very successful meat export business that he built from the ground up. His wife, and mother of their young son, is very attractive. Her dress was casually elegant and had all the accoutrements of affluence. They couldn't be more gracious...and they didn't even know me! It was a memorable evening. And quite a different Indian experience from what I had up to that point.

Once again, Shaub said his driver was at my disposal for the following day. I had planned a trip to Agra via a city tourist group but he insisted the driver with a private car would be more comfortable. And who was I to refuse? The next morning the driver came to my hotel, this time in a Toyota. The trip was a three hour drive one way! I was there for one reason only...to see the Taj Mahal. In fact I was in India for just that reason. And I wasn't disappointed. It is just an extraordinary building. For those that don't know the history, it is a monument to a beautiful girl from Persian nobility. She married an Indian prince, Shah Jahan, as a second wife at the age of 19. According to the story, she was his favorite but died giving birth to their fourteenth child. This is his memorial to her. Both she and he are buried within.

Shaub had arranged for private guide while I was there, something I hadn't expected. He was quite good and I would recommend him. His name is Naveen Upadhyuy and email is Naveen_un@redoffmail.com. He is also on Facebook. While I know you have seen the pictures a thousand times, here are several more:

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The young man in the one photo followed my guide, listening to everything he said. The boy spoke English very well. I think he is learning to be a guide on his own! He will be a good one. After seeing the Taj, we retuned to Delhi. The town of Agra is extremely unattractive and not worth any investigation. The previous evening and this day convinced me to see a travel agency and stop roughing it on my own.

Posted by Dayts 17:00 Archived in India Tagged mahal taj Comments (1)

Spending Time in Delhi

Why I Needed Three Weeks

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I'm in Delhi, extended my stay by a day, making it five. Don't ask me what I have done because I think by some people's standards, very little. By my own, I'd say quite a lot. I got a SIM card with an Indian phone number so the locals can call me. I bought a SMART card for the Metro (which is excellent transportation here) and I finally walked back from the station to my hotel without getting lost. I have also learned a number of techniques to cross the streets without getting killed. One is just walking across darting in between the speeding cars. They think I am so crazy, they actually slow down. Walking in lock step with another street crosser, especially a family with small children, has proven successful. I've visited the sights using the HoHo bus. The first time was a drive by since the rains were substantial but a second time around I actually got off the bus. And a key accomplishment was purchasing my ticket for my overnight train rides to/from Varanassi. I got a 50% discount because I am a foreign, senior person. I wonder if they are having problems attracting my demographic group. I guess I will find out why on the trip. The New Delhi train station leaves something to be desired. As I was searching for Tourist Services, I heard several announcements about different trains being late. They ranged from 9 to 12 hours....LATE! But as the speaker said, they regretted any inconvenience it may have caused. Here's a sign by the Tourist office...

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Here is a sign I found in the Metro station....

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And here is why I can always get a seat on the Metro...

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Posted by Dayts 07:13 Archived in India Tagged delhi Comments (3)

Things Fall Apart

The Italian Segment

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I guess it can't be all smooth travels but I wouldn't have thought we would hit some bumps here. On one of our walks, my iPad and bottle of water chose to mate with disastrous results. My iPad was soaked and submersion in rice didn't solve the problem. A trip to the Genius Bar in Florence put us in contact with a young, handsome Italian. And I'm not kidding...his name was Fabio. Less than an hour later and $300USD less, I walked out with a brand new iPad with everything loaded and absolutely nothing lost. I love you, Apple.

The next bump occurred when Steve used his teeth as pliers. The result reminds me of Alfred E. Newman's famous smile! To fix the problem, the dentists wanted anywhere from 2000 to 9000 euros. Steve decided to wait it out and go to his regular dentist when we return home. At this point, I'm starting to like the gap!

Since I am told that bad luck comes in threes, we had the last bump. Thanks to transaction alerts, I discovered that there were fraudulent charges on our credit card. Two hours on the phone in a Verona hotel resulted in its cancellation and an emergency card delivered to Cetona. We are still waiting on the permanent replacement.

There were plenty of good times mixed in. Daughter, Michele, and granddaughter, Madeleine, joined us in Cetona for almost three weeks. Madeleine was feeling especially good because her team just won the gold for 15 and under at the Volleyball Junior Nationals. For those of you that didn't see the team picture on my FB page, here...

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Michele did an excellent job of planning a side trip to Verona, Padua, and Venice. Madeleine made a splash when she came out on "Julia's" balcony.

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And here they are at the famous Arena di Verona, one of the largest Roman amphitheaters and still being used today. When we were there, Aida, was being performed. We concluded the four+ hour performance was more than we could take in the heat.

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Another day trip was in Rome for Madeleine's birthday. And a couple days in the hills over Viareggia got us to the beach, Italian style. Following that, we took them to the Pisa airport where they went onto Berlin for a couple days. Today, Steve took me to Fumicino for my journey onward, closing my Italian segment. Once again, I am sitting in the beautiful Turkish Air Lounge in Istabul soon to get onto the flight to Delhi.

Posted by Dayts 06:45 Archived in Italy Tagged cetona Comments (3)

L'Inferno (or Summer in Tuscany)

Italy

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We are back in Cetona, our home away from home. While the summer is unbearable hot, it is the time of festas and sagras. Every night there is an event happening in our medieval village or somewhere nearby. Often, it is a celebration of food, i.e. pici, a pasta made without egg (what's the point?). Or it is about music. This is a picture of a vocalist performing in our local San Francisco Convent (doesn't every town have one?) which was built in 1212. You are right, that's a della Robbia by the singer.

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The other favorite festas are centered on sports competition. The best example is the Palio in Sienna. Cetona celebrates the race of the Brocche. We had five days of activities and from what I could tell, it was a race of women with chamber pots (empty, I hope) on their heads followed by men carrying water jars. Our contrada lost but I was told we had more beautiful costumes.

This is a picture of Caffe Sport, positioned on the piazza, our go-to place for morning coffee, wi-fi, and evening cocktails. (The one at the far end of the piazza).

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And finally, here is a view of our village from the house of our friends, Augusto and Chicca:

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Posted by Dayts 13:11 Archived in Italy Comments (4)

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