24 October 2013
Wexas Managing Director Steve Allen and his family decided to travel to India and immerse themselves in the sights and experiences they encountered there.
Having flown into Delhi and enjoyed the sensory overload of this vibrant city, they travelled to Rajasthan to marvel at the Taj Mahal, continued south, in search of tigers and then ventured to Jaipur...
Sadly we had to move on from Ranthambhore and abandon our search for tigers; there were places to go, sights to see, and our Indian education to be continued. We only got a mile away though before stopping to see a local women's workplace where carpets and clothing were made and sold. We very nearly bought a carpet or two, but gorgeous as some were, and priced extremely competitively compared to UK options, we would have had to redecorate to accommodate them so managed to pass.
We did buy a number of scarves and other items though, and met a few of the local cricket team. One only needs a minute to engage via the international language and mutual love of cricket. The IPL, Tendulkar, the recent games between England and India in various competitions all made for a lively conversation. Sport, like travel, fosters positive interaction and brings us closer together.
Jaipur was a four and a half hour drive away and we took the opportunity to catch up on some of the missed sleep en route. Jaipur is the capital city of Rajasthan and is a busy but well planned centre, with an older part created in six sectors, long since surrounded by newer sections, featuring some global firms. The population here is around 3 million, and we think we saw most of them as we drove through the town on a number of occasions, including one memorable moment when Achilles, our driver, decided that the only way to get past a traffic delay was to head up the wrong side of a dual carriageway; we were accommodated by the traffic coming the other way without any real issues - just another day on the road!
Jai Singh, who wanted to move from the Amber Fort, built Jaipur in 1727. In 1876 it was painted pink to honour the visit of the then Prince of Wales by the Maharaja, and became known as known as the Pink City. The relationship with British royalty is maintained to this day, helped along by polo!
We arrived in the early evening for what I hoped was a relaxing time at the Oberoi Rajvilas, but my two eldest children had other ideas. We had been given a contact in the old town - Channi Carpets and Textiles - and plans had been put in place to have a suit or two made. With time being short, we set off for a pre-dinner visit and set about selecting materials and haggling over price. Before long, we were all actively engaged in discussions to make up various jackets and suits whilst my youngest son joined the staff in their restroom to watch the latest match in the IPL. As the Rajasthan Royals were playing, it was a very lively audience, which was great entertainment in itself.
Dinner was by necessity a bit late and we sat in the outer courtyard and enjoyed some delicious fish and wine, somewhat weary. We needed to stay up a little, as the first of the tailored creations was being brought to the hotel for a check on sizing before being made up overnight. A man on a scooter carrying a suit bag duly arrived and then motored off into the night and to the artisans.
An early start, as usual, meant that we were able to get to the Amber Fort to join a small queue lined up for the trek up the hill and into the fortress, ably managed by our expert guide from Creative. Two by two we mounted the elephants and wound our way up as the sun brightened the day and lit the panoramas that were unfolding as we climbed up the road into the Fort; an unusual way to travel and to arrive. We enjoyed the novelty, although one or two of the elephants didn't look to be in the best condition.
The Amber Fort is quite spectacular. The views are terrific and the buildings equally so. There are many royal halls, courtyards and gardens with intricate carvings in marble, ivory, mirror and glass. A place of real history, it's one that's quite different to anything in the UK. As you'd expect, this is a popular tourist attraction, and so timing your visit well, and ensuring that you have a private guide does help to make a difference, although they can't stop the entrepreneurial photographers and street vendors vying for your attention and rupees! This is a small price to pay though to experience this rather grand example of an age long gone.
We lunched well at the Hotel Samode Haveli, a different style of hotel with 40 rooms and a swimming pool in the heart of town; more of a 4-Star semi boutique style option compared to the 5-Star Oberoi, it's a good alternative, especially if you need to manage your budget accordingly. What's more, the buffet lunch was delicious!
Next up was a visit to the City Palace. If you wondered where the Queen would have met the Maharaja, or where special weddings are held, or where that film was set or where the elephant polo took place, well this is probably the venue. The Palace is a blend of Mughal and Rajasthan architecture and the royal family still live in a part of it. By the way, it's illegal for an elephant to lie down between the goal posts in Elephant Polo, which seems an eminently reasonable rule!
We visited a tiger sanctuary where there were aged tigers being cared for, along with other animals, and enjoyed a drink overlooking a lake where crocodiles lazed and birds drank, before heading back into the city. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the Jantar Mantar. Begun in 1728, this is one of five observatories in India, and is the home to many astrological instruments including an enormous sundial, which has a 27m high gnomon arm, set at an angle of 27 degrees. The shadow cast moves up to 4m per hour and is used for the calculation of a whole variety of measures. But time was marching on...the tailors had been busy.
We dropped into the shop to try on various items that were in advanced stages of production. Following a fruitful visit we returned to the hotel for a shower and to change ahead of taking drinks in the Library bar. Another fine meal at the Rajvilas and we were ready for what we hoped would be the delivery of all of the clothes, as we had an early flight on to Mumbai the next morning. To their credit the tailors met the timetable and we left the hotel for the airport complete with a breakfast box each (including jam jars), to consume ahead of our flight to Goa...