10-16 November. The first fabulous thing about Jaipur was our hotel, the Umaid Bhawan. We usually stay in three star hotels, and this was a three star hotel, but it was the best of the best, and everything about it felt like four or five stars. On top of that Don and I were given an upgrade to a suite. We were in heaven. The hotel was exquisite; richly and beautifully decorated from top to bottom, inside and out, wonderfully clean, which is kind of a miracle in India, and the service was good. And the food was excellent. I guess I haven’t mentioned that we’ve stayed in a couple of places where even though breakfast was included it was so bad we ate out. I don’t know what it is about India but it seems impossible for them to make decent toast. The Umaid Bhawan Hotel had a beautiful rooftop restaurant with fabulous food, and live Rajasthani music and dancing every night. We ate there most nights.

The interior was as elaborate as the exterior, every last nook and cranny decorated with traditional designs and paintings, and plants and statues and ornaments. It was totally over the top in that uniquely Indian way, and absolutely beautiful.

This is the entrance to our hotel in Jaipur

Wonderful dancing

Singing their hearts out. Meanwhile the dancer takes a break to check her messages. The singer on the right is just a boy – an outstanding musician with an amazing voice and huge passion. All the musicians were outstanding actually, and all family I think.

On our first day in Jaipur we went to Elefantastic. The “compound” is an elephant farm. Each elephant has its own shelter and mahout who takes care of it for life. The mahout and his family live in a home next to the elephant’s shelter. We spent time with the elephants, touching, feeding, talking to them. There was one that Don and I both immediately fell in love with so she was ours for the day. We rode bare back, and then had a chance to try our hand at elephant painting. The mahout did the outline first. We painted in between the lines. Just like in kindergarten. But not. Elephant skin is tough and wrinkly. Painting is done with a little stick and it takes perseverance to get the paint spread and all those wrinkles filled with paint.

Riding bareback is easy – with the mahout leading the elephant along.

Our elephant is the one on the left

This mahout is dusting off the elephant before putting on the pads and seat

Our paintings

Lunch was provided by our guide’s mother at her home; real home made Indian food in what I think is a fairly typical middle-class Indian home. She was absolutely lovely, and welcoming and gracious. And the food was excellent.

After lunch we were each decorated with a turban and flower necklace and taken for a ride through the forest, this time riding on a cushioned seat.

Julie and Robbie riding in style

It was a fabulous day. A bit touristy in some ways, but the contact with the elephants was real, and lunch in an ordinary Indian home was real, and riding the elephants was real. Most real is that this compound was not in any way set up for tourists. The elephants come first and are extremely well taken care of.

Since we’d already spent most of a day with elephants we opted to walk up to Amber Fort rather than riding up on an elephant.

On the way up we saw:

Snake charmers – yes they are real cobras

Sweepers in their gorgeous yellow saris

These three handsome gentlemen

and then the inner courtyard and rooms of the vast fort and palace, built by one of the Rajput Maharajas.

We also visited the main bedroom of the Maharaja. One of the Maharajas who lived here apparently had something like twenty-five wives, sixty “girlfriends” and one hundred and fifty children. I guess a lot of women got to see this beautiful ceiling.

Back down at street level, Don found his very own tuk tuk.

In stark contrast to our hotel, we drove through this part of town several times on our way to various places. It is the part of town where the lowest caste lives, yet it is not all doom and gloom. Most of them apparently have much coveted government jobs giving them free health care (I heard it is not of very high standard, but at least something), free education, and perhaps most importantly, a pension. I think government workers are the only people in India to get a retirement pension. Everyone else must fend for themselves, perhaps a reason that many people don’t retire. They get the government jobs that no-one else wants to do such as cleaning and garbage collection.

Next post – more about Jaipur: the Pink City, the Monkey temple, and Diwali.

We’re now actually in Thailand, staying on a beach on the island of Koh Samui, for two weeks. It is heaven. Need to recharge our batteries and rest a while. For the past six weeks in India we’d been moving so much, and sightseeing so much, always off to see the next thing, always busy it seems, that we’d lost that feeling of being at home wherever we are. We’ve found it again here in our little hotel room that is just a short walk up from the beach. There’s even a wardrobe to hang our clothes. Home sweet home.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.