I’d slept well in my “tent” after a delicious dinner. We were the only ones in the dining room. I’d guessed that most people use room service. This guess was confirmed by the chef who came out to see if we had enjoyed our meal. We had! This would be a great place for a honeymoon. It’s peaceful and quiet. You have no sense of the city just a fifteen minute drive away. The centuries old wall that surrounds Jaipur’s Amber Fort butts up against the hotel – though the fort is miles away. The juxtaposition of old and new is startling. This wall looks like a smaller scale version of the Great Wall of China.
No one bothered to mention to us that Jaipur is half an hour ahead of Delhi so we thought we were on time for our rendezvous with our guide but were we half an hour late. That explained why the restaurant was already serving breakfast though we arrive just at the time it was supposed to be opening – (later I checked on this and discovered there was no time difference so perhaps it was a language difference?)
Our first stop was an elephant ride up to Amber Fort. The queue was very long when we arrived and our guide explained that each elephant is only allowed to make 5 trips per day. With a stable of 90 elephants that’s 450 trips. We had no idea how many people had already ridden up prior to our arrival but there weren’t more than 100 people ahead of us so we didn’t worry. We kept moving steadily forward.
We chatted with a British couple ahead of us in line. There was just the two of them on a private tour. They had arranged theirs through a company based in England. We compared notes. On their Delhi tour they’d seen pretty much what we had and had also been taken to the infamous “Cottage Shops.” I was pleased to hear that they too had succumbed to the sales pitch of the rug merchant and had purchased a rug they didn’t need! Misery does love company. I didn’t know it then but my misery was going to get much worse later in the afternoon!
Our line buddies were sent right as we went left and we never saw them again – which will give you an idea of the size of the crowds and of the Fort itself. We boarded our elephant – seated on a cushioned platform (sideways) to get a view of the city below the fort. I thought at first it was only our elephant but I soon saw that other elephants were also spraying their riders with what I can only hope was water but was likely saliva or mucus. You just have to go with the flow! The elephant drivers navigate their elephants the same way drivers on the road do their cars – ignoring oncoming traffic they veer into the opposite side of the road to maneuver around slow traffic or in this case, elephants, in front. I felt sorry as our elephant, having moved to the front of the line, huffed and puffed the last few yards up the path into the fort.
With precision the elephant tucked itself into the dock to allow us to easily disembark. The driver immediately began gesturing for money. I gave him 50 rupees. He began demanding “100 rupees more.” I just ignored him and walked away. Our fare had been paid in advance and there was a “no tipping” sign clearly posted at the landing area. If I’d had the chance I would have taken back the 50 I’d given him for his bad attitude.
The Amber Fort was impressive. It reminded me a great deal of the Agra Fort but on a larger scale. There were the same gardens, the public meeting halls, private chambers, wives chambers, viewing platforms, modesty screens for the women, etc. The Agra Fort featured more marble. The Amber Fort featured more frescos and more in general. There were chambers for the twelve wives of the Raj of Jaipur; Agra featured chambers for a single wife and family. I’ve included a few photos to give you the flavor of the Amber Fort.
From the Amber Fort we made a quick stop to see the Lake Palace – which can only be viewed from a distance – it is not open for visitors. Then we went to the Observatory. The Observatory should be mecca for anyone interested in astrology. There are stone structures which work like sun dials to tell you what degree the sun is in any of the twelve astrology signs at any given moment. There is also a sundial, unlike any I’ve seen and a larger version of the same design which, according to our guide, is in the Guinness record as the largest sundial in the. While I had to appreciate the calculations that went into setting up these various structures, including the careful delineation of degrees and angles, it really wasn’t my cup of tea.
After lunch and a few more stops for photo ops, we were taken to a jewel maker’s shop. We saw how the raw gems are polished and shaped. We were told that 80% of the world’s precious and semi-precious stones pass through Jaipur – the gem capital of the world. I wasn’t going to buy anything, really I wasn’t, but then I saw a really pretty ring. To get it within my price range the shop agreed to let me pick out a slightly smaller stone and to have the ring made for my pinkie. The smaller stone coupled with the smaller ring brought it into my budget range so I bought it. As I write this, I haven’t received the ring yet. I was promised it would be delivered to my hotel by 7pm tonight – which means they still have three hours to get it to me. (The ring was hand delivered at 8:30pm to my hotel and it was exactly what I wanted!)
I promised earlier that my misery would worsen. If you don’t want to share my pain, stop reading now.
The next stop, after the jewel maker, was a visit to a textile house. We were told that after gems, Jaipur is next most famous for block printing. We were given a demonstration of the process used to make the prints. A block “outline” is inked and pressed onto the fabric then up to six more blocks containing portions of the outline are inked in different colors and placed on top of the outline, one color at a time. It’s like silkscreen printing but done by hand without any registrations marks. An elderly man demonstrated for us. In a matter of seconds he had expertly printed an elephant outline, a blue pass and a red pass. The inks didn’t look blue and red when he’d done – the colors came out after he dipped the cloth in a special water mix.
We thanked them for the demonstration and thought we were leaving. Oh no. We were then walked around to the other side of the building where weavers were working on rugs! I politely listened to the explanation of the weaving techniques, the knots, the use of wool and silk – never letting on that we’d already been given this spiel. But here, at least, there were actual weavers doing the work. After the explanation and demonstration we were ushered into the building. It was déjà vu all over again. However this time I had just eaten lunch so my tummy was full. As with the previous merchant they began the cascade of rugs showing us different sizes, different patterns, different colors. I didn’t say a word. My traveling companion asked what I couldn’t, “how much?” I held my breath as the merchant held up a silk rug, slightly larger than the one I’d purchased just yesterday, and quoted a price that was less than half of what I’d paid! I knew it! I’d been taken. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I was in the jewelry shop because it would have stopped me from buying anything from them and I am happy to have the ring (or happy with the expectation of getting the ring).
If you go on a tour of Delhi and are taken to the Cottage Shops – DO NOT BUY A RUG – unless you’re not going to Jaipur and you love what they show you. Do bargain. I hate to think how much cheaper I could have gotten my rug had I held out, said “no” a few more times or had walked away. I’ve been in these situations often enough to know that’s what you need to do to get the best price. I’m mad at myself that I didn’t do that! It’s water under the bridge for me but I hope you learn from my experience. I hope my elephant ride line friend who had also purchased a rug at the Cottage Shops wasn’t taken to this rug store!
That was the end for me. They wanted to show us their textiles but I had no heart for it. Our guide very kindly told the gentlemen in the store that we were leaving and marched us out to our waiting car and back to the hotel to relax and enjoy our last evening in India.