India Day 2: Mandawa

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

After another nice breakfast in our Delhi hotel, we checked out and went down to meet our driver at 8am.  By 8:30, he still hadn’t shown up, so we called his boss, as his boss had encouraged. When he showed up a few minutes later, our driver was really unhappy that his boss found out, but he dropped it fairly quickly, returned to his cheerful self, and never showed up late again the rest of the trip.

The drive was fairly long, our itinerary indicated that it was a 6 hour drive, but it took longer.  On the way, we stopped at a nice rest stop and our driver recommended getting some stuffed paratha, a delicious bread stuffed with potatoes.  Good choice!

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There were a lot of farms on the road:

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And the boys were delighted by the camels we passed:

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While stuck in the car, the boys took a dramamine and worked on their schoolwork.

We also used the time to ask our driver various questions, including ones about the hotels that we had booked. Our driver told us which hotels he recommended that we keep and which ones he could probably negotiate a better room/price if we cancelled.

When looking at hotels online, it was difficult to find family room (two adjoining rooms were more common).  And we also read that when you pre-book, you often get the worst room in the hotel, or sometimes you get a different room from what you reserved.  For example, in Cairo, we were supposed to have a lovely room with a balcony, but what we got was a slightly less lovely room with no balcony and permanently closed shutters over the windows.  Upon inquiry, we were told that there were no balcony rooms available.

If you can see the hotel room first, you can decide whether you want to stay there or not, before you pay.  With most of the reservation sites, by the time you have looked at the room, you have already lost your deposit if you decide to go elsewhere.  Plus you have to spend the time finding a new hotel.  In a country with higher cleanliness standards, pre-booking is nice and convenient. But when you are in a country that doesn’t throw sheets out just because of a tear or a makeup stain, things are different. During the course of our trip we did reject several rooms, one of which had blood on the sheets.  Washed blood, but still blood.

The hotel for Mandawa was one of the keepers.  Hotel Radhika Havali was incredibly lovely.  The artwork alone was amazing.

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On the other hand, even though we did have hot water, it came out in driblets, so showering was again, very challenging.  Still, the hotel is rated a 9.2 on Booking.com, so probably couldn’t have done much better.  And the hotel really was very nice.

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On arrival, we hired a local guide, whom our driver suggested, to take us around to the various havelis, or historical mansions.  Many of these havelis had been constructed a few hundred years ago by wealthy traders. Our local guide’s English was a bit hard for the boys to understand, but it was good enough, and he seemed reasonably knowledgable.  Our hotel used to be a haveli, so we started there.

Usually havelis have a courtyard surrounded by a men’s meeting room, a women’s meeting room, a kitchen, and maybe one or two other rooms.

In the women’s meeting room, there were special windows in or near the doors that would allow the women to see out without the men being able to see in.  There were often similar features in the women’s rooms.  Unfortunately, the holes were rather tiny, but I guess it is better than no window at all.  The artwork was similar to Italian frescos, were typically quite elaborate, and were very nice.

Each building would typically house four families, one on each side.  Some of the bedrooms had a nursery outside.  Most had a high alcove that was used for storage, and often there was a shower room underneath.

Some of the buildings had roof decks with nice views and poor railings.

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Others had cows, bulls, or calves wandering out front.  Calves became a strong preference as our trip progressed.

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Towards the end of the tour, our local tour guide (not from our tour company, which prohibits this), decided to have us stop by his brother’s textile shop.  We felt a bit like we were being held hostage until we bought a couple of pillowcases, but it all worked out.  This is the slightly unfortunate thing about hiring a local guide off the street, but given that this only happened a couple of times our entire trip, we felt fortunate.

For dinner, we found a lovely restaurant called Monica’s Rooftop Restaurant and had some of the best Chicken Korma that I have ever had, as well as some very nice lamb. We also learned that for the four of us, 2 main dishes (plus sides like rice and naan) at these restaurants was typically plenty.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

We were still having trouble with jet lag and woke up at 5:30am, but breakfast wasn’t until 8:00, so we used the opportunity to get more school work done.

Once breakfast began, the food came in courses.  First was papaya, pomegranate seeds, and other fruits.  We were concerned that they were washed in tap water, but went ahead and ate them.  Next was something a bit like cornflakes, then some toast and stuffed naan.  The naan was awesome, the rest fairly mediocre.  On the other hand the “Masala Tea,” was fabulous.  Basically, a wonderfully spiced Chai, with milk and sugar.

At 9:00am, our driver Jay met us, loaded up our bags, and we were on to Bikaner!

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