Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Jaipur marked the point in our trip where our culture shock was complete, but it also marked the point in time where we really started to enjoy India again. In Udaipur, we rebelled a bit by sitting in our amazing hotel room and enjoying the view. In Pushkar, we rebelled by enjoying the markets rather than the temples. In Jaipur, we were simply tired. We saw the sights, but were longing for the comforts of home. Luckily, we were able to find both amazing sites and a few comforts of home, so we left the city feeling a bit more refreshed for the rest of our time in India.
Comforts of Home
Continuing on from Pushkar, Jeremy was finally able to stop at McDonalds located just outside Jaipur. India is a bit odd in that McDonalds does not sell beef. No Big Macs for us. On the other hand, I rarely get fast food hamburgers, so the idea of the Spicy McPaneer really appealed to me. Jeremy also enjoyed the Big Mac substitute, known as the Maharaja Chicken Mac. For anyone who usually isn’t a fan of McDonalds, you might find the Indian menu to be a pleasant surprise. This is particularly true if you are getting sick of wondering whether or not you are going to get ill from the food, or if you are simply longing for something a bit more like home. Given that we were at the point in our trip where we were sick of filth, dodging motorcycles and tuk-tuks, jumping over cow pies, and getting hassled by people wanting a “tip” from us, we were ready for a taste of America.
Cheered from that stop, we continued on until we reached the city. Even though it probably wouldn’t have been anything we would have chosen, we ended up really liking our driver’s suggestion of the Crimson Park Hotel. It was much further from the city than we typically like and didn’t have any features that made it clearly Indian, but given my comments about being in culture shock, it was perfect for this point in our trip. On entering the room, we felt like we could be in a nice hotel anywhere in America. Most importantly, the shower reminded us of America. Nice tiles, no mildew, decent water pressure, and most importantly: plenty of hot water. Anyone who has ever complained about how hard their life is in America is should qualify for a paid trip to India to see how people in other parts of the world live. Yes, American has poverty, but it pales in comparison to India. There are really no words, and it is simply something you need to experience.
After resting a bit, we stopped by the Jaigarh Fort. The walls were quite impressive and we spent a bit of time simply wandering.
The kids loved the monkeys, but Jeremy and I were a bit nervous given that we elected not to get rabies shots before traveling. Why didn’t we go ahead and get that one?
The views were quite beautiful.
While the fort was quite interesting, there was a security guard that ended up following us around and tried acting like a tour guide. We were unsuccessful in shaking him off and ended up needing to “tip” him. Sigh. While frustrating at the time, in retrospect, his persistence really was admirable.
We continued to the nearby Nahargarh Fort, which we enjoyed much more, if only due to the fact that we didn’t have anyone trying to give us an unwanted tour.
All of us were tired, and Jeremy felt like he may have been coming down with a cold, so we decided to go to the hotel. I took the boys to the restaurant downstairs (slightly pricey by local standards) while Jeremy rested. The food was pretty good, and there was live music and a dancer, so we had a lot of fun and brought Jeremy our leftovers to eat in the room. He was relieved to not have to go out.
Wednesday, January 25, 2018
Happy 15th Anniversary to us! Who would have thought that we would have spent it in India? The funny thing is that I think that we spent our 10th anniversary in an Indian restaurant.
This day marked the time when we got out of our slump and really started to enjoy India again. Our morning started with a nice hotel buffet breakfast. I thought that the pile of brown powder was cocoa powder, so I made John some hot chocolate. Of course it turned out to be coffee. James also picked up a pitcher of what he thought was milk and poured it on his cereal. That too was coffee. At least our morning started with a lot of laughter. Laughter is good for the soul. I really enjoyed the spicy tomato soup. That is one of the best parts of Indian breakfasts, and if you get the opportunity, don’t skip the soup. The curry and Indian bread was also quite tasty. John enjoyed the bananas, hard boiled eggs, and pohe, which is technically a rice dish, but it tastes more like what you would imagine Indian hash browns to be.
After breakfast, our driver picked us up and we went to Amer Fort, which was very yellow.
For those of you who know me well, you know that the main reason that I never wanted to travel to India was because I have a deep, really deep, fear of snakes. Can you believe that I spent part of my time, on my 15th wedding anniversary no less, watching a snake charmer? Yikes! To be fair, I never got more than a few feet from the car door, but I did it. The boys were delighted.
This was easily one of my favorite forts of the entire trip.
The boys really liked the elephants that were carrying people up and down the hill to the top, but since it didn’t look like they were being treated particularly kindly, we decided not to ride.
Some of the exterior walls were quite quite intricate.
As were some of the interior walls.
The corridors were designed with security in mind. If you were familiar with the palace, you would know where to go, but the invaders would get lost in all the twists and turns, and their sluggishness would allow the people to escape.
We decided to make a game of it and see if we could get to the highest wall without paying off one of the security guards. It wasn’t easy, but we won!
Next up was the City Palace, which was very pink, in comparison to the yellow of the Amer Fort. Both reflect the color of the sandstone that was used to build them.
I continued to find the mosaics to be amazing. This palace also had a peacock theme that we enjoyed.
John particularly liked the armories (which we couldn’t photograph), but the whole thing was really nice.
This was followed by the Jantar Mantar, a giant time keeping complex with advanced equipment for ancient people to track time, seasons, etc.
After exiting, we wandered a bit and eventually found the entrance to the Hawa Mahal. This was a palace that was built so that the women could watch street festivals without being seen from the outside. The honeycomb windows would have been a bit annoying to look through, but I guess better than not getting to see the festival at all. It makes you appreciate the freedoms that most women have now.
John ran ahead, Jeremy followed, and we almost lost each other in the maze of various passageways. Luckily, we found each other fairly quickly.
Everyone was tired, cranky, and hungry, so we went to lunch at a place that our driver described as a “local” lunch spot. Quite tasty! It could have been a bit spicier, but was still quite good. I think the secret to not getting spicy food in India is to have two white children in tow. Probably more enjoyable for them, but I was hoping for more. One of our dishes was chicken with a mystery green sauce, and the other was mutton with a nice red sauce.
At this point, we made the mistake of asking our driver to take us to see a gem shop, since gems are something made there. Our tour company does not allow their drivers to take you shopping unless you ask, but after we asked, his eyes lit up and he got a little too eager to help, probably imagining his commission. Sigh.
The first place he took us to was ridiculously low quality and located in a slightly scary back alley with guys running grinding machines while sitting on the ground. We left as quickly as we could without being completely rude.
The next place was somewhat better in quality, but they didn’t have anything set in sterling silver, only white gold, which I wasn’t particularly interested in. The sapphires were particularly nice, but I didn’t find anything I loved, so we decided we were done.
The driver also suggested that we might consider going to the Elephant Farm just out of town. We did some quick research on our phones and realized that by the time we arrived, we would have at most 1-2 hours before closing, that conditions for the animals were of debatable quality, and that there would probably be a lot of pressure to buy a “package” on arrival. Maybe we should have gone – the boys would have loved it, but we were simply tired and asked our driver to take us back to the hotel.
We rested a bit, then walked by the water to the Jal Mahal, also known as the Water Palace. Beautiful!
A bunch of trinket vendors had their wares set up on blankets, so we enjoyed looking at them and spent some time soaking up the pleasant atmosphere. I really like all of the slightly garish elephant bags, but since I had no idea what I would do with one once we left India, I decided to simply enjoy looking at them. James admired the elephant statues, and John questioned why anybody would buy anything. For the most part, he is very anti-souvenir, although there was once he saw a katana keychain in Japan that he really liked and decided to buy.
After returning to the hotel, we decided to eat there again. We decided to try a different chicken and a lamb dish, and while I enjoyed them, Jeremy is firmly in the boneless camp and didn’t like that all the meat had bones.
After getting back to our room, our driver asked us to come downstairs for a couple of minutes. He had surprised us with an anniversary cake!
We were a bit tired, but we appreciated the effort he went through. I think he was also feeling bad pressuring us about the gem shops, and worried that it would affect his tip at the end of the trip. In any case, it was a lot of fun and the boys enjoyed that the candle was both a mechanical flower and a music box.