Our morning in Jaipur began with a trip to the Amber Fort. Interestingly, this huge monolith that dominates the hillside, is not so named because of its reddish brown stonework, as you might imagine, but because it was built in the area of Am’er. See, I didn’t know that either. The trip up to the fort can only be done by elephant and to get to the jumping on point for the elephants you must battle the touts and trinket sellers. They seem particularly aggressive here and their shouting is deafening. “Only twenty”, they shout waving a hat; “only fifty”, waving an illustrated guidebook. What a good deal you might think. After all, 50 Rp is only a bit over a dollar. But although 1.3 billion people here use Rupees, the touts at the Amber Fort are shouting out their prices in US dollars.
Maggie has gone silent and is reluctant to get on the elephant. But we’re at the head of the queue and our elephant awaits, so we clamber aboard the howdah and off we go, swaying gently from side to side. The motion is strangely soporific, but progress is very slow. How Hannibal had the patience to cross the Alps is beyond me. Halfway up our elephant pauses, and with a shudder from her nether regions, releases 42 gallons* of elephant pee onto the pathway where it mixes with the big piles of elephant dung. Maggie is still not speaking and I assume it’s a vegetarian issue. But no one was asking her to eat the elephant, just ride on it. We reach the portals to the Amber Fort and she over-tips the mahout. “You look after that elephant”, she tells him ominously, and it transpires that she had rejected a book proposal that tells how elephants are mistreated and, contrary to popular opinion, do not enjoy carrying heavy loads, particularly two fat little tourists. At least the idea of an elephant sandwich is off the menu.
Maggie has excelled herself with her choice of hotel in Jaipur, a former palace owned by the local Maharaja. Our room has an adjoining sitting room and strangely, an alcove off the sitting room that features a high-backed, claw-footed bath. This is useful, except that behind the bath is a window that looks out to the terrace on top of the opposite wing of the palace, where a buffet dinner is in progress. And there’s no curtain or window covering of any kind. To bathe one must first fill the bath with water, disrobe around the corner, then slither, sea lion like, over the lip of the bath and into the water so as to avoid shocking the assembled guests having their buffet dinner.
The Maharaja has thought of everything, and a plaque in the lobby advises that a doctor is on call in case of illness. But not just any doctor. He is Dr S Panicker with the title of Chief Physician with a string of degrees and fellowships from London. He charges only 1200Rp – about $30, but whether you’d want to be attended to by a panicker in your time of distress is a thought I’ll leave you to ruminate on.
That evening we take a recommendation from Lonely Planet and set off by tuktuk to the Peacock Rooftop Restaurant. Although this is a Lonely Planet suggestion a quick check shows that it is number 2 on Tripadvisor. It does not disappoint with a great Thali and we warm our tails on a brazier and gaze down on the glittering lights of Jaipur as a Rajhastani trio serenades us.
Link to photos at the end of the next post Jodhpur.
*Yes, of course I Googled that!