Starting off on the solo tour
In Jaipur I was now officially on my solo tour rather than the previously mis-named ‘group’ tours. As I’d been alone most of the time anyway the only notable difference was a sudden huge increase in the quality of the hotels. I’d booked the whole trip through Trailfinders and they’d subbed the first half out to a company who specialised in groups and the second half to one who dealt with solo travellers. Clearly solo travellers are regarded as being pure sophisticates compared with group hoi polloi! Although actually, it was more to do with availability. I had asked for three-star hotels throughout the trip, but such was the short notice of my booking they had to book whatever was available in the more popular areas. Hey-ho, the four-star life is a hard one, but it had to be done.
I was met off the two-hour flight by a pleasant and intelligent rep and driver, who escorted me to my wonderful hotel which was a conversion of a 17th century palace, and very nicely done, retaining many original features.
Initial observations of Jaipur
En route I immediately noticed the difference between Jaipur and the other cities I’d visited so far. It’s known as ‘The Pink City’ which refers to the walled old town area, but for now all I could see was white buildings, green parks, and wider roads, with considerably less traffic than the other places I’d been. The rep observed my sigh of relief and said that these features should increase as I journeyed south through the country. He explained that Jaipur was the first properly planned expansion of an Indian city. It showed.
The rep is an unnecessary addition to one’s retinue. All he did was escort me to the hotel – which the driver could have done quite adequately alone, run me through my tour programme for the next day – which I already had, and tell me my guide and driver would pick me up in the morning – which I already knew.
The hotel of luxury in Jaipur
The hotel had a spa, the services of which I decided to avail myself of. I was there for three nights so I booked a different massage for each evening. I say different but they all turned out to be the same except for the oils and herbs used. But boy were they good, and just what the doctor ordered as I sought to float into what seemed like it was going to be the more relaxed half of my trip. The young masseur was excellent and really knew his stuff. The quality of the massage was superb, and you could specify the strength of pressure on different areas of the body. So much better than anything I’ve ever had in the UK – where the ‘service’ is normally provided by some dimwit with a fake tan and a diploma in chewing gum whilst rubbing cream lightly into your skin, asking ‘have you been away this year’ – and half the price.
Back to the tour
The next morning, feeling refreshed and ready for tourism duties I met up with my guide and driver, Himatsun and Dinneis (sounds a bit like Dennis) whom I immediately christened ‘The Menace’. I was unsure if their reaction was amusement or bemusement, they were so unfailingly polite it was impossible to tell.
Charging outlet paradise and the geography class
I had an urgent task for them. The driver and guide are at your beck and call to do what you want and take you where you want regardless of their proposed itinerary. One of my charger plugs had given up the ghost meaning I was down to a single charger. How was I to cope, what was to keep my iPhone, iPad, and Kindle operational?! We got one with 2 charging outlets for 200 rupees (£2.25). They were astounded when I informed them that the same bit of kit back home would have set me back at least five times as much. During the course of this purchase, I made an interesting discovery, most shops in India do not open until 11.30am.
More interesting information…I asked why Jaipur did not have an international airport. It transpires there is a national law that international airports must be a minimum 300km apart. Not to be deterred, the good burghers of Jaipur are building one 90km to the west. Well, I suppose it’s a bit more convenient than going 210km east. This conversation led onto Indian city sizes. Mumbai is the largest, followed by Kolkata (Calcutta), with Delhi the capital coming in third.
We left the city environs within twenty minutes and were soon in open country en route to Amber Fort. I commented on this but was assured we were still in the city. Technically maybe, but the experience was like leaving Newcastle for Northumberland as opposed to my previous Indian city experiences which resembled leaving London for Hertfordshire.
Quick stop at the Palace of Winds
On the way out we stopped at the Palace of Winds, which has 953 tiny windows in its impressive facade facing the busy market street. The purpose of this back in the day was to allow the women of the royal court to observe the goings on of daily life, festivals, etc, whilst observing purdah. Or as Himatsun put it, more prosaically, ‘they can peep but not stare’.
Amber Fort and the lucky elephants
Arriving at Amber Fort (which to my relief was not made of red sandstone) I had the option of riding an elephant up the steep, long and winding road to the main gates. I asked if the beasts were well cared for and was assured that they were. This rang true, as many animals (though sadly not our own domestic favourites the cat and dog) are well respected in India and imbued with various spiritual or charm-like qualities. The elephant brings good luck, and it certainly seemed to work for themselves in this case; their shift is only 9.30-11.30 after which they are led away to a cool quiet spot where they spend the next 22 hours doing whatever it is elephants do to chill. Netflix? Nice work if you can get it. We progressed in a stately fashion up the road. Each elephant had a brightly coloured trunk and a number stamped on its rump, 150 of them in total.
Guide disillusionment and general disorient
Himatsun was starting to grate on me already. He had too much spiel, too poor English, and little interest in what I cared about. It wasn’t long before I felt like I was being herded around the most interesting building in India I’d entered excepting the Lotus Temple. Also, the palace was lifting with tourists, which didn’t help my mood. After about half an hour he sent me off to look at a section alone, which is very unusual – perhaps he wanted a fag break. I jumped at the chance. He pointed out where he would meet me, but I took a wrong turn, which was easy enough to do in the crowds. I realised my mistake soon enough but decide to press on a little and look at another section myself, which, I reasoned, would be one less for him to drone on about. Of course, by the time I decided I should go and find him I had become hopelessly disorientated, having wandered up and down stairs and along passages. I found my way to what I thought was the correct spot and stood in an open space looking lost, to no avail, for about ten minutes. Then I realised this wasn’t the appointed courtyard at all but another very similar one. I set off to look for the correct meeting point but couldn’t find it, so looked around the rest of the Fort alone (much more enjoyable) and headed back to the entrance reasoning that guide, driver and car would wait for me there. After waiting around twenty minutes with no sign of them I gave up and resolved to make my own way back to the hotel, via some liquid refreshment.
The beer drought
I decided my mission. I had not had a pint of draught beer or lager since the first hotel in Delhi three weeks earlier. They just didn’t seem to do it outside the main cities. Kingfisher bottled beer is quite pleasant, but a bit gaseous, and I longed for a cool refreshing draught pint – or four. I sought advice on where I may obtain this from the Tuk Tuk drivers hanging around the car park. The problem is they will say ‘yes’ to anything, regardless of their actual ability to deliver it, to obtain your fare. I showed them Googled photos of beer taps and hand pumps, which they genuinely appeared to have never seen before. My phone was passed around about six drivers (whilst I kept a beady eye on it) and heated debate ensued as to what the crazy Englishman wanted. One suggestion was that I wanted to buy such an item – and of course they all had a brother or cousin who could source this for me! Recovering my phone with some difficulty I approached a semi-uniformed man who, it transpired, was an official city guide. He at least understood what I wanted but couldn’t tell me where to get it. He consulted with Tuk Tuk Inc and the debate raged. A hotel 15km away near the airport was suggested, but with no certainty. I explained that I wasn’t that desperate. Eventually a consensus of sorts was reached, and I was whisked away by the delighted winner of the gullible tourist lottery. He delivered me to the Trident Hotel on the outskirts of the city. This at least looked hopeful. It was a very plush establishment full of English and Americans. These discerning tourists obviously had excellent taste, but what they didn’t have was an opportunity to quaff draught beer. I decided to cut my losses, necked two Kingfishers, and Ubered back to my hotel.
The lazy day
The next day was pure unadulterated bliss. For the first time in three weeks, I had nowhere to be, nothing to look at, and no wittering to listen to. I sat by the pool soaking up the rays, reading, and observing that it was probably just as well that my mission to have a skinful of beer the previous day had failed, judging by the number of pounds I appeared to have regained of the 22 I’d lost before leaving England. So idle was I that the highlight of my afternoon was playing with the hotel cat, who, despite its initial standoffish attitude, I could tell was secretly spoiling for a play fight. This involved a good deal of hiding under my lounger and flicking a paw out to try and catch my trailing fingers. The fun only ended when nearby sunbathers ordered food, which of course held far more feline attraction. The next part of the entertainment was ten minutes of the waiters shooing the moggie away repeatedly only for it to slyly sidle back time and again. The sensible diners decided to give it a piece of chicken, after which it curled up in the sun and went to sleep. I quickly followed suit.