Keep Calm and Carry Ohm

23/11/08 Day 10 - Jaipur

Breakfast this morning was another opportunity to sample exciting new dishes. A potato croquette the shape of a cricket ball called Aloo Bonda and a lentil and rice dish called Khichdi were both delicious.

That wasn't all I ate of course. The usual dal sambar, idli, paratha, pakoras also filled my plate. To round it off nicely a bowl of Khir the super sweet cardamom infused rice pudding was just sublime. That was a good start to the day!

We had an early 8:30am pick up today as our guide for the day, Paresh, met us at the hotel's reception.

It was a beautiful day today and already felt as if it was going to be the hottest so far. Paresh said that it was actually a lot cooler today. It had reached as high as 38C only a fortnight ago! We were so glad we had timed our visit right. That type of temperature would be unbearable.

pink city, Jaipur

We drove through downtown Jaipur on our way to find the pink city. The tale behind its colour was that in 1853 a very young Prince of Wales (the one who would eventually become that famous potato King Edward VII) was on a royal tour and visited Jaipur. So to spruce the place up they painted the old town walls pink.

Why they chose pink I do not know but they've been painting it ever since. (I don't know if I'm a bit colour blind but some of the walls looked a dark shade of terracotta to me.)

We entered the old pink(-ish) city through Ajmeri Gate, one of seven entrances into the walled city and turned down Tripolia Bazar road, a street lined with handicraft stores and market stalls.

Then at the Badi Chaupar crossroads we turned left and pulled over.

At first I couldn't see why but that was because we were too close to notice that we were parked outside the pink city's most famous pink attraction, the Hawa Mahal.

This reminded me of when we stepped out of Westminster tube station in London and Julie asked "So where's Big Ben then?" We were actually standing at the foot of it!

It was the same today because to get a better view of this incredible structure we had to cross the road to the opposite side.

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur
Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

It was buit in 1799 by Sawai Pratap Singh the maharaja of Jaipur.

Translated as the 'Palace of Winds' the Hawa Mahal wasn't so much a palace in its own right but an extension to the city palace's harem. Behind its elaborate facade ladies of the court would overlook the busy streets below without being seen.

The rows upon rows of latticed bay windows each beneath a dome created a mesmerising sight. It was quite an amazing design, like a sandcastle made from a fancy jell mould.

Although five tiers high it was only the width of a hallway.

We returned to the minibus and continued on our way through the old city.

Along the way we passed a hive of activity outside a milk market. Paresh asked Sanjey our driver to pull over for us to have better look.

It was interesting to watch the customers shoving their fingers into the large milk churns and sniffing them to test the freshness.

"This is where your hotel gets its milk from" said Paresh.

My stomach churned. "I am joking of course" he added.

milk market, Jaipur

We left the pink city through Joriwar Singh Gate and headed out of Jaipur on the road to Amber.

As we sped past an amazing floating palace in the middle of a lake Paresh assured us that we would be returning for a closer look later so we could all stop trying desperately to get a photo out of the window!

Great Wall of Amber

We soon found ourselves climbing up the rugged Aravali hillside that surrounded Jaipur and then through gates that breached the boundary walls of Amber.

These walls were very reminiscent of the Great Wall of China as it snaked its way out of sight.

Paresh said that they are hoping to have the entire 10km walls open to the public soon so that one could walk the whole circuit around Amber.

"In this heat?" remarked Julie.

We were on our way to visit the famous Amber fort but our first glimpse was quite disappointing.

High on a ridge we could see fortified ramparts and whilst being in an impressive mountain top location it didn't look like anything special.

Fortunately it turned out not to be the main featured attraction but was called Jaigarh fort. It over looked and protected the citadel below.

Our eyes then saw the spectacular sight of the Amber fort.

Jaigarh fort, Amber

The massive complex of buildings clung onto the hillside, gradually following the ridge down to the town of Amber.

The sandy colour made it look much different to any other fort we had visited on our journey and the open space of the dried up Maota Lake made it appear as if it stood in the middle of a desert landscape.

It certainly had an Arabic feel to it.

Established by Man Singh I in 1592 the fort palace became the capital of his kingdom.

Whilst being the ruler of his own domain he was also a general in Akbar's army. It was interesting to learn how the Mughal Empire ruled through its alliances with the chieftans and maharajis.

During the 17th century the fort was expanded by Jai Singh I and much of what we see today dates back to this period. Strangely however, after all that effort, within sixty years they had moved the capital to Jaipur.

Amber Fort, Jaipur

We arrived at what was effectively Amber Fort base camp where the visitor could choose the mode of transport to climb up to the gates of the citadel. Paresh had arranged for a jeep to take us up but Carol wanted to take the more evocative elephant ride up.

At any given time there could be as many as 127 elephants ferrying tourists up the ramparts.

They have in the past been severly exploited and overworked but since 2002 they have been overseen by an organisation that monitors and cares for their welfare.

This included an 11am curfew when they down trunks and trundle their way back home in Jaipur.

For Julie, our trek in Thailand was enough elephant experience for one lifetime so we decided to take the jeep up.
elephant ride, Amber fort
Rob and Carol on an elephant, Amber Fort Paresh couldn't find our jeep driver so we waited a while and watched the procession march up the hill.
It added to quite an atmospheric scene, one that vividly brought the fort to life. I could easily imagine the pomp and pageantry of the emperor's procession with their colourful elephants, flag waving and trumpet blowing.  
Jaigarh Fort overlooking Amber I must admit I briefly regretted not taking an elephant up but once we set off in our jeep I enjoyed the whole experience of bumping our way through the back streets of Amber.
When we reached the fort's Chand Pol, (the "moon gate" aka the back door) the view of Jaigarh fort overlooking the ancient buildings of Amber was worth the bruises on our bums!
cow, back streets of Amber
We stepped inside the large courtyard, Jaleb Chowk the former parade ground and waited for Rob and Carol to arrive.

The brightly painted elephants followed each other, tail to trunk, in packs of three, through Suraj Pol, the large sun gates of Amber Fort.

They then continued in file to the far right corner where they off loaded their passengers onto a tall platform and then return back down the way they came with an empty basket.

Amber Fort, Jaipur
Rob & Carol riding an elephant, Amber

It was obviously just a one way ticket not a return.

Rob and Carol weren't long behind us. They got off their elephant without incident and joined us in the centre of the courtyard.

There was a lot of work going on here. Once again women in colourful clothes were carrying supplies on their heads to various parts of the fort where the men mostly stood and watched.

The entire fort appeared to be undergoing a make-over.

Looking at photographs of the fort in the guide book one could tell immediately that the outside had been scrubbed clean. Pollution had left its dark mess on the walls and especially the several domes. They now look as good as they probably did when Jan Singh I cast his eyes over them.

Although apparently the renovations aren't to everyone's liking. Some prefer the historical to remain untouched and they do have a point.

Paresh began talking about the history of the fort, about the Kachhawaha Rajputs but I was too pre-occupied with my camera following the trail of the lady labourers to listen to him.

Jaleb Chowk, Amber Fort, Amber
Amber Fort, Amber

They all seemed to follow each other up several flights of steps, across a balcony and then inside the perimeter wall.

I found it hard work standing still in this heat but some of the women were wearing sweaters!

I have to confess I found them captivating, they had a certain elegance to them.

Perhaps it was the contrast between their vibrant colour and beauty with the grey dullness of the construction work!?!

Amber Fort, Amber
I don't know but the two co-existing was, as I said, most captivating.
Shila Mata temple, Amber Fort

After Paresh had finished telling us about Harkha, the Princess of Amber, wife of Akbar, mother of Shah Jahan, we walked up towards a flight of steps to the silver doors of the Shila Mata temple.

This was the family temple dedicated to their chosen deity, the goddess Kali, the goddess of victory.

We didn't go inside but apparently we could have seen "pillars like banana trees" and a stone representation of the goddess Kali.

Instead we followed Paresh into the adjacent courtyard.

From here the scale of the Jaleb Chowk courtyard below could be seen.

It was also the best viewpoint to appreciate the stunning scenery of the Aravali hills.

We were undoubtedly in a spectacular setting.

The great wall snaking its way up the craggy rocks and along the ridge was absolutely wonderful.

Diwan-i-Aam, Amber Fort

"Look how steep it is. I wouldn't want to walk all the way around that. I couldn't!" said Julie.

Paresh replied that some people have run the entire circuit in a race. All we could say back was "Bloody Hell!"

To the north east corner of this upper courtyard was the location for the now familiar titled Diwan-i-Aam, the hall of public audience.

The multi-columned pavilion was arguably not as inspiring as the one in Agra but the breathtaking views made it quite unforgettable.

There was another hall that did have ornate escalloped arches but the Sattais Katcheri was cordoned off due to maintenance work.

Apparently it was where the king's administration sat to count his money, recording the revenue transactions.

Sattais Katcheri, Amber Fort, Amber
Sattais Katcheri, Amber Fort, Amber

It was probably the most lavish accountant's office in the world!

I wouldn't mind spending my nine to five here.

The architecture of the Sattais Katcheri was most exquisite; definitely drawn from the realms of fairy tale palaces.

Despite being the fourth fort in four days it certainly wasn't a case of "if you've seen one you've seen them all".

Amber fort had quickly become my personal favourite and we hadn't finished seeing all of it yet.

"The best is yet to come" teased Paresh.

Sattais Katcheri, Amber Fort,  Amber
Ganesh Pol, Amber Fort, Amber We left the courtyard through the Ganesh Pol, an intensely ornate gate with a painting of the loveable elephant god above the doorway.

Its facade was also undergoing renovations.

The restored paintwork was quite noticeably brighter and more vivid.

We were amazed at the meticulous work in returning the Amber fort to its former glory. Everything looked so beautiful and as Paresh promised, there was more to come.

When we walked through Ganesh's gate we emerged into the pleasure garden of the kings, Aram Bagh. We firstly walked to the Sukh Niwas where Paresh explained (in detail) the ingenious use of the natural water flow to create an air conditioning effect.

Aram Bagh, Amber Fort, Amber
Sheesh Mahal, across the Aram Bagh, Amber Fort, Amber We then looked across the criss cross patterned garden towards the business beneath the arches of the Sheesh Mahal, the famous hall of mirrors.
Many forts say they have a hall of mirrors but none live up to the expectations but here in Amber we saw the real dazzling deal.
Thanks to the painstaking restoration work we didn't have to imagine what it would have looked like. It was sparkling in front of our eyes.
Sheesh Mahal, Amber Fort
Sheesh Mahal, Amber Fort

Pieces of silver and glass covered the entire surface in beautiful floral designs.

"Imagine the light of a candle," suggested Paresh, "how it would reflect a thousand stars"
Jai Mandir, Amber Fort

Tiny mirrors embedded in the mosaic ceiling were placed with the intention of recreating the starlit night sky and produced the most romantic of private chambers to entertain.

Part of this fantasy palace was also Jas Mandir, the hall of private audience and Jai Mandir, both were equally decorated with mirrors.

We sadly couldn't walk around the interior for security reasons.

I don't know if was to stop vandalism or not but it was a real shame.

Jai Mandir, Amber Fort

We had to be content with sticking our heads in through the doorways and creaking our necks to see the ceilings.

We continued to the fourth, the last, and the oldest section of the Amber fort.

zenana, Amber Fort

It was the original fort palace built in 1592 by Man Singh I. It then became the zenana, the women's quarters, the harem.

The restoration work continued here as artists painted frescoes over the faint traces of the original artwork.

zenana, Amber Fort
In the centre of the courtyard there was a small 12 column pavilion that Paresh called the Baradari.
Baradari, Amber Fort

Apparently this would be a meeting point where the king could mingle with his wives and concubines.

It stood out like a glowing heavenly portal as the sun illuminated the marble arches and pillars.

Baradari, Amber Fort

We left the zenana through a set of narrow passageways emerging into a small inner courtyard.

This had such a feeling of a medina as we browsed around the small market stalls.

The alleyway gradually brought us back down to the lower level of Jaleb Chowk.

I had been engrossed for over two hours of magnificent palaces and pavilions so I was disappointed that our Amber Fort visit was at an end.
temple, Amber

I could have spent all day here but of course Jaipur had a lot more for us to see.

Rob and Carol joined us in the jeep as we rattled our way down the hill through the old town, passing along the way three spires of a temple which I hadn't noticed on the way up.

I scoured the guidebooks for temples in Amber and only found mention of a striking temple called Jagat Shiromani but I don't believe this was it.

At the end of the road, Sanjey was waiting for us with the minibus and we drove back towards the city.

As we left the hills behind we reached the picturesque sight of Jal Mahal, a palace that appeared to be floating in the middle of the shimmering Man Sagar lake.

It was built in the mid-18th century by king Madho Singh I and inspired by his childhood memories of time spent at Jag Niwas, the Lake Palace, in Udaipur. We pulled over so that we could get out and take some photographs.

Apparently the lake is often dry during the summer months but the winter monsoon brings with it plenty of water to fill the lake and produce this gorgeous view.

Jal Mahal, Jaipur
Jal Mahal, Jaipur I thought it looked more like a palace submerged in the rising waters rather than floating magically on the surface but using the super-dooper zoom on my camera I could see that the lower level was perfectly aligned with the water level.
Whilst I was taking photographs of the Jal Mahal (I don't know if I should admit to this) but I was really disappointed when a woman walked in front of my lens.
Jal Mahal, Jaipur

It wasn't that she had spoilt my perfectly framed shot, it was just that she turned out to be terribly unphotogenic. It would have been a great photo if she hadn't sulked her way across with such a stroppy face.

As we returned to the minibus we noticed several wedding carriages, "Indian style", parked up over the road. The decorated elephant looked splendid but I don't know what was going on with the ox and cart.

It was obviously a converted agricultural trailer tarted up with some golden tin foil.

Then again I suppose it did have a certain charm to it.

Whilst we were on the topic of weddings Paresh said "This is a very auspicious time to get married, all the nine planets are aligned."

Astrologists are held in such high regard in India and are consulted from the match making to the wedding dates to ... well ... practically everything. It's all written in the stars! In contrast the horoscopes in the UK are nothing more than a joke.

Back on the bus we next had the obligatory shop stop with a visit to a gem store.

Jaipur is renowned across India for its jewellery but the highlight of my personal visit was not the maharaji's treasure chest of emerald and rubies on display upstairs but the spectacular colour hair of one of the gemstone polishers downstairs.

The outrageous carrot top look was achieved by dyeing the hair with henna which starts of jet black but over time it oxidises to this shocking shade of orange.

It looked so hilarious and so inevitable I wondered why anyone bothered?

orange top henna coloured hair

We drove back within the pink city walls and to its heart, the City Palace complex.

As we entered through a beautiful ornate Virendra Pol gate the feeling of being somewhere special was heightened by a swirling flock of birds.

The moment was so perfect, it gave me the goosebumps. It was like a scene from a film,

"Cue white doves... and cut."

Only they were pigeons and I was sitting in a minibus not riding truimphantly on elephant-back.

We were on our way first to Jantar Mantar, a huge astronomical observatory built by an amateur astronomer who happened to be the king, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. (He built five across India including the one in Delhi.)

Laghu  Samrat Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur We stopped first at the Laghu Samrat Yantra or small sun dial . "This shows the local time to an accuracy of 20 seconds" said a visibly impressed Paresh.
We stepped up to the shadow cast by the structure onto the curve and it was very near the mark with the time being about 11:58am.
Laghu  Samrat Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur

I suppose we were looking at India's equivalent of Greenwich Mean Time, Jaipur's Sundial Time.

Samrat Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur

A little further on there was a much more impressive Samrat Yantra.

This sun dial was up to 23 metres high and whilst not as accurate as its smaller neighbour it held far more interest.

I had to resist the urge to open the doors at its base and climb up the staircase to the top. I'm sure the 75ft would have given the best view over the city of Jaipur.

Fortunately Julie was with me and kept me in check and out of jail.

There were sixteen different instruments collected here in what was part royal observatory and part art installation. The most unique instrument was the Jai Prakash Yantra.

It consisted of two hemispheres cut into the ground to map out the cosmos. It was an aid to create a calendar with several markers laid out to measure the months, the equinox, the signs of the zodiac and many more.

It was such a strange sight. I had never seen such a method of calculating anything from the sun's rays.

Some have suggested that this was invented by Sawai Jai Singh II himself.

Jai Prakash Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur
Narivalaya Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur Nearby was another instrument, the Narivalaya Yantra. It looked like a giant mushroom but was actually set at an incline of precisely 27 degrees to follow the solar cycle through both hemispheres. (No that didn't make any sense to me either!)
The mid-day sun was certainly casting its shadow at the right angle.
Narivalaya Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur
Another collection of instruments that require mention was called the Rashivalaya Yantra, a group of smaller replicas of the sundials but pointing in seemingly in random directions.
We spent some time locating our own zodiac signs of Gemini and Leo. Not that we believe in any of this astrology mumbo jumbo.
Rashivalaya Yantra, Jantra Mantra, Jaipur

These instruments point towards their relevant constellations and are used for planetary measurements, the basis of all horoscopes.

It was fascinating to see the real science behind it all. It almost made you believe that there must be something in it. We had noticed that all the hotel's had an astrologer available for guests to receive readings.

From within the grounds of Jantar Mantar we could see across to the City Palace and the high-rise Chandra Mahal, the ancestral residence of the Maharaja.

As is tradition the flags were flying to let the public know that the current Maharaja of Jaipur, Bhawani Singh, was home.

These days the maharajas have no real powers and after the abolition of princes was passed by Indira Gandhi in 1980 they have no automatic source of income either.

They now have to work for it like any other poor millionaire. The Maharaja of Jaipur runs many heritage hotels for his financial survival.

Stepping out of the Jantra Mantra we could see the City Palace entrance was within walking distance so we followed Paresh across to the ticket counter and then through the tourist entrance which was nothing more than a side door.

We entered into a large courtyard with a charming little palace in its centre.

The Mubarak Mahal, also known as the Welcome Palace, was built as late as the 19th century despite looking centuries older. It had attractive scalloped arches and ornate carved screens.

Inside however it was no longer a reception hall but a textile museum.

I tried hard to find the tunics and saris worn by royals interesting but I couldn't hide my boredom as Paresh went to great lengths to explain each thread in detail.

The tedium lifted the moment we stepped outside. Ahead of us was the imposing Rajendra Pol gate and despite the prospect of more textiles with red sashes of fabric further inside it all looked quite exciting.
Within this courtyard was the Diwan-i-Khas, the hall of private audience and it was lavishly decorated with red curtains and the royal red carpet was laid out.

They were busy in preparation for a wedding this evening. "It must be expensive to have your wedding here" said Julie.

"Very expensive" confirmed Paresh "perhaps it is a Bollywood star"

Inside the pavilion two enormous silver jars took pride of place. On a visit to London in 1901 to see Prince Albert the Maharaja Madho Singh II took them with him having filled to the top with holy Ganges water.
silver jars, City Palace, Jaipur

What on earth was he thinking?

It must have taken considerable effort to transport them over to the UK.

I wonder what Queen Victoria though when the Indian prince arrived with these beautiful silver jars, only to siphon out the murky water and return home with his precious urns. It wasn't when Queen Victoria said "We are not amused" was it?

From the Diwan-i-Khas we could see the Chandra Mahal towering above all else.

So we walked through a small archway with the funny sounding name Riddhi-Siddhi Pol. (It sounded like the "Ready Steady Go" gate!)

We raced through and into yet another courtyard.

This one went by the delightful name of Pritam Chowk, the court of the beloved.

We stood for a while looking at the many windows of the Chandra Mahal. We were hoping for a glimpse of a real life maharaja but we saw no one regal.

City Palace, Jaipur

The most attractive feature of the court of the beloved were four beautifully decorated doorways.

Each one represented a season, although I couldn't tell which was which.

We walked around the courtyard briefly before returning to the hall of private audiences and weddings.

Our final attraction was a large reception hall where the Maharaja would entertain visiting dignitaries. The room was filled with paintings of all the Kachwaha rulers since 1700s.

There was an interesting video on a loop showing the visit of Lord Mountbatten to the City Palace in 1949. At this moment in history he was no longer the Viceroy of India as independance had already been achieved. The black and white newsreel footage was intriguing as it clearly showed the pageantry of a royal visit that probably hadn't changed in centuries.
Maharaja Madho Singh II playing polo

Paresh told us that Madho Singh II, (the maharaja who brought the silver urns to London), was a champion polo player.

He died in the saddle at the age of 72 whilst playing polo in the UK.

Udai Pol, City Palace, Jaipur

We left the city palace through Udai Pol another highly decorated gate. The artwork in the alcove of a maharaja fully dressed in his traditional attire made this gate quite unique.

There was a small canon on either side of the arch, a reminder of all the battles of the past. Although I think the maharaja's of Rajasthan were more masters of diplomacy as they held on to their power through alliances.

passenger on a bus, Jaipur

Sanjey and his minibus was there waiting for us near a market place.

Looking at all the fresh fruit and vegetables was making me feel hungry.

market, Jaipurmarket, Jaipur

Fortunately it was finally time for lunch and we were on our way to a restaurant that was on the Amber Road not too far from the base of the hills.
It was in a hotel called the Hotel Sikaar Odi and was quite pleasant. They had a large buffet on offer but we decided to go off the menu. Julie and I are not the biggest fans of the old booffey.

I chose the usual Thali which today consisted of Tadka Dhal, Palak Panner (spinach and cheese), spicy potato, basmati rice and plenty of bread to scoop it all up. I didn't touch the sour milk thing but loved the galub jamin floating in honey. I even had a few chunks of Julie's tandoori paneer. It was all good.

Rob had a veg curry but Carol was a little concerned there wasn't any non-spicy food available so after our recommendation she went for the Dhal Makhani.

When it arrived in a bucket we couldn't contain our laughter!

Yes, that's right, a real aluminium bucket. A small ornamental bucket, the sort you would pot some plants in.

"I'm surprised they didn't give you a spade instead of a spoon!" joked Julie.

Despite looking most unappetising Carol ate more than we expected.

We left hoping we were on our way back to the hotel. Julie could hear the swimming pool beckoning but first we had the "bonus" of another stopping in a textile store.

We were given a demonstration on how they block print the fabrics with vegetable dyes. It was bordering on being almost interesting.

We went inside their very large shop and had a look around just to be polite. Unlike all the other forced shopping trips we actually bought something here. A couple of small prints of camels and elephants, a shawl and just as we were out the door he threw in a bargain we couldn't resist, 300 rupees for a large bedspread.

block printing fabric s, Jaipur
Albert Hall, Jaipur

All that retail excitement was quite out of character.

We eventually drove back through Jaipur to our hotel passing along the way the Albert Hall Museum.

Named after Prince Albert of course, who like King Edward also has his name synonymous with something else. Although I do not know how penis piercing ever got to be known as "having a prince albert"! Is it cockney rhyming slang or did he actually have a knob ornament?

Anyway, it was closed for renovations which we were quietly pleased about.

It was only 4pm but today had been quite a long and tiring day. Back at the hotel Julie was so relieved to find the swimming pool area was empty.

Within five minutes she in the refreshing cool waters gently doggy paddling up and down. (perhaps it was the breaststroke) I sat pool side with my pale puppet legs dangling in the water.

Before Julie had managed a length and a half we were challenged by hotel staff, "Are you hotel guests?" he asked.

"Yes" I replied a little gruffly.

"What is your room number?" obviously not believing me, "And your name?"

Off he went to check up on our credentials. I childishly pulled what I call my "mong-face" behind his back (don't pretend you don't know what I mean) and I felt much better for doing so. With hindsight I still think it was the better option, juvenile or not, as I was so close to telling him to "fuck off" and say "Don't you know who I am?"

Anyway, despite that, we spent a lovely hour relaxing by the pool before returning to our room to get ready for the evening.

At 7pm we had an appointment for Julie to have a mehndi, a design made from henna that is traditionally worn by brides for their weddings but spread through the world as a chic adornment.

So we went down to the hotel's shopping arcade where waiting for us, sat outside on a stool, was the henna artist. She handed Julie a 120 page book of hand and feet patterns to choose from.

It wasn't easy to choose one in particular from such a vast selection as they all looked so similar. She eventually went for a design that appeared a little more delicate than most.

Within minutes the design was taking shape on Julie's hand.

It was all done by eye. She had a pattern book to follow but it was done free hand. I suppose the stain on the skin was only temporary so if it wasn't perfect it would only be for a few days.
I was so impressed by the artwork that when she asked if I wanted a mehndi I was hook line and sinker in favour.

Instead of a girly pattern I had my name, or at least I hoped it was my name, scrawled across by palm. I did worry slightly that it could have said "tosser" or something equally as derogatory like camel shagger.

The first thing I did when we returned back to the pool side bar was ask our bar tender to read my palm.

He answered "Kholin".

Either he was part of the scam or was pretty much how my name is spelt in Hindi script. Or as Julie surmised, perhaps Kholin is actually Hindi for camel shagger!

Anyway, regardless of all that, I loved my beautified right hand, no matter what it said.

We sat watching the poolside activity as the hotel prepared for this evening's wedding reception. The thrones were a particularly ostentatious touch.

After last night's experience we knew not to sit here for three hours waiting for someone to turn up so we moved on to the bar area that fell off the main foyer.

They had laid on some entertainment but to be honest it would have been better if they hadn't bothered.

They were from Romania and went by the name of the Marius Duo. The name didn't inspire but at least they didn't have much to live up to.

Now I pride myself on my eclectic taste in music, of my exceptionally broad spectrum of influences, from thrash metal Metallica to classical Andrea Bocelli and everything in between. If it's "good" then I can always appreciate something of a talent in any genre but these guys were awful, seriously shit awful.

If you closed your eyes you'd think you were at a karaoke night in an asylum. How in the name of the goddess of music did they secure this contract? (Of course this my personal opinion and in no way represents the view of the Rajputana Sheraton and their associated tone deaf representatives)

Within earshot we heard a far more infectious beat than the bland europop we were enduring and decided to leave our fruity cocktails behind and investigate.

Just outside the entrance to the hotel was Sundeh Band a wedding marching band blasting out a great tune.

We were just in time to witness the arrival of the groom on heavily decorated horseback.

His following posse were just "going for it" with absolute abandon, dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Their joy was contagious as we stood and watched the sheer exuberance of the wedding party.

I don't dance but even I felt like diving into the middle of them throw my hands in the air and frenetically jumping for joy.

It was such a wonderful experience to be amongst the celebrations.

We returned inside where the Romanian wailing was continuing in the lobby bar.

The Eurovision song contest came to mind, "Good Evening Bucharest, this is London calling." Our score for them would definitely be a "nil pwa".

We couldn't bare it any more so we returned to the wedding reception where the family photographs were being taken.

Once a again I joined the cameras down at the front to take a photo of the happy couple. They looked absolutely superb in their traditional wedding attire.

With 80% of marriages still arranged in India it's strange to think that perhaps our newlyweds had only met a few times prior. They did look a little bemused but they equally looked very happy.

It was a little later than usual but now was my favourite time of the day, supper time!

We had a 10:15pm reservation at the hotel's Peshwari restaurant and were shown to the best table in the house, the one with a window onto the theatre of the tandoor kitchen.

We ordered our choices and then watched attentively as the chef skewered huge chunks of paneer and placed them in the tandoor oven. He then scooped up a green mix for the spinach kebab and patted it tightly along the meter long iron skewers. Then finally he got a ball of dough, beat it out into a flat disc and then slapped it on the clay wall of the tandoor oven.

When it all arrived I almost popped with excitement. I had never anticipated my food more eagerly!

The Dal Bukhara was gorgeous, rich and sumptuous, every mouthful scooped up with a thin naan bread was so comforting.

The spinach kebabs were disappointingly bland but the tandoori paneer were a revelation. It wasn't just their large size but their sublime flavour.

"I'm going to have to build a tandoor oven in the back yard now!"

We ended the evening back in the lobby bar giving the atrocious duo another chance which they failed to take. Retiring to our room I soon drifted to sleep whilst Julie sat up watching a TV programme called "India's Best Weddings".

Next Day >  

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