An Alien in Spain - Visits India (Jaipur)

To say that the marigold hotel experience has not measured up to expectations would be a major understatement for numerous reasons not least the start.

On boarding our trusty Tempo Traveler we managed to reach the outskirts of Ajmer in heavy traffic before the vehicle formed this strange attraction to 3rd gear refusing to budge and forcing us to endure the 140 km trip over a four hour time span instead of two which put everybody's nerves on edge and did not help Lynne who was suffering with a high temperature and an upset tummy but we kept our spirits high with the thought of the upcoming comforts of our Haveli for the next 15 days. Then we arrived!

Set in The Pink City (old, very old part) the place was next to a building site off a noisy road and the photographer deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of this place. It was a tip and not just a tip a filthy tip. In an effort to please us the guy must have shown us about 20 rooms and I wouldn't have stayed in any of them.

Now feeling rather despondent I called the operator who supplied the vehicle (Abdul) who managed to sort us out with accommodation for the night and with 5 girls in one room Jon and I in a double, John & June were ok, in a ground floor room and Dave opted for a single room on the ground floor which was where cases of outgoing were kept to avoid the stairs. We then found the restaurant was on the fourth floor ( no lift) but worth the struggle as the food was delicious.

Next day the owner and manager managed to sort us out with rooms and Dave & Jean managing to get the Honeymoon suite. I went off with Jon and John to get the iPad repaired and the others did their own thing. We had a successful time iPad fixed enjoyed a beer and Jon even managed to get himself a shirt and suit made to measure and ready for the following night.

The second night we arranged for cars to take us on a Jaipur tour over the next two days but lynne informed us she had decided India wasn't for her and would be leaving and Jean & Dave opted not to come and so the rest of us bought two day passes (1,000 INR) for local sights, a huge saving on individual entrance fees and we set of with Abdul and Jemal driving.

Our first port of call was The Albert Museum a very handsome building and plenty of interesting artwork sculptures and statues from around Asia

After spending a little too much time there we went on to Isarlat ( The victory column) built in 1749 it is 7 stories high and the steps have been worn away on the climb to be more of a slope and full marks to June for keeping going all the way to the top, and to Kay who made it despite a fear of heights. At the top views of the surrounding city are clear as is the view if the city palace. For information buffs, Jaipur was the first planned Indian city with roads set out in a grid pattern which can be seen from up top.

From here was a short drive to The City Palace of Jaipur where the current king of Jaipur still resides but like our Queen in a part not open to the public. We wandered around with lots to see with internal art and jewellery exhibitions to keep the ladies happy.

We went to the restaurant for a cup of coffee and as we were leaving in strolled Dave & June who announced the news that they had decided to leave the party and had booked a flight to Thailand in 24 hours time??

Across the road from the Palace was the Jaipur Janta Mantar, you remember, we visited the one in Delhi which is a combination of astronomical and mathematical structures and as it was included in our ticket price we decided to pay a quick visit but without guide this time and it was bigger and more impressive than the one in Delhi

On the pretext of meeting the fortune teller seen in the series of "The Marigold Hotel" telling Jan Lemmings and others fortunes we arrived at a jewelry store and I and Jon got to meet with the man and have a private talk ( not impressed) while John bought June a lovely friendship ring and Denise and Kay carried on their tradition of buying something in every shop they enter (well nearly).

By now the day was drawing to an end and we had been invited to have a meal with the tailors that had made Jons suit at 7pm so we made a final stop at a white marble temple on the outskirts of town dedicated the the God Shiva and just made it inside ( no photos allowed) before they covered the altar with the statue. So time for a quick photo shoot opportunity and a nighttime shot of the castle above where the last queen of Jaipur is buried.

We arrived at the tailors and all did not go to plan with the main purpose of the invite to sell to the ladies which was successful and the meal of potato and veg curry with Nan bread not arriving until 9 pm by which time we were past hungry so we left with promises the suit would be delivered ready to the hotel by Friday.

Next morning the same people were on time for our second day of exploration of Jaipur and our first stop was a little way out at The Holy Temple Shri Gian Gopal II also known as The Monkey Temple for obvious reasons as you will see and here we met our guide you guessed it "The Monkey Man".

The people from all around come to bathe in the Spa waters of the temple that come down from the mountains into the top bath for monkeys trickle down to the men's baths and finish in a bath for the ladies where all the pervs congregate for a quick glimpse of flesh.

After climbing to the top where there is a holy temple you can feed the monkeys and take pictures here and in the forest nearby. Full marks to John Langford who was the only one brave enough to have monkeys clambering all over him for the pictures.

Back along the road of beautiful amber houses where people stood to throw rose petals on the head of the king when he came to Jaipur to marry a princess from the region we came to Sisodia Gardens built for the queen and courtesans to relax in.

If only they kept the water and fountains running it would be wonderful.

On our way to the Amer Fort we passed a number of elephants returning after a day's work at the Fort which I managed to capture through the windscreen.

Just before entering the Amber Fort we met our guide and were shown a Stepwell, popular in India where the royal women came to bathe and chat overseen by the Eunuch and this was an excellent example.

The climb to the Amber Fort is long and steep so we rode up in the car and entered by a back gate and once inside were given a guided tour which was very informative and worth the fee of just over £1 each !

After leaving the Amber Fort we drove past the lake on which there lies the abandoned "Floating Palace" used as a summer residence in the past now left to rot and sink eventually typical of the Indian mentality not to preserve their heritage, such a shame.

Our plan from here. Was a visit to Jaigarh Fort for a quick look at its main attraction the mighty 20 ton Cannon ( the largest in the world) set above its battlements and from what I understand only ever fired once? To test it !!

From her it was only a hop, skip and a Jump to "The Tiger Fort" for a final tour of the day with fabulous views and the chance to grab a drink and watch a Jaipur sunset.

Alas the views were wonderful and we even got better seats to take pictures of the sunset than the three table of Japanese tourists, Yeahhhhh, Trouble was they only had water or Margo juice in cartons to drink and the sunset was lost about two feet above the horizon in a cloud of pollution

Hey Ho and off to our hotel we go for an evening meal at the end of a good day.

The next day as expected Lynne had left while we had been out, heading for her favourite winter retreat Chang Mai in Thailand and we all wish her a speedy recovery.

By the time I had got up Dave & Jean had left and I was now left with a day to be spent on the computer and telephone rearranging transport and hotel accommodations for those that were left, not what I had envisaged when I first thought of having a trip to India.

With the loss of Dorothy before the trip started, news of the passing of Jons mother and his return to uk for the funeral, followed by the departure of lynne, Dave & Jean I was now faced with a major revamp to the itinerary for just 5 of us and it took the whole of the day and half the next to try and sort out which I eventually did with Abdul's help.

The weekend arrives and we get to see the smaller vehicle I have opted for with the new driver who again does not speak very good English ( big disappointment ) but we head out to the elephant village to try out the car. Entry to the elephant village used to be free but now the Indian government has introduced a 300 INR charge which is a con all you get to do for that money is get introduced to a guy who sits you down and try's to sell you packages to feed, or ride or wash the elephants which can cost up to 50€. After the talk we saw a place where the elephant sleeps the family who look after him and took a couple of pictures before leaving.

We returned to the hotel and got ready for our night out at a Rajasthan theme village with food and entertainment which lay about 23kms towards the airport. The name of the place escapes me but sounds like Chocolate Honey and the Thali we were served for 900INR was filling and in a great room and serenaded by sitar plater and drummer.

After eating you enter into acres of outside area with jugglers, conjurers, dancers, magicians, wrestlers, all in their separate rings around the park. Also camel, horse and elephant rides and you can wander among the sets of battles and temples to your hearts content. A little like Disney but without the stress and there was even an arts and crafts village for the girls to enjoy. A great night enjoyed by all

Nearing the end of our self imposed reduced time in Jaipur so Jon, Kay, Denise and I decided to catch a Tuk Tuk to The Pink City to see the Palace of the winds ( Hawa Mahal) and good luck favored us as we were invited up to the first floor of the property opposite to take pictures (a jewelers) anyone smell a rat? ha ha. But we took pictures met other travelers from Switzerland and enjoyed a banana lassie before escaping without any damage to the girls purses.

After buying a T shirt for Jon and some material for Kay we headed up to The Albert Hall where we had seen an exhibition of Painted Elephants we fancied seeing but unfortunately we're unable to go in without paying again to see inside The Albert Hall so just took pictures over the fence - Job Done.

From here we headed to a restaurant Denise and Kay had snacks in before and had a nice meal with a Kingfisher to wash it down.

Refreshed we checked out a local cinema which has a reputation as being one of the best in Asia but the film showing was a comedy ( no subtitles) so we decided to give it a miss and catch another Tuk Tuk back.

The poor guy got horribly lost but we eventually got him there and even doubled the fare to 200 INR (3€ between 4) last of the big spenders. Good news Jons suit had turned up and fitted him better so a good day.

John, June and I spent the late afternoon teaching Abdul Rummikub and glad he is not driving us now as he is a quick learner and could have got better than us given time hmmmmmm.

The evening was spent eating and chatting with Claudia and Mateus two journalists from Germany doing a piece on TB and its resistance to drugs nowadays a really interesting evening .

Our last day in Jaipur, I am catching up with my blog in my room while Denise arranges to send stuff home she has bought and doesn't want to carry with us. Jon and Kay have headed out for a last look around the Pink City and John & June have settled for a local walk.

Tomorrow we start a revised schedule with a 10 am start to Mandawa more to follow.

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