Posts Tagged ‘Rajasthan’

Letter From New York 04 02 15 In the shadows of the Maharajahs…

April 2, 2015

It is sunset time in India. The bright, sunny, hot day has ceded to a grey and hazy time. My friends have gone out to dinner tonight; I chose not to join them. I had a restless night last night and woke with a sniffy nose and a scratchy throat. Discretion seemed the better part of valor.

With a guide and driver in hand, I ventured out into Jaipur and visited the Amber Fort, arriving just too late to take an elephant up to the Fort.

Youssef, the guide, took me through the corridors of the palace, which are actually three palaces in one huge building – one for summer, one for winter, one for the monsoon season.

Next door is another, smaller palace which can be rented from the Royal Family for about $50,000 a day.

We then went to the City Palace and wandered there where I bought a few gifts to bring home. Next door to the City Palace Museum is the seven-floor palace that is home to the Royal Family. The Princess sits in the legislature and the family is involved in raising and donating money to charities around Rajasthan. The next Maharajah is now sixteen and will be installed when he is eighteen. He has no power but he’s got prestige and money. The Royal Family of Rajasthan is the richest of India’s Royal Families.

Then we went on to the famous Jantar Mantar, the astronomical observatory build by Jai Singh II in the first half of the 18th Century. He built five of them in his territories but this is the largest of them. I’ve seen pictures of it and was suitably impressed with the real thing. There are fourteen giant instruments. The Samrat Yantra is a giant sundial that can tell time within two seconds of accuracy in Jaipur. I was amazed and humbled by the sight of these giant tools built two and a half centuries ago.

While we were there came the haunting call to prayer though no one in the observatory observed the call to prayer. Indian Hindis, Germans, French, British, Americans and the occasional Muslim Indian surrounded me. Jaipur was a capital of the Moghul Empire and they were Muslims.

While the city is called “The Pink City” it is actually more amber/orange in color. When Edward VII of England was still Prince of Wales he visited Jaipur and the reigning Maharajah had the city painted pink in his honor. And it has stuck.

It is so hard to describe the riot that is India; the clash of colors and smells and the intensity of millions of people going about their business is inescapable and indescribable.

For a half hour I watched a tiny man do a block print on fabric that would then be sold in the store next door. He moved with speed and precision, never missing a beat, never screwing up. I went in to the store and purchased a square tablecloth a friend asked me to find. It is one of the hand printed ones. I resisted all other enticements to spend thousands of rupees on beautiful works. The man who was guiding me was disappointed but gracious in the end.

Eventually exhausted, I returned to the hotel and attempted to sleep a bit but didn’t really fall asleep so I got up just as the phone rang from America; it was my friend Nick Stuart wondering how my speech had gone. He had received neither my email nor my text so we chatted for a minute and then signed off.

I am going down to a have a light bite to eat and then come back to my room, read and hopefully sleep early.

Letter From New York 04 01 15 Lunching in a Maharajah’s Naveli…

April 1, 2015

As I begin to write this, I am looking out at a lake across the road from the Trident Hotel in Jaipur where I have checked in. A small balcony is attached to my room and from there I have a clear view of a lake and the palace that sits in the middle of it. The story goes that the palace was built five stories tall and was a place for the Royal Family to picnic. Then they decided they wanted a lake, so they built that and now only three stories of the palace rise above the water.

It’s good to be Maharajah.

Speaking of which, I had lunch this afternoon at the Royal Heritage Haveli, a boutique hotel owned by the current Maharajah, even though they don’t officially have Maharajahs anymore. He still has the title and property. The State of Rajasthan has been encouraging the old aristocracy to turn their residences into hotels for the sake of tourism.

Pradip Singh, who runs the Royal Heritage Haveli, is related to the Maharajah through is wife. Once a very powerful politician in Ahmedabad, he retired from politics when he got on the wrong side of someone and came to Jaipur and took over the renovation of an abandoned villa into a glorious boutique hotel. Go take a look:

It is a magnificent building, now restored to its old glory; each room is unique. Brilliant blues and startling whites are common accents; each room has a magnificent modernized bath almost the size of a studio apartment in New York.

Most have sitting rooms with contemporary or traditional furniture and it is all a stunning feast for the eyes.

We lunched, starting with a pea mint soup, followed by a superb quinoa salad, and then had chicken with gravy and a mousse for dessert.   It was easily the best meal I have had in India.

The Royal Heritage Haveli was used in one of the scenes for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” currently in release in the U.S.

We drove down this morning from Delhi, with Joginder at the wheel, accompanied by my friend Sanjay, his friend Andy and his colleague, Angelia. They are here prepping for two Cultural and Culinary tours they are leading this fall and next spring.

We made good time despite the traffic and were in Jaipur by noon. Most of the ride, I did my best to sleep. It seems the best way to cope with Indian road madness. We slowed once to a crawl as we threaded our way carefully through a crowd of holy cows inhabiting the center of a two-lane highway.

Seeing them reminded me that I hadn’t seen many cows in Delhi this trip.

We passed a female mahout upon her elephant and carts drawn by camels, making their way slowly up the roadway.

Driving back from the Royal Heritage Haveli, Sanjay asked me what I was thinking about what I was seeing. It occurred to me that I was just taking it all in, hopefully not making judgments but simply absorbing what I was seeing.

There is great beauty, like the sight outside my window, and there is bone-grinding poverty though it doesn’t seem as bone grinding as it did twenty years ago. Shelters of brick and tin, sturdier in the monsoon season, have largely replaced mud huts with thatched roofs.

Tomorrow a guide will come plus a car and driver and I will do my best to see all that Jaipur has to offer.

In the meantime, I glanced at the headlines and the marathon talks in Lausanne continue between the P5 + 1 [US, France, Russia, China, Britain plus Germany] and Iran continue even though the self-imposed deadline has passed. Congress doesn’t return until mid-April, giving Obama and Kerry a little breathing room.

Netanyahu is unhappy.

Misao Okawa, the oldest person in the world, died at 117. Her secret to a long life? Eight hours of sleep and sushi.

In a positive sign, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria has conceded defeat to his opponent, Buhari. It looks, thankfully, that there will be a peaceful transition of power in a country where not much has been peaceful lately, thanks to the Boko Haram.

The world ticks on. IS and Iraq are still duking it out over Tikrit. Yemen is bleeding badly. There are more than three million Syrian refugees scattered across the Middle East.

Here in the subcontinent, I am going to post this and then head for dinner at what is supposed to be the best Chinese restaurant in this part of India.