Posts Tagged ‘Royal Heritage Haveli’

Letter From New York 04 15 15 An Indian Reprise…

April 15, 2015

Yesterday, I emailed out a Letter From New York. I have been writing one nearly every day since mid-November but I don’t email many of those out, not wanting to clutter email inboxes.

If you’re interested, you can see them at www.mathewtombers.com. I realized yesterday that I hadn’t emailed one about the trip to India. I have been there and back again.

India is still not the easiest of trips but it’s certainly different from the India I first visited twenty years ago. Delhi is changed, and most westerners would think it for the better. The acrid smell of burnt rubber doesn’t cling to the streets as it did twenty years ago and the streets are no longer lined with people living in tents. The city has been freshened and is more colorful than I remember.

They still drive like madmen and I found the only way I could really deal with the four different road trips I took while in India was to close my eyes and surrender my safety to the universe. Whenever I opened my eyes it seemed death was rushing at me at sixty kilometers per hour.

I was in India to give a speech at the Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee, one of the five branches of the IIT. It is a four-hour drive from Delhi, generally to the northeast. I was riding with another gentleman and he asked the driver to be a little more careful as he was scaring the American guest. I didn’t notice much difference but, at the end of those trips, I am alive and now back in the States where people, mostly, obey the rules and drive on their side of the road.

On the Saturday of the Conference at which I had been asked to speak, I went with another American speaker, Ron Eglash, an ethno-mathematician whose specialty is fractals, to Haridwar, one of the seven holy spots in the Hindu religion. I strolled along the edge of the Ganges, near where it flows into India, watching people bathe in its holy waters.

The speech went off without a hitch. I was pretty good, if I say so myself. The speech was to last for 60 minutes with questions and they were still being asked after 90. Shortly after that I told them to go enjoy themselves. It was great fun.

For the three days I was there I had two “minders” whose job was to see that I was fed and cossetted and had what I needed. They were the ones who arranged for Ron and I to go to Haridwar.

Returning to Delhi for a couple of days, I shopped some and rested and walked around Connaught Place, a central shopping area in Delhi that I had visited when I was first in India.

Twenty years ago it was pretty run down; today, there is a new coat of paint and the stores have been upgraded. Every third store was an international brand. Once, like all of Delhi, it was crowded with beggars but now there are few. My friend, Raja, who has now lived in Delhi for eight years told me they have all been moved out of Delhi into some other area, far enough away that they’re not visible. Another friend said that was more work and so fewer beggars. The difference was notable.

India though is still India, with wrenching gullies of poverty. Road trips take you past buildings that could never have been new and new ones that were old before they were finished. India has had a building boom and bust, too. Structural skeletons pockmark the landscape, looking as if they had been abandoned.

In Jaipur, I had the best meal I had in India at the Royal Heritage Haveli, a royal villa converted into a boutique luxury hotel. I wandered the Amber Fort and the City Palace and stared up at the Palace of the Winds.

In Jaipur I had a night of discomforting “Delhi belly” that came and went swiftly but left me tired.

India is a riot of colors, a visual feast if you can and are willing to take it all in. As I was driven to the airport to depart, I remember noticing the curbs were painted mint green.

Returning to New York, it seemed everything was beige. I felt color deprived.

It is comforting to be home, splitting my time between the little apartment in the city and the cottage upstate, where the brown of winter is beginning to yield to the green of spring.

It was my fourth trip to India. If the opportunity came, I would go again. I still would like to go to Goa and to the mountain town of Mussoorie, a hill town populated during the Raj by Brits fleeing the deadly heat of the plains.

It is a land that is both mystic and a bit mystifying. After my first trip I described the adventure as the most wonderful, horrible, awful, magnificent, transcendental experience I had ever had. It is less horrible and awful and still wonderful, magnificent and transcendental.

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: www.royalheritagehaveli.com.

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.