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so pretty in pink

sunny 23 °C

Once we finished our little walking tour of Samode’s village we went back to the hotel and took off for Jaipur straight away.

The trip actually took most of the day, but it’s enjoyable none the less. When you’re moving around as much as we are, walking and climbing as much (I have climbed more stairs than you can possibly imagine – I’ll be in great shape to do that CN Tower charity climb by the time I’m done with this trip), you do get weary – and these longer drives let you catch your breath – and even doze off, which I’ve done several times. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on everything you’ve seen and let it all sink in.

I’m also using the time to write my blogs because there’s no time to do it once we get to our destinations. Now that we’re in the desert posting them is a challenge but … where there’s a will there’s a way. And there is some spectacular scenery along the way – lots of photo ops – which we’re all taking advantage of. I’m uploading a few shots with each blog entry but I’ve got hundreds and hundreds to share once I’m home.

Let me tell you if you’re visually inclined and moved by beauty, India is paradise. It is the most inspiring place I’ve ever been. It makes me want to design fabrics because some of the architectural details – when you look at really small sections at very close proximity – would make the most fabulous fabrics and carpets.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll have a whole new career.

So we arrived in the Pink City (so named because it was painted pink in 1883 when Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, first visited Jaipur) around 5ish. I know I keep going on about hotels, but this one – The Taj Rambaugh Palace – which was once home to the Maharaja of Jaipur – is beyond the beyond.


It’s very large, cream-coloured and if you’re looking for the romance that is synonymous with India this is where you’ll find it – complete with peacocks strutting across the lawns and arcaded back patios.

The rooms are huge, with ceilings that have to be at least 20 feet high. I had an enormous four poster bed … a pure silk bathrobe waiting for me in the closet … the softest, fluffiest, plushest, most absorbant robe draped over the enormous soaking tub in the bathroom – where every amenity a traveler could ever need or want was available – loofahs, combs, shaving kits, toothbrushes, toothpaste, slippers PLUS all the customary shampoos and conditioners we’ve all come to expect. There was incense and fruit and beautiful bowls filled with fragrant flower petals and the softest towels I’ve ever used. I wish I knew how they washed them.

The staff delight in waiting on you hand and foot and how I will ever re-adjust to normal life I do not know! And the attention to detail (as it relates to service) would just blow your mind: When we arrived we had a half hour to settle in before we had to leave for a shopping extravaganza. I immediately plugged my laptop in so I could charge the battery and also left my iPod and camera.

When we got back to our rooms late that night there was a note on my pillow: It said that they had noticed, when they came to turn down the bed, that I had left some valuables in the room so they had put a “do-not-disturb” sign on my door. Can you believe that??

It was difficult to drag myself away from the hotel but Rashmi had arranged for a contact of hers who manufactures carpets, textiles and shawls to stay open for us. So off we went.

As we drove to their place I was surprised to see how big Jaipur is. I knew it was the capital of Rajasthan but I hadn’t realized it would be such a “city” with many modern buildings – both offices and condos – and many very high end malls. It’s much more urban than I had imagined it to be.


Once at our destination we had a very interesting demonstration of how they make the carpets – you cannot imagine how that man’s fingers flew!! This is also a trade that is passed down from generation to generation. This man learned from his dad, who’d learned from his dad and so and so on and so on …


Then we saw how they do the block printing they are so famous for in this region – and we all got a small square to take home as a reminder.

The showroom was next and that turned out to be the biggest surprise. I had no intentions of buying a carpet – it hadn’t been on my radar at all – but buy one I did. I saw a pure silk one that just made my heart do a flip but it was very expensive. Well worth it, but showing uncharacteristic restraint I insisted “no” although the vendor did lower the price several times.

In the end he wore me down and I bought a much more reasonable one – made of camel wool, if you can believe it. Who knew about camel wool? The base is sort of a tobacco colour – it’s very rustic – and I think (hope) it will look good in my living room.

Up another flight of stairs and we saw all the bed coverings, clothes and shawls. By now it was 10:30 at night – we’d been there for hours. They ordered some dinner for us and although I bought a few pashminas I couldn’t handle anything else. There was just so much of everything my eyes were crossed. Bed was the only thing on my mind.

But sleep alluded me.

I guess my brain was working overtime. I had the most fabulous bed in the world to sleep in, but couldn’t. So I blogged, had a good soak, followed by a bracing shower – by which time it was about 5:30 so I got dressed and wandered around the hotel in the dark. Still tons to see and enjoy and reflect upon.

We had breakfast very early anyway because we had a very full day: A city tour, with stops to Hawa Mahal (wind palace) and Albert Hall Museum … an extensive visit to Amer Fort … lunch at City Palace (where we were to have met the Maharaja but the 85 year old was unfortunately feeling under the weather) … then on to Jantar Mantar (an astrological conservatory) … tea at Samode Havali and then the ‘pièce de resistance’ – the family who own the carpet factory invited all of us to their home for dinner.

What a night we had! We got to meet their entire family – there had to be 50 or 60 of them at least. We had a traditional Rajasthani meal … and then we went downstairs and danced. I was so exhausted from lack of sleep I could barely keep my eyes open but it was tons and tons of fun. The warmth and generosity these people showed us was so incredible – an unexpected “moment” that we will treasure forever.

How lucky are we? How many tourists ever get a chance to experience these kinds of things? But Rashmi knows them well and that’s how we got to reap the benefit of her connections.

Before I sign off, though, here’s a little info about the sites we saw:


Hawa Mahal was built by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh in 1799 so that the women of the court could discreetly get some air and look out at the street below. It looks like a huge, pink wedding cake – every ‘tier’ has semi-octagonal overhanging windows – each with a perforated screen. It’s called the Wind Palace because the westerly winds blow cool breezes through those windows – natural air conditioning.

We had no time to go into the museum, but the sandstone and marble building is located just outside the old, walled city and it is the cousin to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. There are only those two in the world. Next time I will be sure to have enough time in Jaipur to go in.

After a few days you realize there is such an overwhelming number of sites to see in India, you just cannot see them all – no matter how long you stay – and you stop angsting about it. No wonder people keep returning here.

Yes, I rode an elephant (can’t post the pictures because we got prints from the “professional” photographers/hucksters that line the paths – but you’ll see them when I get home)!!


That is how I got to the top of Amer Fort (it’s in ruins but the interior palaces, gardens and temples are still incredibly beautiful – especially the Palace of Mirrors). Trust me you don’t want to climb the stairs. It was enough to have to manage them on the way down. Suffice to say we were ready for lunch by the time we got through there.


Jantar Mahal was created by India’s Newton – Jai Sing II – who knew how advanced the Europeans were in the field of astronomy, and set out, in 1726, to create the world’s finest observatories. He personally supervised the design and construction and it’s equipped with solar instruments called yantras – which actually look like large, abstract sculptures.


Samode Havali (owned by the same family who own the Samode Palace where we had just come from) is a mid-19th century residence which has now been turned into what we call a boutique hotel. It’s arranged around two courtyards – very opulent. At the pool there’s a pavilion with lounges that are like queen-sized beds with canopies over them. How I would have loved to spend an hour or so there.

We got to have tea there as the guests of the Manager because he knows Rashmi very well. See – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know …

Posted by a_broad 09:33 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (5)

from one extreme to another ...

a land of contrasts

sunny 23 °C

What I am discovering about India is that no matter where you are, everywhere you turn you are confronted by extreme opposites:

A modern glass and steel office tower right next to a palace that has stood in that spot for two thousand years … a woman wearing a beautiful sari, with a helmet on her head, riding a motorcycle … a young well-dressed (GQ-style) young man behind the wheel of a brand new sleek, shiny Honda, driving down the street next to a dhoti-clad, turbaned, bearded old man riding a camel or even an elephant pulling a trailer full of merchandise he is selling … a mall that would give The Eaton Centre a run for its money smack in the middle of a street where vendors working out of stalls sell tools that look like they were discovered on an archaeological dig, but are, amazingly still used today … billboards (that look like they were produced in the fifties) in Hindi promoting local products and services, surrounded by others selling Calvin Klein underwear or Panasonic Plasma TVs using the exact same campaigns we see back home.

And one of the most interesting things I’ve noticed – considering what a patriarchal society still exists here – is the sight of women doing heavy labour, and I do mean heavy, wearing beautiful, brightly-coloured, immaculately clean saris I might add – not workie boots: Extreme examples like digging ditches for the subway that’s being built … driving huge tractors and trucks … carrying heavy, heavy loads of sacks filled with God only knows what. In this they are considered very much equal to men. And yet, when they go home at night they will be expected to fulfill all the traditional duties that always fall to the women – not the least of which will be to feed their children first, then their husbands and then and only then, themselves – with whatever food is left.

But no one seems to be complaining. I haven’t met or seen anyone who isn’t smiling and doesn’t seem content.

Another good example of the kind of mind-snapping differences you find in this fabulous and fascinating country can be found between our hotel in Agra and the village we explored in Samode. In the space of a couple of days we went from the absolute utmost in luxury, style and modern conveniences to seeing simplicity, modesty and time-worn, time-honoured customs and traditions in action:

Amarvilas, the hotel we stayed at in Agra, is part of the Oberoi chain – one of the two chains of luxury hotels who operate throughout India. The other is the Taj Group, which is owned by the Tata family – who I might add also own just about everything else here too. I’ve seen signs for Tata AIG, Tata Motors, Tata this and Tata that.

But I digress …

Amarvilas, which isn’t a heritage property, is reminiscent of the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the Moghul emperors of long ago. The style is Moorish, with colonnades decorated with floral frescoes … rooms that are spacious and elegant (mine had, among other things, a magnificent rosewood desk with marble inlay and also afforded me my own, private butler ... a sitar player who greets you in the morning … and the pool pavilion – well, if lounging there doesn’t make you feel like a privileged and mildly decadent princess nothing ever will (will somebody please peel me a grape)!


The well-heeled, expensively-dressed, to-the-manner-born guests come from all over the world – if you’re an observer of people and an eavesdropper like I am, you will overhear conversations in Chinese, Japanese, French and German, to name a few.

The village of Samode, on the other hand, meanders along a rather hilly, somewhat dusty road that ends at the Samode Palace and starts about a 20-minute walk (if you’re strolling) away.

Here you see natives in traditional clothing only, going about their daily chores. Women carrying baskets filled with laundry or produce on their heads … men, sweeping their little storefronts or clustered in groups, smoking and talking … children, little dark-eyed imps, playing or walking around, clinging to their mother’s hands … men sitting in workrooms the size of a bathroom polishing gemstones … sharpening tools … sorting fabric and shawls … cooking in iron pots that are well-seasoned from years and years of use. Everywhere there are dogs napping, goats munching and cows wandering.


As you pass by, the residents smile – some shyly, others openly – and they are as curious about us as we are about them. The children, especially, are charming. When they see you want to take their picture they stop and pose for you – grinning at you with big, friendly smiles – staring directly at you with eyes that could melt the coldest heart. And here, in this village, they ask for nothing in return – just a smile back.

They are all beautiful – every single one. The men and the women. The young and the old. In fact the elderly are spectacularly beautiful – full of wrinkles and eyes that have seen much, throughout many lives (remember, this is a culture that believes in reincarnation).

They are all gentle … and generous … and filled with grace and serenity. And if all you come to India to experience is the people who live here, you will have the vacation and an experience of a lifetime.

Posted by a_broad 08:04 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (1)

oops ...

there's the balance of Agra to come

sunny 23 °C

I'm losing it. That last bump we hit in the road must have dislodged my brain. I never posted the pictures from Agra. I have to get ready for dinner now (we're invited to someone's home -- several members of a family who live together, which is very common here. This will be fun ...

Anyway there's no time to do it now but I will in the next day or so. We're heading more into the desert for the next week or so and although we're staying in heritage palace hotels and luxury tents I am not sure whether or not they all have internet service -- so if you don't hear from me that frequently that's why.

Stay tuned for more from Agra, more from Samode and Jaipur. Just wait until you see where we're staying here and what we saw today ...

Posted by a_broad 04:29 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (3)


our first stop in the royal state of Rajasthan

semi-overcast 23 °C

It was a really good thing that we listened to Rashmi and went to the Taj Mahal yesterday -- even though we were all pretty zonked -- because it was foggy for a lot of the day.

We all got up at the crack of dawn, had breakfast and hit the road. It's about a 5 1/2 hour trip from Agra (which is in Uttar Pradesh) to Samode -- and it is New Years Eve after all. Some primping was required! Rashmi's goal was to get us there by late afternoon so she suggested we grab some food at the hotel for lunch, so we wouldn't have to stop. Most of the hotels have a fabulous buffet breakfast so it's easy to take some extra food for the road.

While I'm on the subject of food I have to say that the papaya here is so delicious you cannot believe it -- unlike the tasteless, potato-like version we get back home. We're all addicted to it. The food is fabulous here -- I may never be able to eat curry at home again -- we are terribly spoiled now.

Anyhow ...

We set out on our drive by about 8 or 8:30. I had gotten behind in my blogging so I wrote (no, there is no internet on the bus -- I did it as a word document to cut and paste later). I wrote until my battery got dangerously low and then plugged myself into my iPod and drifted off. When I woke up I was drooling and my head was at a very precarious angle -- it was the pain shooting up my neck that woke me up.

I was just in time to see the village we were passing through. P1010063.jpg

These villages are so amazing, so colourful. And like Chandni Chowk in Delhi there are businesses of every description operating one after the other after the other -- in stalls, carts, ruins, shacks, empty shells of cars and trucks ... you name it. Get a tooth pulled, a haircut, buy a skirt, pick vegetables, see a doctor, get medicine, buy tires ... and on and on it goes.

Then suddenly the countryside changes and everything is green and lush -- farmland -- and the sight of women wearing scarlet and orange and turquoise and purple saris working in the fields is just glorious.

We had a half hour break -- bathroom/picnic/rest for driver and continued on our way. The terrain now was much hillier and rougher. By the time I come home I think my bladder will be on a highway somewhere in India -- but I digress.

The terrain now was much more desert-like. There was sand -- not everywhere -- but there were long stretches -- with some green but definitely India's version of sagebrush.

We had been making really good time but we hit an accident and then some construction (there is construction EVERYWHERE -- it makes Toronto look like nothing's going on) and that set us back quite a while. By now we needed another bio break but it's not exactly an interstate highway. If you can squat in the bush go right ahead. If you're looking for an actual toilet hold it in!!

If I seem obsessed with bodily functions you try sitting in a bus on a very bumpy road for hours and hours at a time with not much else to do but drink water -- or whatever you want to stash in your water bottle (whatever happens in India stays in India).

We're staying in Palace Hotels, Forts and even tents throughout Rajasthan and the Samode Palace is our first. Not that there's anything wrong with the hotels we've been staying at everywhere else. They are nothing short of spectacular as you know because I keep posting pictures of them.

But these heritage properties are so unique and special. They transport you back to a time when the Maharajas ruled India and had quantities of wealth that are beyond your imagination. But it's a very romantic story (at least to me) and staying in these 'hotels' is putting an entirely different spin on this trip -- because although the original furniture is long gone the grandeur and opulence of the actual buildings and grounds is still there.

It would absolutely, positively blow your mind!

We had been seeing signs for "Samode Palace" for the better part of an hour and a half. But no sign of it yet. We were all taking photos like mad though, so the trip was still enjoyable. We'd been so active since we got here it was actually nice to have nothing to do for a while.

I started thinking of the beautiful (at least I think so -- hope you agree when you see the pictures) salwar kameez I'd be wearing tonight. I was excited. I also noticed we were climbing. The longer we drove, the higher up we seemed to be going. The turns were very steep, the roads very narrow and crowded -- in both directions.

Best to keep your eyes shut. Have I mentioned that I wouldn't be caught dead behind the wheel in this country?


Suddenly there was a fabulous archway ahead, just dripping with bougainvillea -- bright scarlet against old, timeworn stone in a pale English mustard colour. Staggeringly beautiful. Up a long, imposing, winding driveway ... and ... WOW!!!!!!!


Samode Palace's history goes back more than four and a half centuries and it was awarded to Gopal Singh ji -- one of the twelve sons of Prithviraj Singh ji of Amber, the seventeenth Prince of the House of Kachhawaha Rajputs.

Now that's what I call a mouthful!!!

Anyway, with all the pomp and ceremony we have rapidly become accustomed to in this glorious part of the world we had our foreheads dabbed by our wonderfully gnarled 'greeter' ... had garlands of fresh and fragrant flowers draped over our heads and we were whisked to our rooms to prepare for the party that evening.


As you will soon see, pictures definitely speak more loudly than words when it comes to describing the drive ... the hotel ... and the magical New Year's Eve party we attended here. So enjoy ...


Posted by a_broad 02:53 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (6)

Delhi Day Two

sensory overload

sunny 22 °C

[i]Happy New Year everyone. Of course it is already New Year's Day here and you're several hours away from ushering 2009 in. Our location couldn't have been more magical but you'll see that blog in a couple of days -- I'm behind in my postings because we have been on the run -- barely time to catch your breath.

I came to India for the spirituality … for the colour … the texture … the beauty … the inner peace … the crowds … the honking … the hawkers … the opulence … the squalor … the serenity … the chaos … the culture … the majesty of the past … the wisdom … the contrasts that are so extreme it can give you whiplash.

And in some ways I experienced all of it in about 6 hours on our whirlwind tour of Delhi – first Old Delhi and then New Delhi.

We began our day at the splendid Jama Mosque, India’s largest.


The instant we entered this red sandstone and marble structure an incredible feeling of total serenity washed over me. It was palpable.


Bring socks if you come because you must remove your shoes, and amazingly they will be waiting for you outside the entrance exactly where you have left them (although I did have fears that I’d be spending the rest of the day in bare feet.)

This was the last monument commissioned by Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal in honour of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, who died at 39 years old after giving birth to her 14th child.) The mosque took 5,000 labourers 6 years to build, it was completed in 1656 and it is considered one of the most beautiful houses of worship in the world.

This tranquility was followed by an absolutely frenetic rick-shaw ride through Chandni Chowk – a breathtaking bazaar that could easily have been created by a collaboration between Gaudi, Dali and Frederico Fellini.

To be honest there is nothing I can say that will do it justice:

The streets are about as wide as a sidewalk and twist and turn like a pipe cleaner that has been completely bent in different directions. All trying to compete for space (and I use the term very loosely) are pedestrians, cyclists, taxis, rick-shaws, freight-carts, bullock carts and cows.


Every square inch has a “business”. Astrologers compete with stationers. Sidewalk photographers with old box cameras sit next to medicine booths where patients are treated. A man is getting shaved next to another man who is hammering silver. Buy fresh produce from a cart over here or pick a fresh chicken from a stall over there.

It is spectacular … a riotous mélange of sights, sounds and smells and we loved every minute of it!!

Next we drove by the India Gate (this country’s Arc de Triomphe), the Red Fort and made our way to Qutub Minar and Humayun’s Tomb.

The Tomb was built in the middle of the 16th Century by the widow of the Moghul emperor Humayun. It was this monument that introduced a new architectural era -- one influenced by Persia -- which in turn influenced the design of the Taj Mahal.

It was an action-packed day that culminated in a wonderful dinner at Ellen and Sam's. They invited everyone in the group and we had a marvelous time. It's not often that you can travel this far and end up in someone's home instead of constantly eating in hotels and restaurants. They served us a wonderful dinner and charmed us all with the stories of their travels, experiences and insights about India.

Our time with them is definitely a highlight of the trip for all of us.

Another is the people. Everyone who comes here talks about how beautiful the people of India are -- both physically, spiritually and in how kind they are. And it is all true.

Strangers smile and wave ... they invite you to their homes ... they will share anything they have with you, even if it is a crust of bread. Whether they are poor and dressed in rags or wearing beautiful saris made of the most exquisite silk they are peaceful, gentle, dignified and graceful. Their smiles make you forget any problems you might have and their eyes speak volumes.


The stories I have heard about hawkers and beggars are greatly exaggerated. It is all very manageable -- including the incessant honking of horns. For some reason back home honking is an expression of anger -- here it is merely to indicate that you need to pass or change lanes or even to warn a driver coming the other way that you're there. After a while you don't hear it any more.

What I would never do, however, is a drive a car here. For that you need nerves of steel.

This is truly a unique country and already I know that I'll come back here.

Posted by a_broad 18:06 Archived in India Tagged luxury_travel Comments (5)

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