Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Travelogue Part Deux - Our First Time in Jaipur...

One of the things I like about blogging here is that I get to re-live the vacations we have taken and the places we have been!  The memory, as they say, is the "second thing to go".  Hopefully Amy Suzanne and I will have this blog as a record of the wonderful times we have had here in "Incredible India"!  Just a quick health update...overall, things are wonderful...but - as some people know, I sprained or damaged tendons in my left wrist over a month ago while golfing at Boulder Hills Country Club.  I have stayed off of ANY golf course this whole time...and except for hitting a few chip shots at the hotel "pitch n' putt" last time we were in Jaipur...I have not swung a golf club "with intention" during all of that recovery time.  I have borrowed a set of Callaway X-20's (with graphite shafts to lessen the vibration) and I intend to go to the driving range tomorrow to hit a few wedges and see if there is something more I need to be doing.  I really do not want to see my golf career cut down in the prime of my life (I will be officially 54 in one week - on January 27th - and - yes, I am still and will always be, an Aquarius!)...but we will have to play this one by ear.

Where we left off....we had just finished two lovely days in Delhi, and - we woke up fresh for the first "road trip" of the journey.  Our itinerary said that this was the day we would be driving from New Delhi to Jaipur in Rajasthan

This famous city is the capital of Rajasthan and has earned universal renown as the "Pink City ", and pink it is, with beautiful constructed palaces, havelis and forts!! Just like all of the websites about Jaipur show, there are indeed tall, rugged men with handle-bar whiskers sporting bright pink and orange turbans. Jaipur (which means the city of victory) was built exactly 273 years back and is 262 km by road from Delhi. Our journey by road was supposed to have taken "five hours" - but if you are traveling by road in India, plan to double that time if you have an appointment to keep.  Our trip took exactly EIGHT hours, with two stops.  A strong wall encircles the old city and even today has a suggestion of formidable strength, its function of protecting all within is obvious.

The plains of Rajasthan of which Jaipur is the capital once thundered and echoed with clash of swords and the drums of wars.  Built in 1727 by Sawai Jai Singh-II, Jaipur was the first planned city of its time (the earlier planned city in northern India having been built near Taxila sometime in the 2nd century BC).

Jaipur was planned by Vidhyadhar Bhattacharya, a Bengali architect, in a grid system with wide straight avenues, roads, streets and lanes and uniform rows of shops on either side of the main bazaars, all arranged in nine rectangular city sectors (chokris). The city itself is an attractive creation worthy of universal admiration.  I must say that I was duly impressed from the moment we entered the city limits!

If you should ever decide to go to Jaipur, there is a feast in store for you!!  There are dozens of beautiful monuments where one can "breathe the fragrance of history". We have now been there twice (another blog in the near future will tell that interesting tale!)...and we have found several comfortable and luxurious hotels, once the proud palaces of kings, beautiful parks, well-kept Mughal gardens, and excursions to nearby places of interest, simply make Jaipur a tourist's paradise.  You cannot go wrong by planning a trip to see Jaipur, unless you go in the summer-time - when the heat there will remind you of the famous quote:

"When a person is accustomed to 138 in the shade, his ideas about cold weather are not valuable....In India, "cold weather" is merely a conventional phrase and has come into use through the necessity of having some way to distinguish between weather which will melt a brass door-knob and weather which will only make it mushy." ~ Mark Twain

Our driver took us the direct route  into Rajasthan, right though the middle of a variety of Indian towns and villages.  When you travel on the highways of India, one must always be prepared to brake never know when you will come up upon a slow-moving truck, bus, a bicycle rickshaw loaded-down with anything from a shipment of shoes to a variety of plumbing supplies or metal duct-work...not to mention the occasional overturned auto-rickshaw or the ever-present herd of goats.  In every single village that you enter, there is guaranteed to be a traffic snarl of some kind.  This travel-day was a Tuesday (23 November 2010) and every town and village was buzzing with normal activity...meaning that people were double-parking and taking up both lanes of traffic by stopping to chat or ask for directions.  The traffic rules in India all seem to revolve around the idea that the person with the "right of way" the person in front!

We stopped at a place on the way called the "Shree Ganapati Resort" - probably not a place we would have stopped-by on our own...but our driver, "Raj" - told us that it was a good and safe place to eat.  Here we stretched our legs and got a bite to eat.  This is the place where Amy began to take pictures of everything I ate, just so she'd know "what to tell the doctors should I get food-poisoning".  No-doubt, I am by-far the more adventurous eater between the two of us...I ordered a local thali - which was pretty tasty.

It was at this lunch that I was once-again reminded of the reason God sent me an accountant to be my wife.  The bill for the food came and I glanced at the bottom number and stuffed a fistful of 500-rupee notes into the little leather sleeve that the check came in.  Amy caught sight of the money and said... " much was lunch anyway?"  I said "1,800.00 rupees..." and handed the bill to her.  For those of you not familiar with the rupee-to-dollar exchange-rate...that's about forty-dollars American...

She had a shocked look on her face and she looked me right in the eye and asked: "Don't you find that a bit odd??"

Sure enough...she was absolutely right (as usual!).  The bill that we had received was fro the table across the way, where a group of loud Ukrainians had ordered just about everything on the menu...and about a dozen Kingfisher beers!!  This was not our bill!!

The waiter came over and could not have been more apologetic...I'm sure it was an honest mistake.  Our bill ended up being Rs. 620.00 - or about thirteen U.S. dollars, which included some Diet Cokes to go!  From now on, I will let A. Suzanne Brubaker, CPA, audit the bill before payment!!

After the long drive, we checked into the ITC Sheraton Rajputana Hotel.  Amy was a little nervous when we first drove into town...she saw a couple of hotels and hostels that were....well, let's just say that they were not "5-star" hotels...and began to think that we were going to stay in a real pit.  When we came to the front of the hotel...we came up with the second-most-famous quotation of our trip so far (right after "Doesn't that seem odd??" )....our travel arrangements had been made by our good friend Eve, who is a travel agent...and who has traveled extensively in India with her husband, Wally.

When we saw the beautiful hotel....we reminded ourselves: "W.W.W.E.S.?"

"Where would Wally and Eve Stay?"  The hotel was fantastic and we have now stayed there twice!!

Here is a link to our Facebook photo album for this part of the journey: 

Our First Indian Vacation (Part One)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

India Travelogue - New Delhi

Sunday, 21 November 2010.  Dateline: New Delhi.  My apologies for the delay in posting this.  I suddenly realized that it was a completely New Year (Happy 2011, everybody!!)  - and I am about five cities and three "trips in India" behind!  Mea culpa!  I'll try to be more regular from now on!

Our trip actually started on a down note...but we learned something that we will never, ever forget:  When traveling in India, check the website for the airline and make sure your flight is still scheduled!  Not just for information about flights being "on-time" or "delayed"...those might be important, as well.  But in the case of our Hyderabad-to-Delhi wasn't even on the schedule anymore!!  Thank goodness I'm the one in our traveling duo who likes to get to the airport early...while Amy Suzanne thinks that it the flight-crew is not closing the cabin door as she is sprinting down the jet way, she has wasted valuable time out of her day!!

As it turned out, Air India Flight 603 (non-stop to Delhi) had been taken off the schedule completely.  We tried to book another flight (our original tickets were "business class" and - it wasn't going to cost us anything.  As a matter-of-fact, the fact that Air India is the only airline that has a business class section that time of day...we were probably (and we did!) get some rupees back!)  The first flight we tried was literally pulling away from the gate, so - obviously when we went to check our bags - the lady at the counter looked at us like we had lost our minds.  A really nice guy from Air India - along with the poor guy who was working the morning-shift all by himself at the Spice Jet ticket counter - got us all squared-away...and soon (by Indian standards) we were on a non-stop airplane that was going to arrive in Delhi two-hours later than we had figured on.

We were pleasantly surprised that the good people on the ground from Zutshi Travel World Services were on top of the matter and had traced our status from the moment they were aware of our predicament...and they were actually at the exit door waiting for us with a "Kingsbury/Brubaker" sign - - at a completely different terminal than we were supposed to land at.  That doesn't sound like much, but - the Delhi Airport is HUGE...and the "new terminal" and the "old terminal" seem like they are about ten kilometers apart!!

We each got colorful orange flower wreaths around our necks...and - since it was getting late...we did a quick run by the government buildings.  The sun was waning, so - the reddish stone that is used so much in palaces and government and court buildings turns an even deeper red.  Our first impression about  the beautiful city of New Delhi is that it's a real world-wide honest capitol of a Nation with over 1.1 billion souls crammed into it's borders.  Like London or Dublin or Washington D.C, or's a real center of the machine that make things tick here in India.  Let me tell you...dear Americans...politics in our country is tame compared to how things are run India, politics is a "full-contact sport"!!  Throughout the governmental part of the town, there were soldiers virtually everywhere - each with a nasty-looking automatic weapon in his-or-her hands, but - I guess that's just the way things have to be!

A vibrant melting pot, we heard (and saw) a jumble of vernaculars spoken in Delhi, the most common being Hindi, English (thank God!), Punjabi and Urdu. Now that we live full-time in Hyderabad, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of Telugu on signs in the city.  In terms of its layout, Delhi actually encapsulates two very different worlds, the ‘old’ and the ‘new’, each presenting totally different experiences. Spacious "New" Delhi was built as the imperial capital of India by the British; and totally claustrophobic "Old" Delhi served as the capital of Islamic India. We found that we could easily dip into both, as on day two, we spent half the day immersing ourselves in history at the dramatic Red Fort, Jama Masjid and medieval-flavoured bazaars of Old Delhi, and the other half checking out the wonders of a thoroughly modern city!

We made dinner reservations at what is supposed to be one of the nicest restaurants in all of New Delhi...the "Spice Route" - - but, as sometimes happens...we took showers and - whatever dust was holding our bodies together, washed right down the drain...and we crashed and burned in the ultra comfy bed at the Shangri-La Eros Hotel  The bar was nice...kind of tucked-away in the corner.  The entire hotel was spacious and grand!

Because we didn't have much time on day one to see many sights before the sun went down...we did a blitzkrieg of sightseeing the next day...our tour-guide was an older woman who was a retired school-teacher...and her knowledge of Delhi and India in general was unbelievable!  Amy did turn to me at one point and asked: "Who are the "Muggles" she keeps talking about??"  Uh.  No, Sweetimus...  they are called Mughals !

Along with our super-smart guide for the day, we saw:  The India Gate, Humayun's Tomb, the Qutab Minar, the Red Fort, the HUGE mosque, called the Jama Mashid, and ended the day at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial, in an area filled with such memorials, called the Rajghat

In the middle of our day, we had the absolute best part of our tour of Delhi.  In "Old Delhi", there is a marketplace which really made us say: "Dorothy, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore!"  It's called the Chandni Chowk - and it is a congested, wild, crazy place packed with shops (some really nice ones!) and some food places.  We did this part of the tour by bicycle rickshaw....we wanted to ride together so - the poor fellow had to really huff and puff to tote us around! 

I took a few photos on the ride.  One time, I was not quick enough with the camera:

We're going down one of the tight "alleyways" of the market....and - there was some commotion to the right of the rickshaw, where Amy Suzanne was sitting.  There, about six-feet from her right shoulder, in all his glory, was a completely naked, large brown Jain Priest!!  Did I mention that he was a LARGE man??  Yes, indeed, he truly was!

After we passed the holy man (and his small entourage of followers) - she turned to me and said:  "He was naked!!!"  I said: "Yeah!!  How cool was that!?!  He is a Jain Priest, Sweetie.  The truly devout ones don't wear clothes!  Looked perfectly normal to me!!"

"Not to me!!!" Amy said in wide-eyed retort.

We took a ton of is the Facebook album for this part of the trip: Delhi, New and Old...