Rajasthan Blog

Day 1 – Not the Golden Triangle

We booked this trip with the ever-helpful Pankaj Singh of Take Me To India. The brief was Rajasthan. No Delhi, no Agra, no Taj Mahal. We are not very good with crowded touristy places and this trip was our own way, at our own pace.

Thus we just did a short transit at Delhi airport and arrived tired but excited into the bright colours and sharp sunlight of Jodhpur. Even though many blogs had outlined the horrors of Delhi airport we breezed through from landing international to domestic at the gate for Jodhpur in 2 hours. The flight was late and arrived at a huge airport with a long taxi to the gate. The gate itself looked like a colonial house and the plane parked literally outside it. Shame I was too tired to take a picture.

The Raas hotel is a fabulous blend of old meets new architecture and is very beautiful and serene.

There is an excellent video on Youtube about how it was designed and built from the ruins of an old haveli. We loved our room with its panoramic view of the old fort. We had a swim in the sparkling clean pool and then a short walk around the local streets and the adjacent step well where young men were jumping in from a height. We parked ourselves in the Step Well café and enjoyed a mojito and snacks before our rooftop Raas dinner. The only problem with the hotel is their relaxed attitude to the numerous pigeons of the city. They are everywhere and the dander is annoying.

Day 2 – The Royal Fort

The first day of using a guide. Something we very rarely do. After being picked up by our driver Raju and guide Pradip we drove to the Jaswant Thada. The locals are very colourfully dressed and the men sport wonderful moustaches and turbans.

Each colour representing a mix of occupation and caste. The roads were heavy with  motorbikes with multiple passengers, tuk tuks and cars all jostling for space with a symphony of car horns to support their road position. The Jaswant Thada is the royal memorial ground of the Rathore clan set in a desert with a cactus garden design by the Maharajah. The palace itself is a fantastic pale white marble beautifully carved. Apparently some parts are almost translucent to let in light.

 

 

Next, the towering Mehrangarh fort overlooking the city. The fort is stunning in size and scale with the sandstone very photogenic in the right light. It is very popular and going early is a good idea.

The views are immense and you get a good view of the Blue City especially the Brahmin district where the blue colour started.

The museums are interesting with good information signs. Our guide was very knowledgeable and gave us  background and supporting information. We felt sorry for the current poor Maharajah who was crowned as a bewildered 4 year old and now has a son recovering from a serious head injury.

The afternoon was spent at the Flying Fox zipwire experience. It seemed almost more safety conscious than the Canadian one we did with a defined flying position and showing us how to brake if we are going too fast. This last bit did actually come in useful. They took us to a training line to start and we all messed up the slowing down bit as the temptation to grip the line in your palm is strong. After this we walked through some pleasant gardens to our first line over a lake. The rides are fast enough to be interesting and yet give you enough time to take in the views of the blue city and fort as you whizz past. The far line had fantastic views of the fort and blue district and the light was perfect at 5pm but sadly no camera.

Dinner was on the rooftop of Indique where we can recommend the thalis and the views. Sadly no real Flying Foxes tonight as they only appear in the city in the warmer months.

Day 3 – Singing the blues

An earlier start today as I  wanted to get early light on the local step well and before the crowds. As luck would have it another photographer and a model were also there so I took advantage and made use of the opportunity..

Our guide was ready at 9 and we went to the Umaid Bhagwan Palace Museum which was built in a drought to keep the locals employed. A  fine building now housing the Maharajah and a Taj hotel which looks very impressive.  The collection was alright but possibly not worth the trip. We then returned to the fort to start our walk through the blue city.

 

The blue city is a nest of tightly packed alleyways with twists and turns. Not possible to navigate by yourself and far beyond the reach of google street view. The buildings are wonderful. Intense blues, greens and reds with the occasional brightly clothed local. We included a visit to the white dazzling Krishna temple full of clap happy people at worship.  It also had scuttling mice and a fat very lazy looking cat.

We had a stop in the obligatory carpet and souvenir shop at the insistence of our guide Pradip. This one was called Jain Textiles but the sales patter was exactly the same as in the more famous Maharani’s. It is all total nonsense about Versace, end of lines, big name brands and Richard Gere. The pashminas are all fakes and there is no such thing as a shatoosh or patoosh goat. Just look at the stuff as reasonable quality fakes and pay what you think they are worth if you like them.

 

 

We then walked through the markets leading to the clock tower. The people were friendly and mostly happy to have photos taken. Very few tourists outside the fort area. The streets smell of diesel, frying food, roses and incense. Our guide gave us his views that people in Kerala and women in particular had too much literacy and education. ‘The women are too bold in the south”.

Back to Raas for lunch and spa treatments. We had dinner at the hotel and cocktails in seats where stables used to be. A chorus of frogs in the pond and the sound of the call to prayer from the mosque.

Take what the guide says with a large pinch of salt. Many stories are contradicted by other sources. The land of smoke and mirrors…

Day 4- Chalo ! Rawla Narlai

After leaving Raas we viewed another step well, the Mahila Bal Jhalra.

On the way out of town we stopped at a textiles shop for Una to change into suitable temple attire (no leather, legs and shoulders covered etc). The shop was known to Raju our driver. The story here was that they supplied the shops in Jodhpur (likely) and the owner said that all the stories in town were lies (we know). He claimed he was shipping all over the world and had some big packages addressed to places in London and Paris etc. Yet another piece of showmanship. His prices were half those in town but needless to say we said thank you and good bye.

We decided to visit the Jain temple of Ranakpur on the way to Narlai and the Rawla Narlai rather than spending another 3 hours tomorrow doing the trip. The temple was impressive, carved out of white marble with thousands of intricate marble decorations.

Narlai is a small town but is known for its multiple temples and shrines.  We soon booked up at least 3 or four activities.  The first was a bird watching drive around the lake. It transpired that we were being taken by Gareema the wonderful hotel manager who has been amassing a good knowledge of local wildlife.

We spotted many birds, or rather she did, including several types of kingfisher. The whole tour took over two hours including an afternoon tea overlooking the lake and we arrived back in the dark to the sound of several weddings taking place and a leaving party for the bride. Leaving the village to go to her husband’s one.

Dinner was rather idyllic atop the ramparts of the hotel and the curry flavoursome. One of the best so far. Prices were very similar to other hotels on our route not over priced as some reviews claim.

Our room is in the older part of the hotel but has plenty of quirky character. We overlook a pretty garden with loungers and a fountain. A perfect spot for the evening gin and tonic

Day 5 –Village sights and McTurbans

Up before first light to climb the mammoth granite rock behind the hotel to the elephant statue at its top and to see the sun rise. Over 700 steps in English summer temperatures. The sun rise was nice but sadly some clouds stopped the light hitting the lakes, hills and town in the way I hoped it would. A very impressive view none the less. Narlai’s claim to fame is the fact that it’s been a religious site for a very long time and has somewhat over 300 temples and shrines around the village.

After breakfast we were off on a village tour led by one of the “boys” in a red turban (farmer caste, I think). He was a local man and introduced us to his family and also various neighbours’ houses.

 

Gareema the hotel manager had persuaded people in the village not to ask for money for photos. We did met one odd, very well dressed man, apparently from another village and possibly a politician who challenged us as to why we wanted to tour the village and what did we think of all of the piles of rubbish etc. He was quite aggressive and suggested our guide might beat us with his walking stick. Very odd encounter and we reported it to Gareema who will investigate who had upset her guests.



One cave temple, to Shiva, was built in a crevice and was accessed by a steep blue staircase. A hundred or so bats were as surprised at our arrival as we were by them. A number of them flew into us in panic. A spring inside the temple is claimed to have healing properties and is visited often by locals.

We went into a number of the many temples of Narlai and saw several more being built. Another example of elaborate churches being built surrounded by abject poverty. Why not invest in the village instead ? Toilets, water, rubbish collection etc

The famous dinner at the stepwell. This was a sublime experience. It started with drinks in the courtyard hosted by Rana Sahib, the cousin of the Mahrajah of Jodhpur.  The hotel is owned by the Jodhpuri Royal family. He gave us each a gift, mine being a red turban and for Una a scarf.

We then boarded our oxen- drawn carts (not Uber, more Moo-ber) to be transported to the step well. It was pitch black and one of the staff came alongside with a torch which he occasionally cast to the hillside looking for leopards.

 

 

We passed a Yogi chanting by a bonfire and asking for donations and then we  arrived at the candlelit stepwell with three tables alongside it. The well itself was lit by hundreds of lights and a musician on the steps playing music and singing throughout our dinner. We were served various spicy nibbles along with drinks before a sumptuous thali arrived. We watched some local women make the naan and other breads on a wood fire. This was overall a very memorable evening and recommended.

Day 6 – Chalo ! Udaipur

We woke at 0600 to go on the leopard safari. We had seen the remains of kills the day before but they are very elusive animals and none were seen in the 3 hour trip no matter how hard Gareema worked for opportunities and locations. We did see many more of the colourful birds. She was also going to investigate why the man in the village had been so aggressive towards us.

Off to the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur. The view as you approach by boat is very impressive and we were showered with rose petals as we arrived. The checking in was very smoothly handled and we were upgraded to a Palace room – about twice the size of our original bottom of the range one. We have a bath overlooking the lake and a separate bathroom and dressing area plus sitting area and bedroom area.

We did a quick tour of the hotel and tried the pool which is beautifully decorated although the jacuzzis didn’t work very well. As usual with Taj hotels the service is exemplary – they are always around to help if needed or offer information. We did the guided historic tour which was very interesting.

Whilst having our (imported from home) champagne we spotted a pied kingfisher fishing off the tower above reception. He’s a regular apparently and very successful at catching his 5 star dinner.

Dinner on the roof at the Bhoari restaurant where there’s a fixed price European menu with great view. The food was very good with various canapés and amuse bouches between courses. Well done and attentive service.

Day 7 – Udaipur city and lake

We cut back the tour to half a day as we’d booked a massage at 1430 back at the hotel and we wanted to get as much Taj goodness as we could in our short stay.

Our first port of call was the enormous, 1km long, City Palace. This is a complex set of rooms connected by small corridors and stairs. Some of the rooms are very ornate with mirrored walls and various glass covered original pictures. The colours are very bright due to the use of natural pigments. We spent just over an hour wandering through and by 11am the entrance was getting crowded so go early.

 

 

We then walked to the Jagdish temple nearby through a small market selling the usual tourist stuff. Una bought a 30cm high soldier statue for R1000. The merchant originally asked for R7000 which was a joke. The temple itself was uninspiring and very similar though smaller than the many we had seen already. One difference was more people asked for money for photos than elsewhere.

We then walked back to the hotel pier and boarded our boat back to the hotel and its cool embrace. We had booked a spa treatment. For myself the Orja Dayaka energising massage and a Jiva combined facial and massage for my other half. The massage was knackering and the therapist strong but not excessive. A recommended experience.

The sunset boat trip departed the pier at 1800 and gave us a circuit of the lake and some further history of the buildings. We also passed the island where many weddings happen at a cost of R 1,000,000 for the rental of the island. Food, music etc is all on top.

We returned back to the palace for another local dance show with front row seats. The act was different from the previous evening and involved some very impressive balancing acts before the guests were dragged in to take part.

Dinner at Neel Kamal was sublime. The complexity and depth of the flavours was amazing. As good as the top London Indian restaurants if not better. We left full and R 8000 lighter.

The Taj Lake Palace is a fantastic place to stay, even if expensive. The service is always first class and they will do everything in their power to satisfy your needs. My only complaint is the bloody pigeons everywhere. The state seems infested with them and the hotel could do with getting a hawk or three to see them off or netting off all of the courtyards.

Day 8 – Drive to Bhainsrorgarh

Una wanted to try the yoga so we were up for the 0630 session. We went through a number of postures but barely got warm before the time was up. Whilst doing the yoga we could watch the sun rise behind the palace – that is when we were allowed to have our eyes open.

We pre-ordered a packed lunch from the Taj as the journey to our next stop was claimed to be 5-6 hours though we managed it in 4. The lunch was packed in a huge Taj branded box and was of considerable weight.

Most of the journey we were surrounded by a terrace of fields each one worked by a few people. Mostly millet and wheat with the occasional field of white flowers fenced off. It turns out these are opium poppies owned by the government and used for medical purposes. We were told they had a problem with drug addicted parrots stealing 10% of the crop but that the government didn’t believe them.

Our other surprise on the journey was a rolling police road block of 3 jeeps who stopped us and took Raju the driver away for about 10 mins. There was a knock on the window and a man who introduced himself as a government official asked for me to pose for a photograph. Una expected this to be a shake down but he said “No madam I am an official”. They took my picture in a group of policemen and shook my hand and said thank you. Least I could do given all the local photos that I have taken. No money was asked for and they were friendly. Our driver said that I would be all over the local Facebook as they don’t get many tourists here! Apparently we had crossed a state boundary briefly into Madhya Pradesh hence the stop and search.

The final section to Bhainsrorgarh Fort was a single track road and the road through the village itself very tight indeed. Luckily we didn’t have any oncoming traffic. The fort is old, rickety and worn but the owner was friendly. We asked about the leopard safari but he only said there was a walk through the village we could do ourselves. We think he had a party of French tourists he was taking out.

We were fed a story about there being no safari but saw a group of French tourists head out on the safari jeeps an hour later which was irritating.

We decided to do a walk and tried to follow the directions we had been given but failed so ended up going right through village. This really made it for us. The people were really friendly and amused especially when we say Ram ram with our hands joined. All the kids wanted their pictures taken and shown to them. We had quite a following.

We found a city gate and followed the line of the fort walls and finally found the track near a water tanker. We descended to the foot bridge where we found another pied kingfisher on the wires. We also watched local women with huge sacks on their heads crossing from the fields. We went back along the wall and through a narrow door found the graveyard of the previous owners.. very interesting monuments and memorials.

Dinner was served on the roof in a rather ad hoc way but our gin and tonic slipped down nicely looking over the Chambal river from a great height.

Day 9 – Drive to Ranthambore

Breakfast was again on the roof and we had asked for some aloo paratha the evening before to a confused look. White people asking for Indian food. We packed and then our promised boat trip was arranged and our luggage sent separately with the driver to the bridge. The boat trip was really good and one of the rowers knew something about the wildlife. Lots and lots of various types of kingfisher, a crocodile, buzzards, etc etc.  Alas no sightings of the famous and endangered gharial croc. We were told there were no bats but on rounding the island upriver we found two trees full of belligerent flying foxes. Una’s favourite.

We were then rowed to the bridge and a long drive to Ranthambore.

We did stop at the Badoli  temples a short distance away from the fort and we were hassled a bit for guiding and an official took some money. The temples are very Cambodian in style and worth a quick trip. The step well was very basic.

We arrived at Khem Villas and were shown around and also introduced to our local crocodiles in the lake a few metres from our villa’s porch area.  Two adults and 24 baby mugger crocs were our new neighbours. They are not vegetarian as I was lead to believe and we were told not to walk down to the water’s edge at night to avoid them. Plus possible hyenas and other creatures .

Off to fort tour at 1630. Our guide Dinish was very good at seeing birds and driving at the same time. We saw various birds as well as an enormous elk, deer and a huge bluebuck antelope with horns. The old fort barely exists besides the long windy climb to the top and a few temples and ruins of buildings. The Ganesh temple at the top is very important for couples wanting to marry and they have to invite Ganesh before any other guests and do so in person here. They are also meant to go after the honeymoon to say thank you.




 

We had a few glasses of wine around a campfire exchanging holiday plans and life stories before a rather plain Indian buffet. More spice please.

The owners do seem rather concerned about safety which might be justified given the 26 crocodiles a few yards away, the leopards and tigers that have been seen to pass through the resort along with various other animals of the night. Mittal and Divi, the young resident naturalists, have amazing footage from the night vision cameras around the property.

Day 10 – We’re going on a tiger hunt…

0630 start for the game drive. It’s much colder here than you expect and with two fleeces on we were just about ok though gloves would be a good idea. We drove around zone 1. We did manage to see a sloth bear. This is very rare to see, a proper Balu from the Jungle Book sucking up his termite breakfast. Sadly no tiger or leopard this time round.

Breakfast was an English breakfast sans any meat. We managed to get a dosa but this was very bland. We’ll ask them to turn up the heat tomorrow. We just had time to get ready before our 1100 spa which was through and well done but not as good as our previous ones.

Lunch starts at 1330 which isn’t long after breakfast and we had a selection of what was on offer, as again, rather uninspiring.

1430 drive 2. This was in zone 8 which was 45 minutes drive away across dusty rough roads. This is the furthest zone and there had been a sighting of a tiger and cubs. We drove around for a total of 5 hours door to door and sighted only a hare. There was sign of tigers with footprints 30 minutes or so old but no joy in spotting them. The views were very spectacular from the top of the escarpment.

We were dusty and tired so it seems an ideal moment to have  a bath outside in our enormous tub watching the stars. Very romantic and very relaxing after a long day.

During the camp fire discussions we asked Divi (the resident nature guide) whether we could change the zone planned for tomorrow (6) as we had seen nothing in 8. Apparently you first try your agent then if nothing doing, then you can do a deal under the table with the hotel manager. Our agent phoned straight back after we requested a zone change and moved us to 4. How we don’t know. What actually happens we will see.

Dinner was better than previously with a little more spice.

Day 11 – The Tiger who came to tea

Calling our agent the night before produced a result. Our 0630 safari was in zone 3 which has the highest number of sightings. Our guide raced to the park, raced around it checking all the top locations and eventually sat us in front of the lake facing the fort. The view on the jungle grapevine was that a tiger was hiding in the bushes. Suddenly we shot off at high speed to a cluster of other vehicles and after a short wait saw our first tiger in the grass across the lake. Only a brief glimpse but a tiger none the less. We went home happy, very dusty and tired.

Rather than the nature walk we decided to chill and read our books.

The 1430 drive was supposedly zone 4 but a tigress and cubs had been spotted in zone 1. The driver made noises about an extra charge to move us from 4 to 1 but I think the zone change happened due to the helpful auntie who was sitting in the front seat. She comes 3-4 times a week and knows everyone! We rapidly drove to a watering hole where a huge tigress was sleeping. It was like a car park with about 8 gypsy jeeps parked at all sorts of angles sprouting various sizes of camera lens some the size of canons (sic). We watched this for nearly two hours with the occasional looking around before Noor the tigress decided to move. Jeeps leapt for pole position as she crossed the track and headed into the bush. One jeep even ran over a bush to gain a place forward. An excellent day for tiger spotting with two sightings.

Sunset drinks watching the crocodiles before an evening presentation on the history of the park and a final bland dinner. Another outside bath watching the stars in the night sky.

My memories of the stay are a fantastic room with almost live -in crocodiles, early starts and dusty high speed drives over rough roads, variable guides (some very good, some focused solely on tigers), fantastic wild tigers and dust in every crevice of clothes and camera etc.

The final smoke and mirrors of this trip was the claim by a guide that no guns were needed as the Tigers here didn’t like salty human blood. It was of course a different story on the coastal regions where the salty air made the tigers crave it. A quick google showed that park rangers have been killed by tigers and jeeps chased. Www.rantamborenationalpark.com

Day 12 – To the pink city of Jaipur

We had an hours walk around the grounds of the hotel.

On the way to Jaipur we took an hour’s detour to the Abhnari stepwell which is one of the largest in Rajasthan to save a half day later in the week. The water was somewhat green and lots of the decoration has been removed but impressive none the less.

The Pink City is very crowded and busy compared to our other stops. The Taj jai mahal palace though was a green oasis in this busy environment. An afternoon of rest to recover from the journey.

Day 13 – The corner of the Triangle

Off to the famous Amber fort of Jaipur via the Palace of the Winds. A very fine façade which the ladies of the court went to view the street below in the 1700s.

We learnt quite a bit about life in India from our guide, Sham, and driver Raju on our various journeys. How Sham is struggling to find a woman who matches in mind, soul and body and has had a number of proposals for an arranged marriage with rejection both ways. The caste system is still very strong even down to matching the sub-caste. We were also surprised how the minister for women was a complete sexist in today’s terms in an Indian Times article in which they said women at university should not be allowed out of the compound unless with a relative as their hormones might get the better of them. It is also expected that once married all career aspirations go out of the window to take up wifely duties. Still in India a divorce is hard even if the man beats his wife multiple times. All of the architecture and customs we saw made it plain that women are not equal in this part of India, the former hiding of women behind screens, no other man besides the husband allowed to see them, the modern giving of dowries etc

We decided to drive to the fort rather than take the elephants but did waver as we saw them. The fort is very fine and well preserved compared to many we have seen. The colours would be spectacular in the golden hours. The stand out building for us was the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), or Jai Mandir. This is being restored by artisans with jewels. It is said that a single candle could light the whole building through the reflections from all the mirrors and those in the ceiling replicated the stars. The main entry courtyard is a real battle with peddlers of junk who want to sell you bracelets, pens, tourist books, umbrellas etc.

After the fort we went to the Panna Meena Ka Kund Step well below the fort. This, though small was one of the more attractive having maintained its colour well. We then headed to the Anohki Museum just up the road to see the history of the local block print and some demonstrations in practice. The museum building has been restored from a ruin with great skill and is now listed.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at an optician known by Sham. I now need glasses for computer work and these are very expensive in the UK. I put in an order for 24 hr turn around for varifocals of medium quality and they were at least half price. I was too tired to haggle.

To entertain ourselves after lunch we walked to Fabindia one of Una’s favourite shops and then to Cottons both near the hotel. We also explored the main road and used our skills honed from Vietnam street crossings to navigate the four lanes of traffic.

Whilst having a drink the Taj grounds we watched flight after flight of parquets flying overhead, hundreds and hundreds off to who knows where. Google says up to 20,000 of them head off to feed.

The cocktail bar makes mean cocktails. Strong and perfect. We also were given a complimentary Old Fashioned and two sample shots of Old Monk. Not as nice as Diplomatico or Appletons 12 year old more like Appleton’s signature blend.

We booked the Cinnamon restaurant for dinner for a good dose of spice. The restaurant is laid with gold and silver tableware and is decorated like a palace room. The food was a selection of four menus based on four regions of India and we mixed and matched our selection. The breads are our downfall and we had one from each region to try them. The food was fragrant, spicy and delicious.

Day 14 –  Sights of Jaipur

For our second day of sight seeing we are going to the city palace and Jantar Mantar observatory. These are some of the busiest sights in Jaipur and we arrived just after 0900 and it wasn’t too bad in the observatory but I still had to wait up to 5 minutes to get clear shots. The observatory itself was very impressive as was the level of knowledge at that time. One clock is accurate to 4 seconds. Another device could tell you the inclination and azimuth of the sun.

The palace itself is like any other and there are sections where you are not allowed to take pictures (fabrics, weapons etc), in fact any indoor section. The inner courtyard where the Maharajah sat in one of four balconies depending on the season and each had a door underneath decorated to reflect that season. It was impossible to take a picture because an Indian family saw me waiting to take a shot but kept messing around until it became too busy. They objected loudly though when I got in one of their pictures.

 

On the way we passed a roundabout in the middle of Jaipur where two barbers were plying their trade sitting in the road right in the traffic. I will pass this time on my hair cut abroad.

The glasses were ready as promised and we then traveled to Samode Haveli which from the outside was indifferent. The entrance to the building proper was approached by a ramp with ridges for elephants and horses and similar to the palace gate with various patterns and motifs. We wandered around the complex and visited a musty old room with books laid of tables and 1930’s music playing. Very evocative of an era.

We had the side room in the restaurant and the lamb curry was plentiful and spicy. The roti and butter naan delicious. The only annoyance was the double credit card machine trick. They first displayed rupees but it failed to work and another was fetched which didn’t display any amount but when printed was in pounds at a rate 10% below market.

Day 15 – Fly to Delhi

Sadly the holiday has come to an end with travel home spread over two days. First to Delhi and then onward to the UK the day after on an early flight. Our Air India connection had been pulled forward 3 hrs but luckily we had an email notification. Always check the times as all of our internal flights have moved a number of times.

We had a problem at checkout with the currency being used on the credit card again with no notification of which was used until you examine the receipt in detail. Taj promised to rectify at the bank. We’ll see (they did resolve this).

We stayed at the Radisson Blu Plaza Delhi Delhi airport and they have a well known restaurant called the Great Kebab Factory but we couldn’t book as they were full but they reserved space for walk-ins. We popped up to the complementary business lounge and had some flavoursome Indian snacks such as tandoori paneer along with a McTernan strength gin and tonic in a big tumbler. Awesome.

Dinner we weren’t prepared for. The menu of the Great Kebab Factory was briefly thrust in front of us and we were asked meat or veggie ? The menu was whisked away. I was under the impression we had a set of six kebabs to choose from and then as many seconds as we wanted. We took advantage of this and then waited for dessert. Unexpectedly we had our plate changed and the main course served – a thali followed by 6 desserts then silver coated paan which we were clueless about.  An excessive quantity of good food all for 2000 rupees for two as we got a 50% discount for arriving before 1930.

Notes:

1.       Pankaj Singh from “Take me to India” was very helpful in organising our various stops and tours based on our desired hotels. He also got very competitive rates. The guides and Raju driver were very good and we would strongly recommend Pankaj and his team.

2.      There are many conflicting stories about pretty much anything in India. Everyone we asked about the royal history had a different view of what happened from the Maharajah seeing a pretty farm girl and marrying her to the fact he married 3 times, once to a Muslim film star and part of the family is trying to air brush this out of history.

3.      I’ve never seen or had so many close encounters with pigeons in all my life. They need culling. Sadly the Taj Lake Palace thinks they bring luck and feed them so even though they claim they are sorting out the issue nothing will happen.

4.      Stories are the heart blood of India. They can be custom made or tailored to suit the person they are talking to. We called it the land of smoke and mirrors.

5.      The Taj hotels in both places as usual had fantastic service and very helpful staff. You couldn’t fault how they run hotels.

6.      Watch for the conversion into your currency rather than rupees at a poor exchange rate.

7.      Our driver Raju Kumar was very good and kind and also a safe driver. He can be contacted on raikwarrajudelhi@gmail.com, +919958088999. He can take guests directly if you have made your own arrangements for hotels etc.