03.04.2012 - 04.04.2012
Another Indian city but still the same nauseating stench, pollution, crowdedness and hassles. At this point we were starting to realize that this was not going to change and if we were going to enjoy India we would have to find a way to deal with it. It took 2 months in Latin America before we felt we needed a splurge on a higher end hotel but India brought us to our knees in just 4 days. We decided to splurge on accommodations in Jaipur and make this our heritage home stay.
The heritage home in India basically means staying at what used to be a large family home owned by either the English elite or the upper classes of Indian society during the English rule. Since most of the families who own these homes have either left India or are no longer able to afford to maintain them they are often turned into small guest houses and hotels. We booked the royal suite in the MadHuban heritage home for approx. $80 per night and it was worth every penny. The room was gorgeously decorated with period pieces and a large canopy bed but yet was able to accommodate modern conveniences without spoiling the character. There was a large but quiet air conditioner and a modern bathroom which even included a Jacuzzi tub. Here is a picture:
The first day in Jaipur we did some sight-seeing in the city itself which was made difficult by a complete lack of pedestrian infrastructure and a constant problem with rickshaw drivers trying to rip us off. Crossing streets in India is a little like playing a game of Frogger (for those of you who aren’t old enough to remember, look it up on Google) with your own life, the only difference being that you can’t just “try again”. Sidewalks are only available on some of the main shopping streets so you end up walking on the street a lot with insane Indian drivers coming within inches of knocking you into next week.
Exhausted with all this we went to dinner and it was after dinner that we had our first stroke of good fortune that would make our visit to Jaipur so much more enjoyable.
When we came out of the restaurant we saw only a single rickshaw standing there and we knew it would be hard to find another one. We thought to ourselves “here we go again, we will be completely ripped off because we have no other option”. Resolutely I walked up to the driver and said “40 ruppees to MadHuban” fully expecting some ridiculous counter offer of 100 ruppees or more. To my surprise the driver said “I think 50 would be fair”. I could not agree more! I started with 40 hoping to go up to 50 which was the fair price. The driver introduced himself as Rafik and started asking us about where we’re from and how we’re enjoying India. Not surprisingly he was soon offering us his services for a full day the next morning when he would take us to see some of the forts in the near vicinity of the city. What was very surprising is that he offered a fair price! We took him up on his deal.
The next morning Rafik showed up early and was already waiting for us when got to the gate of the hotel. He had obviously cleaned his Rickshaw and its windows and everything looked spic and span. I was very impressed. He first drove us to a little temple that we had not asked to be driven to but he said we would really enjoy. We were a bit apprehensive, thinking maybe this is a spot where he gets commission to bring tourists, but because he had made such a good impression on both of us we felt we should give him a shot. We were very glad we did as the temple was absolutely gorgeous and amazingly enough almost completely devoid of tourists. There were monkey troupes everywhere which combined with the white marble buildings, lack of crowds, and the surreal hilly setting gave the whole place a bit of a “lost city” feel. Take a look at the pictures yourselves:
The next stop was the famous Amber Fort for which I think pictures would do more justice than anything I could write:
The next destination was the Jagarth fort which houses the biggest canon in the world. The barrel of this cannon weighs 50 tons, it fires 50kg balls as far as 22 miles and uses 100kg of gun powder every time its fired. It takes 4 elephants just to turn the thing!
Then lastly Rafik took us to Naigarth fort where we got to see the living quarters of some of the more recent royals and how they lived during the English rule. It’s really quite disturbing how many excesses the Rajasthani royals allowed themselves while their own people were being essentially enslaved. We’ve been learning much Indian history as we’ve been travelling, so for those of you that don’t know, England didn’t so much conquer this part of India as they bought it. The majority of the royals in the various kingdoms were more than happy to give up their sovereignty in exchange for personal protection and money from the English. The English rule was actually a good time for the royal families in the region and based on some personal accounts from actual living royals we heard recorded on audio tours they remember that time very fondly. It goes without saying that it wasn’t that great of a time for all their subjects.
After seeing the fort Rafik took us up to a Café nearby that had awesome sunset views of the city. The fort and the Café were located on a high hill overlooking Jaipur and it was the first time since we got to India that we could easily take a deep breath and enjoy some clean air.
We had a very enjoyable time sitting there chatting with Rafik about his family and life in India. It’s really sad to hear how hard the average person has to work just to survive and give their kids a future and how little support they get from their government. The stories of having to go to bed hungry and because of that making it your life goal to make sure your kids never have to feel that break your heart. All this while extremely wealthy Indians splurge on stupidly overpriced trains and hotels and pay little to no taxes. The differences between the rich and the poor in India are by far the largest we have ever seen anywhere.
At the end of the day we were absolutely exhausted but very satisfied with our day sight-seeing the forts in Jaipur. Rafik was an excellent host and always gave us as much time as we wanted to walk around and see what we wanted. We never felt rushed and at the end of the day he even dropped us off at a great restaurant and then picked us up an hour later to drive us home. Thank you so much Rafik for an excellent day in Jaipur!
If you are travelling to Jaipur you can contact Rafik here:
or email him at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also a National Geographic (Czech version) article written featuring him here:
National Geographic Article