Jaipur

Posted on February 23, 2014

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The driver who arrived to pick me up in Delhi was not the same man who dropped me home the night before. “Where’s Mr Singh?” I asked.

Looking sheepishly at me with his head bent down and his right hand cupping the back of his neck, he raised his gaze and looked at me, “His mother died last night, so I am your new driver. My name is Ashok”, he said.

I let out a gasp, first out of shock that something so sudden and awful had happened to poor old Mr Singh. And then selfishly and somewhat sceptically as I began to question whether the office had palmed me off onto someone else less experienced, less capable and I was being made to look a fool.

After calling T and getting him to vet my new appointment he was reassured and so was I that he wasn’t a rapist, a psycho or worse still stark raving bonkers.

The drive took 5 hours. In that time we bonded. I really like Ashok. He’s 33 married with children. Works a lot of hours on the road but has a really good positive attitude. As we approached the city mid afternoon we stopped at the Amer Fort. Dodging the traffic I jaywalked across the road towards the entrance.

Amer Fort was built by Raja Man Singh in 1592 AD. I’m not going to give you a history lesson as you can find all that out on the net. It’s high on a hill and the views from the top are incredible. So too is the blatant heckling by touts for business. If you can ignore that and get into the site it’s a lovely winding climb up the wide stone steps entering several court yards. The temperature was perfect and so too was the time – my advise either go really early or quite late to all tourist attractions that way you avoid the crowds and buy a composite ticket – it’s a combo ticket valid for two days and gives you entrance to four main attractions for £3.50.

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That night I stayed at Alsisar Haveli, a heritage hotel with all the hallmarks of the Raj. I went to sleep pretending i was a princess. The next morning ticket in hand I bounced from the Albert Museum which houses some impressive artefacts, the observatory Jantar Mantar for those into astrology and the Hawa Mahal – a palace built so that women of the royal court could peek through the honeycombed shaped windows and view everyday life from behind closed doors.

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Jaipur is less hectic than Delhi and I love the vibe of the city. Ashok took me to a wonderful place to eat masala dosa (savoury pancake filled with a spicy potato mix which is rolled into a cylinder, this is then topped with daal and coconut chutney – my favourite South Indian dish – and all for a bargain £1.10. I finished off my meal with paan bought off the street (Oh no, I hear you cry….!). I have been in India five days and I’ve eaten salad, paan, guave from a market and no sign of Delhi bellie.

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For those who don’t know what paan is, it’s Betel leaf filled with a combination of Areca nut, cured tobaco, fruit preserves and other stuff. Eaten everyday it is not good for you, but when in Rome. I grew up seeing my Dad eat this and developed a taste for it. Here in India they can load it with sugar too. You are meant to chew is on one side of your mouth for ages. Some people either spit it out once they’ve gleaned all the gooey-ness out of it or you can swallow it – up to you. Bless him Ashok treated me to one.

My last night was spent watching traditional folk dancing and listening to an excellent tabla player while stuffing my face with an enormous thali full of great veggie food and some of the best naan i’ve eaten. I think I may have to declare excess baggage (in the form of love handles) on the way home.

Tomorrow I go to Ranthambhore in the hope of spotting one of the rarest cats in the world – the tiger.

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Posted in: India