Umaid Bhawan Palace
Our private tour cost €72 for both of us. This included our driver, our guide, a lovely air-conditioned new SUV and all entry tickets. Entry tickets are substantially more for tourists than for the locals, so having these included in our tour takes a lot of inconvenience out of the day. The car picked us up at 8:30 am and brought us up into the mountains to see Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum which was beside the Umaid Bhawan Palace. The palace was the wedding venue for Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra (f you are interested) and the Grand Royal Suite there cost €1500 per night which includes full board. Bet I would have gotten a turkey dinner there at Christmas if we hadn’t chosen to stay in the uncle's place. So yes the guy who owns our hotel is the uncle of the present king. Anyhow, we had a little look around the museum and while there we were told that palace construction was started in 1923 as a generous famine relief project for the stricken people of Jodhpur. This naturally brings to mind the many wonderful follies built around Ireland during our similarly stricken history. I’m not quite sure if this fall within an analogy of "every cloud has a silver lining" but never ceases to amaze me that nobody thinks of giving starving people food! Moving on, the museum was interesting and the car collection a little more so. The car collection included a few Rolls Royce cars and a few MG sports cars, a collection 007 would have be proud to feature in any movie.
Front of Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
On we went to Jaswant Thada, the cremation site of the Royal family. Here was constructed another palace type structure for the care of the ashes of these royal personages. I have come to realize that what is impressive about the Taj Mahal is not its uniqueness but its size and its considered architecture of perfect symmetry. By contrast this marble cenotaph monument is a retreat of tranquillity and beauty. It is approached through beautiful tiered gardens by a red stone walkway over looking a beautiful lake. The wealth and power these royals controlled seemed limitless. This structure was built in 1899 just on the heels of the 21st century. There is nothing in Europe to compare to these huge and intricate structures of memoriam even for those European of similar royal standing.
Jaswant Thada, Jodhpur
Our next stop was Mehrangarh Fort which was built in 1459 and sits on top of a mountain overlooking the city, particularly the Blue city immediately below its walls. It was a bit of a trek up to the fort as the road to it is very steep but I made it with just a few breath catching stops. The guide was very informative as to the defenses and the use of elephants in warfare. The gates are broad and tall to allow for elephants to pass through, the mode of transport at that time. But your enemy had elephants too so how they prevented the enemy pounding down the great gates with their elephants was to put spikes protruding out from the gates at just about elephant head height. Surely once the elephant was stabbed in the head with the spikes it would turn and run? “Nope!” said our guide, apparently in the good old days before elephants became cute they were the best war machines, especially if they were drugged. According to our guide, elephants were routinely drugged with opioids so that they would not feel the spikes sticking into them. The solution to this was to add poison to the spikes which would eventually kill the elephant before they got through the gates.
We walked from the road toward the steps which clung unrailed to the exterior of the building and this brought us up to the living areas of the fort. The steps were packed with people waiting to take the elevator up to the next level. I was sitting on the wall opposite posing for a picture. Suddenly, there was an audible intake of breath from the stairs opposite followed a second or two later. The wails of a small child, perhaps about three year old could be heard. It wasn't difficult to figure out what had happened. The child had fallen from the stairs onto the stone ground below, about six feet, but luckily no broken bones. It was shocking and an accident just waiting to happen. I am confident it had happened many times before, health and safety are a personal issue in India. I daily think it was a miracle that I have not had an injury. The fort had many ornate rooms and a view from the top out over the countryside. There was an open courtyard where the king would do his kingly work and settle local disputes or meet foreign dignitaries to discuss his kingly thoughts...whatever they may be. The queen was not allowed out of the palace but did like to see what was going on, so the king had built lattice windows surrounding the court where she and his many, many wives or consorts could sit and peep out through the holes but no one could see into them (concealing the queen and consorts from the public). Our guide told us that the queen had the last word in judgements as the King valued her opinion. I find this a difficult concept to accept, that a women who spent her life looking at the world through tiny peep holes in a window had more power than the king.
The Blue City
There was a walkway from the far end of the fort which went directly to the blue city below. I knew nothing of this place other than the buildings were painted a beautiful azures blue. The fort gives the best vantage point from which to view the blue city and to appreciate the name. From a distance it looks very beautiful with the sun shining down intensifying the jewel like blues. We made our way down a narrow winding path from the fort to the back of this ancient city. The streets became narrower and steeper. Houses seemed to be stacked tightly together with barely room for to people to walk abreast. As we went further into the city the streets seemed to close in and at some points we were walking down alleys that only one person at a time could pass through. There were dogs everywhere. I’m afraid of dogs at the best of time and these confined alleys were not helping. The blue city is an ancient city dating back over 500 years and everything seems to have been an add onto what was already there. On the higher elevations an open drain flowed just below the front door step of each of the houses. As we progressed further down and toward level ground I noticed manholes, some leaking onto the streets. Add to that the bustle of people, tuk tuks and motor bikes, dog crap everywhere. I turned and I couldn’t get out of the place quick enough. I really found the whole experience stressful. The closest comparison I can make is to ask you to imagine Merchants Arch beside the Ha’penny bridge in Dublin, now pack, lets say, a hundred people in there, some motor bikes a couple of stalls, a dog or three and some leaky drains. The guide could clearly see I was not coping and didn't understand why I was acting like a mad woman. He did his best to continue the tour and so brought us to the Stepwell and we concluded the tour at the clock tower. We finished the tour early and I claimed illness as I really did not want to cause offense. These were peoples' homes and place of business, a very far strength from the highly sterilized zones we in Europe have become used to living in. I'd still remember the smell of the Liffey running through Dublin city and the dirt of the streets but how quickly I had put those memories behind me and I have no desire to re-enact them. The guide kindly delivered us back to the hotel and later sent a video of the parts of the trip we had missed. I truly feel bad for the turn of events and perhaps if I could have pushed on through I would have enjoyed the remainder of the tour, we shall never know.
After the tour
We organised a driver through the same tour operator for the next morning. Tara (our driver) arrived as arranged and off we went on the 4 hour drive, over the mountains to Udaipur, our next destination in our India adventure.
The Mehrengarh Fort in Jodhpur was fascinating. Our education in elephant warfare was nothing short of mind blowing! but I am really disappointed with myself for my reaction to the Blue City. It was beautiful and presented as a tourist attraction but clearly I have become too used to my modern comforts and do not want a return to what might be considered simpler ways of living. Let me know what you think.
So if all else failed to entice me I could seek refuge in the fruit or pastry offerings. Among the curries on offer at breakfast there were also efforts made to appeal to the European palette and these would include bacon and sausages...but chicken sausages and chicken bacon. I couldn’t bring myself to try them although Róisín has assured me they are great. There’s another revelation about traveling at my age, I’m less inclined to make compromises. I can with confidence say if Róisín wasn’t with me I would have headed home by now. So perhaps travel with the young one is making me a little more adventurous.
There is no such thing as a fresh cream cake in India. The cakes look amazing and are very inviting but what a disappointment to discover they are all fake or at least non-dairy having a base of soy, hydrogenated vegetable fat, and stabilizers. Yum. No, there’s no substitute for real cream although my vegan daughter, Úna, keeps trying to convince me otherwise. I’ll admit Úna that you have made incredible cakes but when you can create a cream substitute that actually tastes like cream I promise I’ll join the order of the "Veganites".
Tonight was Christmas dinner night and I could not wait! We needed to get some cash and so we went for a wander along the main street. I have never seen a buggy or pram in India in all the cities I have been in and I think the explanation for that lies in the state of the footpaths. Footpaths are not unusual but good footpaths are a novelty. The path just outside the hotel was just earthen but at least it was even. As we went further along the road what seemed to be concrete slabs covering drains doubled as a path and it was mostly in good condition. But every so often we would come across a slab that had fallen into the drain or tipped up and we would have to jump over to the next one. If a number of them had fallen into the drain we would wait until there was a break in the traffic and run onto the next safe part. I have no idea how anyone with a mobility issue or impaired vision would navigate these streets but I understand why the best option for babies is to carry them. We were on the edge of a two lane highway which ran into the city. The center line was a very narrow pathway with railings either side and there were only intermittent gaps. So it wasn’t a simple choice of making it to the center line you also had to make sure you had a break in the fence. It was terrifying I followed a local as I had no idea how to safely cross three lanes of traffic coming at you at high speed. I think it would be the equivalent to running across the M50 motorway which most would consider insane but this is life in India. We found the ATM and returned to the hotel with a firm commitment from me that it would be taxis from here on out.
Footpath in India
On returning to the hotel, our Butler returned our laundry to us and as his english was good he stayed and chatted with us for a while. He told us he lived in the country with his wife and three children and that he owned a small farm and a tractor. While chatting, his wife happened to call and he insisted on introducing us to his family via WhatsApp. He also said that if we had time he would bring us to his farm and we could meet his family and perhaps stay a night if we liked. I thought he was incredibly friendly and he insisted on getting our number. We had bought new sim cards when we arrived in India with the intention of using them for the duration of our stay but I had no idea what my number was nor how to get it. I asked Róisín to give her number to him. When she started to call out her Indian phone number to him he insisted on having her WhatsApp number. We tested the number before we excused ourselves to get ready of the evening activities. Róisín was a little angry with me for volunteering her number but I argued that it would make no difference since we would be leaving the country and the sim cards will not work so we would never hear from him again. I hadn’t realized that our WhatsApp numbers were our home numbers rather than the Indian sim number. Every day is a learning day and lesson today is don’t give your number to strangers as we would soon find out.
Ranbanka Palace, Jodhpur
The excitement of our Christmas dinner was raising. Entertainment had been organized for the guests which included a troupe of traditional musicians and dancers. It was incredibly beautiful and moving with the stunning attire of the ladies and the fast pace of the musicians accompanying the dancers. The entertainment started at 7 pm that evening and went on until 10 pm. At a later stage in the evening the dancers came into the audience to encourage member of the audience to join them on stage, although I was invited I do understand my limitations and so declined. But a few ladies did go onto the stage and in particular a young girl perhaps about eight years old joined in and it was a joy to watch. The pride and joy she had being on stage dancing with the professionals I knew she would remember as one of the highlights of her childhood. Having taken our seats, we waited in wonderment as to when or where our lovely roast turkey dinner was going to make its appearance. How many roast potatoes would I have? I hoped its was not going to be one of those weird stuffing with apricots and the like that our more sophisticated households have adopted in recent years. I’m a traditionalist, give me turkey and ham, simple sage and onion stuffing, a selection of lightly cooked vegetables, bite not crunch and a decent gravy and all is right with the world. But considering my location I would adjust to any variations of my expectations. I’ll get the gravy on the side in case its been spiced up for the local palette.
The head waiter approached our table and handed us the single sheet of paper with the options available. Turkey or fish in India, no beef. I knew I was having the turkey so no dilemma. Róisín looked up from her menu with a great big smile on her face and doing her best to suppress an outright laugh, she looked at my face of total horror. I swear, I felt like crying, the menu had a number of selections like curried potatoes, curried fish, curried chicken. It was so disappointing and it took a lot to shake off my self pity and try to engage with the menu offered. Róisín was doing her best to console me with wise nuggets of “just give it a try, you may even like it”. Doing a Trojan job of packing my two-year-old self back in the box I made an effort. Besides I was starving having saved myself for the feast. Our lovely waiter understood I had no clue about any of the foods on the menu and so took it upon himself to bring me what he thought was within the range of a European taste. We were offered many tasters and with the large choice it was easy to get a satisfying meal by just trying a little bit of everything. Quite a number of those dishes I actually enjoyed despite myself. Róisín gave everything a go, I wouldn’t have tried any of it if I wasn’t put in a no other choice position. All told it was a surprisingly good evening but turkey would have made it better.
Traditional Rajastani Performance
In case you missed it, read part one of our Christmas in Jodhpur by clicking this link :)
On leaving the hotel we turned left and remember from the last update the road we had arrived on wasn’t much of a road. The road we turned onto to was actually just dirt and sand. Off we went with our lovely driver who had only one concern and that was to ensure that Roisin and I had a flawless journey. The road snaked up through the surrounding mountains passing through some very small villages, similar to villages you would find in Ireland once you venture off the beaten track. A little hairdressers, the local car repair, and the small shop all part of the landscapes we passed.
As the journey progressed we passed by a number of quarries and further along were numerous cut stone vendors. As seems to be the case for all business in India, your competition is your neighbour. Slabs of cut stone in as many colours as you can image lined the roadside. Brendan, my late father-in-law, had travelled to India in the mid 80s to oversee the installation and assemblage of a stone cutting machine he had designed. I had never thought about that journey at the time. I had never realized the distance involved, the climate, even the accommodation he might have had to contend with all those years ago. I assumed things had improved for the traveler in the intervening years but perhaps just in the big cities. Brendan would have been in his 60s when he made that trip. While packing up my home, before coming on this trip I had come across some pictures of that very project. I wondered if that machine was still going and would not have been surprised to know that it was, nothing is thrown away here (except bloody plastic). Perhaps this stone for sale by the roadside was cut by that very machine and there are still a group of workers who remember the Irish man who came to help with the oversight of the project. Brendan Glennon, a lovely gentle and quiet man who took such pride in his work that he would see it through to completion, even if that meant a journey across the world. This was the first time I had thought about all those beautiful kitchens, floors and patios and how far they had traveled. All those pieces of India picked up and relocated to the other side of the world. This journey has brought such unexpected thoughts and memories to mind and it can be bitter-sweet at times but it is a joy to still have them close.
It was fascinating to pass through all the villages which became more basic the further out into the country we went. Mostly it was women I saw doing the heavy lifting. The work was done not in hard hats and steel tip boots but in the most colourful and bright sarees. They would collect fire wood and carry it on their heads, enormous bales of it and confidently more than I could carry with my arms. The amazing and beautiful colours of the ladies' sarees would catch your eye as you looked out over the fields and there in the distance I could see them moving through the lush green paddy fields and vegetable fields. The countryside is a patchwork of small holdings that surround the villages. I couldn’t see much evidence of the type of commercial farming evident at home where one crop dominate the view for miles. Instead there were some fields with rice crop and then smaller fields of salad vegetables and root crops. What was even more striking was how every one seemed to work together as again the women in their colourful sarees could be seen moving along the edge of the fields at a leisurely pace, in groups of four or five and one following the other. I so admired the pace these people moved. They seemed to walk at a slow considered pace, not lazy but a pace that had the attitude of "I'll get there eventually but I will enjoy the journey". That was so strikingly different to home where everyone seems to be rushing everywhere. Even the sarees, which are of this culture, but worn with more individuality than the multiple fashion trends seen in the West. There were elections on at the time and these drew big crowds of men, very few women in attendance even though there were a number of women running for election. It reminded me of the old days of election rallies and the guys on boxes outside Sunday mass, shouting all the wonderful things they would do for us once they got into parliament. "He who shouts loudest gets heard" and then they can sit on the laurels for a few years until the next election comes around. So here is what I had been told. The previous government won their seats on the historical value of having been the Mahatma Gandhi party. In the intervening years they have become corrupt. They have redirected wealth towards projects that support and enhance themselves. They have given themselves many benefits in addition to their pay to perform the government duties and pretty much just feathered their own nests. The guy who got in last term has tried to readdress the balance and has spent vast amounts of tax rupees on many civil and infrastructural projects. The upper parliament is trying to stop all these good works but the new guy is having none of it and so he is challenging the powers through the courts. I understood he is winning not just the funds release but the hearts of the people. So I predict that the BJP will win the up coming elections in India. One of the most striking things I noticed when arriving in India was the plastic dumped everywhere. Even out in the depths of the countryside mounds of plastics clearly having been driven out and dumped on the side of the road. It is an extraordinarily beautiful country but you need to look beyond the plastic. We must have driven at least 60 miles from Prakash before the plastic disappeared and the landscape emerged. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was cost effective to pay women to manage weeds in a lawn with a trowel, surely it would be as cost effective to pay a scrap charge for plastic, it would clean this country in no time. Perhaps the incoming government may make some improvements. We arrived in the city of Jodhpur at 4pm.
Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
The main gate was closed and a security guard on duty explained that we couldn’t drive to the entrance of the hotel as there was a wedding in progress. I understood, incorrectly, that we were being asked to walk the distance from the road to the hotel and drag our bags with us or leave them on the side of the road. I hadn’t yet realized that India is relatively a safe country especially for foreigners. I was also later told that there is little petty crime in India because if you are caught you are beaten. I imagine these beatings are not the official course of redress but I was assured they happen. One of our guides had told us a story of how he became a devotee to the Monkey God, known as "Hanuman", which may go some way to explain the interpretation of the law. According to our guide, while he was out riding his motorbike he was struck at high speed by a car. The car he believed was doing 110 miles per hour and it was a miracle that he survived. More so, he walked away from the collision without a scratch. The driver of the other vehicle was caught and accepted full responsibility for the accident. At the police station the police suggested that there was little point in pressing any charges as that would only result in hassle for everyone. Besides, our guide had no injuries and if the other driver accepted costs for the motorbike, what case was there to answer? It was the feast day of Hanuman and the police officer suggested that our guide should go and leave an offering at a Hanuman shrine in thanks for his survival. There is a certain logic, Hanuman gets gifts, police gets less paper work. Well I loathe to leave my bags and didn't realise the guard had phoned reception to send porters to pick up our bags. I might be a little relieved if someone stole that overweight rucksack I decided to venture with but my wheelie bag I could manage. I assumed the guard was trying to tell me to leave the bags and that’s why he was trying to wrestle the wheelie bag from me. Equally, as the wheelie bag had all my wealth I was not letting it go. What followed was me holding firmly to the handle of the bag and walking as briskly as possible without actually breaking into a run and waving my hand saying “thank you, no I can manage" So busy was I trying, as politely as possibly, to reject the mans assistance while looking behind and waving. I failed to notice the porter in front trying to take the bag and I ploughed into him. Apologies all around and now totally committed to holding onto this bag to the bemusement of all spectators I kept going like some deranged thing. I do believe they thought I was deranged because having made it to the reception the guy at reception looked terrified. After my four days staying here I can safely say I never saw anyone carry their own bags. Men and women leave the bag carrying to the porters. I should point out that this has been the most expensive hotel booked and that includes the other five star hotels. Our original plan for accommodation was to stay in hostels and conserve resources for our year of travel. So this particular hotel was intended to be a respite from traveling basic. It was costing €386 for 4 nights. In addition we had been contacted the previous day and asked for a further 4000 rupees each (approximately €100) for Christmas dinner which was mandatory. I did mull the mandatory aspect over in my mind and thought it seems expensive, but if I’m getting a Christmas dinner (turkey, ham, all the veg, pudding and the rest) we will go for it! The Metropolitan in Jaipur had cost €150 for 4 nights, the Palace in Pushkar had cost €150 and the Courtyard by Marriott in Agra had only cost €55 for both of us per night and all bookings had breakfast included. So my expectations were greatly raised having stayed in a number of 5 star hotels at this point.My expectations were quickly given a reality check when I entered Ranbanka Palace, our very expensive Christmas treat to ourselves, and possibly would have been a delight if we had been staying in hostels. The booking pictures of the hotel give the impression of bygone world of a maharaja's palace, built in a British colonial style. It has a central courtyard with a small pool, a green area and a dinning terrace. The two floors of rooms face onto the courtyard and are accessed by a veranda.
Ever helpful, my request was granted and we were moved to a room on the first floor which did indeed have a bath so I accepted the change and realised all the room were pretty much the same. There was no point in pursuing a better room unless I was looking for the bridal suite. The rooms shown in the advertisement were those of the bridal suite and covered an entire floor. We had a bedroom and on closer inspection a bath plumbed for water but which drained directly onto the floor. I asked myself why do we bother going to all the effort of plumbing a drain into a bath, when if the design of a wet room is competently done there’s no need! Well I accepted my lot, there was no possibility of getting a better hotel this close to Christmas. We meet our...I really don’t know what title to give him, I suppose butler! He was assigned to our room or a few rooms on this floor and if we had any requests we would field them directly to him. Our first request was to get our laundry sorted and so with laundry handed over and a promise that we would have it returned tomorrow. We settled in for the next few days.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.