We start our day bright and early we don’t even have time for another wonderful Oberoi breakfast today. The drive from Udaipur to Jaipur is approximately 7 hours so this will be a very long day in the car. There are flights starting up in July 2015 with Spice Jet that will operate an Udaipur-Jaipur flight, this will cut the time down dramatically as the flight will only be an hour. I personally would still opt for the drive because of the scenic routes you can take.
Ishveen has organised with the staff to pack us a few items of food for our long road trip. This is an option you can do if you cannot make breakfast. We don’t go for the whole breakfast that is usually on offer and decide to take mainly fruits as we are planning to stop en route somewhere. It is always good to try food outside of the hotel.
As we make our way outside the hotel’s main entrance our driver is already there and waiting for us. The hotel staff have all followed us out to help us with our luggage and to bid us farewell. It is so nice to be fussed over, I feel like a celebrity! The General Manager has come to say goodbye and make sure that we have had a good experience. It has been amazing, we have received incredible service, and I cannot fault the hotel at all. Once we say our goodbyes, with bags loaded we set off to Jaipur!
I have been to Jaipur once before, 5 years ago to be exact and whilst I did the main tourist sights this time we will try and see other sights that are not a typical tourist spots.
Sadly, the first thing all of us do as we get into the car and set off for the long road trip is whip out our phones and connect to the car Wi-Fi, checking our texts or emails even updating Facebook. The signal eventually dies which forces us to put the phones away. It is a good thing because the bonus with driving is you see more; we have probably missed quite a few landmarks because we were texting. As I re-join the real world I notice we are passing a lot of little farming villages, we can see people working on the farms harvesting crops; walking a line of sheep and working hard in the fields (it is ridiculously hot today too). I start to look at everyone going about their day on the fields and love that the drive is allowing us to see the real India. If you are not rushed the drive can be quite pleasant, if you like to people watch like me, then this is perfect.
The other bonus we have with our long drive is that we are all talking and bonding. The bonding is not with Ishveen and Dipali, we already know these two. I am talking about Ranjit! Ranjit has been with us for the last two days in Udaipur, he is our driver. As the days have gone on we have started to get to know him more and more. I have a lot of respect for him as he is a hard working guy, he is with us till early morning and stays with us till late evening or until we no longer need to be driven anywhere. He has long days but today particularly is a hard day, for him not us. We have been speaking to Ranjit more and more each day and started to notice that perhaps we could have done without a guide as he knows everything. Driving around Udaipur, Ranjit has pointed out so many sights and given us background history on places. We get to see how much knowledge of places Ranjit has, as we head onwards to Jaipur he points out the different areas of Rajasthan, the smaller villages and explains what each region is famous for. One region we pass through, Ranjit explains is famous for stone work and concrete. As soon as he tells us this we see warehouses and shops on the sides of the road selling stone carvings and concrete slabs. We then pass another little area which has quite a lot of hills (very picturesque) and Ranjit points to the top of the hill where we can see a Mandir (Hindu Temple), he then explains that the climb to this Mandir is quite difficult so worshippers climb it as a pilgrimage.
The drivers in India are on the roads all day and everyday so their knowledge can at times be better than a guide. I started to learn a lot through Ranjit. The guides have to take a lot of training and obtain licences, plus have skills in a few languages. The drivers, whilst they can speak some English it will not be sufficient enough to explain the places too well. They would also need to take training and have the necessary guide licences. Ranjit could speak a decent amount of English however between us we had a good understanding of Hindi to be able to communicate.
After driving for a few hours we decide to stop off at a highway restaurant for breakfast. The highway restaurants are very similar to the service stations we have along the motorways in the UK. The little restaurants in India can offer some of the best authentic foods. Whilst they are basic in appearance, the food and hygiene is good. Like service stations in the UK the cost of foods and the mark-up is a lot higher than a local high street restaurant, for us though, the prices are still an amazing bargain. We ask Ranjit to join us and have something to eat and drink, however he politely refuses and sits in a separate area. It is not a usual practice for your driver to sit and dine with you, so it is best not to put them in an uncomfortable position.
We order a selection of mixed pakoras (deep fried potato or vegetable snacks) and some masala chai (Indian tea). Once we finish our delicious breakfast we are back on the road for a few more hours. There is a recommended stop that you can do on the drive to Jaipur which we have opted for. Half way between the two cities there is a Rajasthan Palace known as Deogarh Mahal. This is great stop off point to see traditional Rajasthani culture.
Deogarh Mahal is a hotel which is an original palace owned by the Deogarh family. They have converted the palace into a heritage hotel allowing tourists the opportunity to experience living like a Rajasthan royal for the night. If you are passing through then you can visit as a day trip. There is a lot of history surrounding the palace. You can take a guided tour and stop here for lunch. We are not in the right season but they will offer dance and music performances whilst you have your lunch. There are large courtyards with stunning views of the city. We look around the palace and the rooms, which are all huge in size with separate living rooms. The Royal suite and Maharani suite has been kept in its original form, staying here will launch you back in time living in a real piece of history. Your stay offers all the modern facilities of any hotel but with a traditional experience. We don’t stay for lunch as we have eaten not too long beforehand and want to try and carry on with our journey.
I believe we have been driving for a few more hours, we all take it in turn to dose off. All except poor Ranjit who is still going strong on the road, what a trooper! It is not much further to Jaipur thankfully but the sun is starting to set. To stretch our legs and to rest Ranjit who has not dosed off like us (thankfully) we make another pit stop on the roadside to have some masala chai. We all sit down and order our teas; Ranjit has joined us this time which is nice. I decide to look around the restaurant which has pictures all around showing different famous areas in Rajasthan. I never realised how big Rajasthan is and by the looks of the pictures there is so much to see, the pictures display Ranthambore, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Jaipur to name a few. I have heard about a famous temple in Rajasthan located in an area called Bikaner (North of Jaipur) called Karni Mata, which is the temple of Rats! Yes, that’s right I said rats. The rats are running around the temple freely; I saw the image of this temple in the restaurant which sent a shiver through me. I wouldn’t have the guts to enter the temple with rats running across my feet but if you are not scared of them then this is an incredible temple to visit. You would need a minimum of two weeks alone just to explore all or most of Rajasthan but looking at what each region offers in these pictures it is very enticing. Ranjit and Ishveen point out one picture which displays the Pushkar festival, if you visit Pushkar in November there is a famous fair which will show you the traditional Rajasthani culture. Our tea arrives which is one of the best masala teas I have had so far, we finish up quickly and continue onwards.
As we continue onwards, Ishveen is explaining to us that Jaipur is great for shopping, she tells us that we will start noticing lots of jewellery stores as Jaipur is well known for their exquisite jewellery design. As we are approaching Jaipur I do instantly see the stores just like Ishveen had told us.
The other way I can tell that we are in Jaipur is the driving. The driving in India is pretty hairy at times however in Mumbai and Udaipur I haven’t found it too bad. Now that we are in Jaipur this has dramatically changed and it feels like we are in a bumper car dodging cars, bikes, rickshaws, people and maybe a cow or two. There are cars and motorcycles all around us, beside us, in front of us, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were on top of us! Now whilst I am in the back looking at every potential road hazard, Ranjit is cool as a cucumber and completely un-phased by the road rage. We ask him how he stays so cool with all the wreck less driving, he explains that he is used to it and that all drivers need to follow three rules. This is the most amazing and scariest driving advise I have ever heard when he says “Good Horn, Good Brakes, Good Luck!” We all burst into fits of laughter but this is the best rule to apply if you want to tackle driving in India.
Even though I was in Jaipur in 2010 this feels like a brand new experience, the excitement I feel as we enter the Pink City is like I am seeing it for the first time all over again. The sights and sounds around me reminds me of how excited I was being here. I have seen the famous top sights in Jaipur before such as Hawa Mahal and Amer Fort so this time we will visit sights we missed on my last trip.
After a few more minutes driving through the bustling city we are finally approaching our new home for the next 3 nights. The car pulls up to yet another breath taking entrance, another Oberoi property called “Rajvilas”. I immediately jump out the car and take in my new surrounding which is just like a fort, the architecture is fantastic. There is already a line of staff to greet us and offer the traditional welcome. We are garlanded with flowers and offered a welcome drink and then shown straight to our rooms. We request to keep our room and Ishveen’s room close to us so we are given our own private block with two Premier rooms facing one another. There are private courtyards with these individual blocks of two rooms which are great if you are a family travelling together. The check in is completed from your room which is great as we are all very tired after our long journey. The premier room décor is very similar to that of the Premier room in the Udaivilas. We have been welcomed with a letter from the manager wishing us a lovely stay along with personalised chocolates.
After a quick freshen up we decide to go straight for dinner as it is pretty late. The main restaurant that we had breakfast in at Udaivilas “Surya Mahal” is also located at the Rajvilas. This is where we will be dining tonight. The hotel has already set up a table for us with personalised place settings with our names written on a banana leaf. They have even personalised our menu with a selection of their recommended signature dishes. I start with a Thai Mango Salad with shrimp which I haven’t tried before and it was out of this world. I actually felt sad when I finished it, I made a note to ask the chef for his recipe because I know I need to eat this again. For the mains I decide to stick with the Indian cuisine and pick one or two of my favourites. The biggest warning, if dining in the Surya Mahal is to have a big appetite, the portions are king size! I eat as much as I can handle before I explode. The desert menu looks enticing, Dipali and Ishveen make an attempt on the choices however, for me its “soldier down” I can’t fit another morsel in my mouth. After all the food we are offered either tea or coffee before we finish up our evening.
We have a guide scheduled for the following day and we have also been advised by the hotel that they have their own on site Mandir (Hindu Temple). They have scheduled for us to attend the Mandir in the morning for a welcome Puja (prayer blessing). I am looking forward for our day in Jaipur tomorrow but as of now we are all running to our beds, it has been a very long day.