08.12.2009 22 °C
All the stories are true. Every gold-plated, diamond-studded story of palatial excess, unbridled greed and unbelievable luxury. Every salacious story of football teams of wives and hordes of concubines really happened, and most of them here in Rajasthan.
Rajasthan is a land of palaces and forts, built by different feuding rajas in different styles, but for the most part exceptionally well preserved (they don't make them like they used to, etc etc).
We saw the Taj Mahal (of course); an unbelievable, blinding, bright milky-white pile of marble from afar, resolving into stunningly romantic carving and detail as you draw closer, and gradually shifting tone as the sun moved across the horizon: we were blown away, so much so that the Agra Fort got rather short shrift as it seemed a little pedestrian afterwards.
We spent a couple of days in Jaipur; the Pink City is (still) a perfectly preserved labyrinth of wide boulevards, identically sized shops dotted with beautiful palaces and monuments, all built from the same pink sandstone which glows beautifully in the sunlight. We saw the world's biggest watch (an enormous stone sundial some 27m high) and a collection of other huge stone and metal astrological and astronomical calculation devices at Jantar Mantar; this excited our inner geeks possibly even more than the clocks at Greenwich. Lastly we went to the Amber Fort, another stunning hilltop 'fort'/pleasure palace in yellow stone, smooth stucco mirrored interiors and beautiful painted arches.
From Jaipur we went to Pushkar, a very important Hindu pilgrimage town with one of the only temples to Brahma in the world, now unfortunately overrun with travellers of the scuzziest, beardiest, soap-shyest sort along with their accompanying touts, pay-per-view holy men and dressed up animals. We were led through a completely unauthentic puja by the waterside and then almost came to blows with our 'priests' when they tried to extort money from us, leaving a horrible taste in our mouths about the whole place. We couldn't leave fast enough.
Our final stop was Udaipur, city of white marble, still lakes and stunning palaces. Here we stayed at the Lake Palace (yes, that one), which was.... unbelievable. From the moment we arrived to a maharana's welcome of rose petals scattered from the roof we were spoiled beyond belief – it was wonderful. The room was perfect, looking right over to the City Palace; the food was great – a lovely change to have a perfectly executed brasserie lunch with a glass of champers – and a Maharaja's feast for dinner and the service was impeccable. The palace itself is just as seen in Octopussy: sumptuous but tasteful rooms (we even had a pillow menu), beautiful open spaces full of green life, flower petals, the tinkle of moving water and heavy with the smell of jasmine. Almost worth mortgaging one's year abroad for, in fact.... Many thanks to those who contributed to our travelling fund to make this possible (you know who you are!).