My overnight train to Jaiselmer was somewhat difficult. I had a first class ticket, but it wasn’t exactly first class! Then, too, the train stopped many times all night long. However, I did sleep on and off, so can’t complain.
Jaiselmer is wild—full of donkeys, camels, cows and goats! My hotel, the Narayan Niwas Palace is an old caravanserai with lots of atmosphere but no hot water. This town really has a ‘back of beyond’ feeling about it. Everywhere you look is an exotic scene! The people seem poor but friendly.
At lunch I met Ian, who invited me to go with him in a jeep he had hired to see the rural areas and sand dunes. The area was beautiful and exotic.
To get on, the handler has the camel sit down; I got on, then the camel straightened his back legs part way and nearly threw me over his head; then he straightened his front legs and nearly threw me over his tail; finally he finished straightening out his back legs and there I was, successfully sitting on top of him!
The train was very cold. I had a second-class ticket as first class was full. I wore three pants, two shirts, a sweater and a jacket. Then I put some more clothes over me and finally was just warm enough to sleep.
I arrived back in Jodhpur in the morning and checked in at the Ajet Bhwan Hotel, another old palace now run as a hotel by the uncle of the reigning Maharajah of Jodhpur, who is called a Maharaj. Again, the lacy stonework surrounding the courtyard of the old palace, now a hotel, was sensational.
After a really good scrambled-egg breakfast, I left for the airport for a flight to Jaipur. What a hustle-bustle city! After getting settled in my hotel, I went to see the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds) and then walked up and down the old town streets enjoying their pink (really salmon-colored) buildings. I bought some sandalwood incense, then had good Indian food for lunch.
I reached the Nahargarah (Tiger Palace) way up high above the town on the back of an elephant! The fort was as exotic as the ride. Some rooms had tiny mirrors on all the walls and ceiling; there was lavish decoration all around with room upon room.
That evening I flew to Agra, engaging a taxi driver to take me to my hotel. It was dark by this time, and the driver hurried me into the hotel while he got my suitcase out of the trunk. I was checking in, and wondered why it took so long for the taxi driver to bring my suitcase—I even went to look out the door window, while the desk clerk said ‘not to worry, Madame.’ Eventually the driver brought my bag and I went up to my room. Aha, now it was clear why it took so long! The driver had stolen my cosmetic bag. I think he thought it was a purse as it was rather that shape. I rushed downstairs again, but by this time, of course he was long gone. I did complain to the desk clerk—‘not to worry Madame’—huh!
The next day I changed hotels and became acquainted with Paul, the manager. I took a tour of the Agra Fort, which is beautiful! I saw the place where Shah Jahan died looking at the Taj Mahal, which he had built for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth of her 14th child! His son, Aurangzeb had put him under house arrest here when he thought his father was spending too much of the family fortune on memorials like the Taj. The fort is well preserved and very beautiful.
By this time it was misting outside, and I went to see the SPECTACULAR Taj Mahal! How many pictures had I seen before actually seeing the real thing? I expected to be fairly blasé about it, but when I came around the corner and looked through the huge salmon-colored gate at the beautiful white Taj, it was sensational! The mist added to the ambience, enhancing the image of the white marble against the sky. It truly must be the most beautiful building in the world. Inside there are two marble crypts decorated, as the entire building is, with semi-precious stones. These crypts were built for Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, but they are actually buried in simpler crypts on a lower level under these more decorative crypts, which I could visit. There is a beautiful marble screen, again decorated with semi-precious stones. The architectural features of this edifice are remarkable. For example, the four minarets on the four corners of the setting are directed outward just a few degrees, which can’t be seen, but if there were an earthquake, the minarets would fall out, and not in, where they could damage the Taj building.
Paul had invited me to go for a drink after he got off duty, which we did. However, it turned out to be a soft drink as the 1st and the 7th of each month are “dry days” because in the British days they were paydays. We went to a tiny restaurant and drank our soft drinks by candlelight since the electricity had gone off because of the rain.
The Mughal Sheraton Hotel in Agra was worth visiting as it had gotten the Aga Khan architectural award. It was a huge sprawling complex and I bought a Penjabi silk dress with pants and scarf in their gift shop.
Tomorrow I shall fly to Varanasi.