Jaipur, Kites, and Rajvilas…

…All six of us volunteers left the house this morning at 7:30 am in a car that we hired to drive us to, from, and around Jaipur for the weekend. Crammed in a Mahindra Bolero (the most prevalent SUV here), we set out on the 258km drive southwest from Faridabad. In the United States, this drive would have taken 2.5 hours on a state highway. In India, it took 7 hours on their equivalent of an interstate! Although most people luckily do not obey it, the posted speed limit is 40 km/hr (24.8 miles per hour!). One would expect that a toll road would forbid the use of camels, oxen, and vehicles with no more power than a lawn mower, but they do not. They also do not regulate the traffic. The entire way, I think there were only two traffic lights. Thus, cars, trucks, bicycles, camels, cows, dogs, pedestrians, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and vehicles with literally only a chassis and steering wheel pull on and off or cross the road wherever they want. Needless to say, horns and brakes are always in high demand.

We arrived in Jaipur at 2:30 pm and found our hotel, the Sunder Palace. For Rs 350 ($7) per person per night, we had great service, impeccably clean rooms, high speed internet, hot water, and constant power! We were all highly impressed. We had lunch at a restaurant called Niro’s and then went perusing the many bazaars of the “Pink City.”

Not realizing that next week is the annual Kite Festival in Jaipur, I looked up at the sky and was amazed by what I saw. The sky was filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of kites of many different colors and at different altitudes. It is a shame the kites are too small to turn out well in photos, because the sight was beautiful. Some were so high that they were hardly visible. I looked directly above me and saw one tiny thread just a few meters above my head. I followed it to the ground and found the controller standing in front of a store down the street. I followed the string the other way but couldn’t tell which one kite was his because there were so many. I walked over to the man and he handed me the silk thread to fly the kite. I found out that his was the one 4000 meters out and that he still had half a spool of thread remaining. Some kites were more than 10000 meters (over 6 miles) out! I found it incredible that there was almost no effort needed to hold the kite. When I gave it back to the man, another kite began to attack his. Swirling his arms and tugging and dropping his arms, the kite swerved and dodged a few seconds later, then began to float to the ground as the silk thread was severed by the attackers line.

Having had such a mind-blowing experience at the Oberoi Amar Vilas in Agra (ranked as Travel + Leisure’s 14th best hotel in the world for 2011), I had made a reservation for all 6 of us in the bar of the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur (ranked as Travel + Leisure’s 8th best hotel in the world for 2011). We showered, cleaned up, and embarked once again in the Bolero. Some of the crew was a bit skeptical as we drove out of town about 10 km. Along a dark nondescript road seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we turned into a small row of hedges with a fire-engine-red gate, three security guards, and yet another impeccably dressed gate manager. The driver, who spoke only very little English and just drove where I pointed, looked at me as if we had unexpectedly arrived at the main gate of the White House. He rolled down the window and I explained to the manager who we were. “Welcome to the Rajvilas, Mr. John,” he proclaimed as the guards flung open the gates. Another sole guard in ancient military style regalia awaited us at the other end of the driveway. There were no other cars, no other people, and no other noise. Silence is so rare here that it is a treasure just to experience it.

We each ordered one drink in the bar and took turns exploring everything from the stores and restaurant to the restrooms. I appropriately ordered their specialty drink called ‘Diwan-E-Khas’ (Hall of Private Audience, which is usually the most palatial room in the forts and palaces).

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