Travel Weekly’s Jeri Clausing is on an India trip that will take her to Mumbai, Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. Her second dispatch follows.
JAIPUR — Now this is the India people travel far and pay a lot of money to see: snake charmers, monkeys and cows in the streets, palaces, street weddings, elephant rides and over-the-top luxury resorts.
Not to mention the shopping.
We managed to cram an awful lot into just two-and-a-half days, and still had time to relax and enjoy the Oberoi Rajvilas, a 32-acre luxury retreat. What an amazing resort. It was the first India resort in the Oberoi portfolio, and it's easy to see why it is consistently ranked among the world’s top hotels.
The resort was built in the late 1990s to resemble one of the royal forts of the state of Rajasthan. Even the smallest rooms are what most hotels would consider suites, with canopy beds, sitting areas and large bathrooms with glass walls that offer views into a private garden from the sunken marble tub and the shower.
The resort also has luxury tents and villas with private pools and a spa in a restored Rajasthani mansion.
Our first night we were greeted by a traditional Indian puppet show, which included a snake charmer and puppet dancing to the Indian version of "Macarena." Then the chef gave us a sampling of the cooking lessons that will be offered when the resort’s new restaurant opens in October.
My wake-up call the next morning was the cries of many peacocks roaming the property. I grabbed my camera to get some photos, but the bird closest to my room refused to show its feathers until I spotted it from the shower — like it knew there was finally no chance of being photographed.
Over the next two days, we explored Jaipur — known as the "Pink City" — including the old and new "forts," or palaces that were used by the royal family over the past 1,000 years.
Although India’s s poverty is no secret, it is still disturbing to see the depth of despair. Much of the country still lacks modern infrastructure.
Buses with people literally hanging out the windows or sitting on top jockey constantly for a piece of narrow roads crammed with people, animals and trash. Along the sides of the streets are shacks, tents and and people and their animals sleeping in the dirt.
But as our Abercombie & Kent guide reminded us, the democracy here is quite young, and India is a country working to rid itself of the corruption that feeds the deep division between classes. India is making progress toward its goal to become a first rather than third world country, he insisted.
On the tourism side, for instance, our schedule called for an elephant ride Sunday morning, which bothered one of my fellow travelers who had been here before and saw the elephants being forced to haul tourists up a steep hill to the ancient capital of Amber in the hot sun.
Our guide explained that in the past few years — since a guide was trampled to death by an elephant startled by the flash of a tourist’s camera — some regulations have been in put in place to protect the animals. They can’t make more than three trips up the hill per day or carry more than two people at a time.
Still, he said, the new rules don’t go far enough, so Abercrombie & Kent takes its guests to a private farm, called Dera Amer, where elephants take guests along a path through the forest and bring them back for champagne breakfast or lunch or dinner. The meals are served around a large field where the elephants are sometimes used for polo matches.
The elephants here don’t do more than one trip a day with riders, said owner Udaijait Singh.
Besides the historic and tourist sites, we were fortunate to see a number of wedding ceremonies getting under way during a Saturday-evening shopping excursion.
The traditional wedding begins with the groom making his way to the event atop a decorated horse while revelers dance around him to the music of a marching band. We passed at least a half-dozen weddings sites being prepared. I was lucky to walk out of one the fabric stores just as a procession began.
Next stop: Agra and the Taj Majal.