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Jaipur – eating, staying and getting about

February 15, 2014

“You need three things to drive in Jaipur”, said Kadir with a twinkle in his eye. “Good horn, good brakes and good luck.” As we darted through the throng of tuk tuks, rickshaws, bicycles, four-wheel drives, taxis, camels, donkeys, horse-drawn carriages, meandering pedestrians, sacred cows and stray dogs I closed my eyes and prayed for the latter.

Getting about

Apart from our airport drivers arranged through the hotel, Kadir was our transport and guide for three days. He was quietly spoken, tried hard to guide us to sights we would enjoy and was a bit protective of us without being bossy. He showed us his guest book, packed with glowing testimonials, with pride. He asked us for 250 rupees for the first afternoon and evening (about £2.50).

In the course of three days, I went from white-knuckle terror with my eyes closed to slightly jumpy. The low-down carriage and open sides meant we were level with everything. We rattled through the streets and when my eyes were open I hardly blinked not to miss a thing.  We didn’t see a single bump or crash during our time there which was an astonishing testament to the crazy system somehow working, relying on the ability to get through the smallest gap, gauge where traffic was coming from by the sound of the continual beeping and stop at very short notice. It did explain a lot about some of the driving here in Dubai too (where 40% of the population is from India).

On our drive back to the airport (by car not tuk tuk) on the Sunday morning we noticed people with numbers on their backs, running through the usual mayhem. They were taking part in the Jaipur marathon. No roads closed, no police escort, just a very small section cordoned off for the finish line where all traffic diverted to the oncoming lane to bypass.  Thinking about it now still makes me chuckle and admire the brave/foolhardy athletes who attempted it.

Eating and drinking

Intending to eat only cooked vegetarian food during our stay to minimise the chance of the famous ‘Delhi belly’ we found the hotel food was of a high standard and even ate bacon for breakfast one day. We had a thali in the elegant courtyard on the first night with a bottle of wine. The list was pretty good and we decided to sample our first ever wine from India – a Fratelli Cabernet Sauvignon – which was well balanced and fruity.  One night I spotted D’Arenburg The High Trellis that I’d not tried before;at around £20 a bottle this was great value for a restaurant list. We also sampled Sula Merlot, another Indian producer, which was well made, balanced, easy-drinking. Gin and tonics (Blue Riband Indian gin) went down very well sipped to the sound of the gurgling fountain mingled with the sitar player.

Our lunch choice on day two was so good we returned the next day too. Kadir said he’d take us to candle wall which turned out to be Khandelwal. We climbed up the stairs to this minimal, airy, canteen style restaurant where local families and a few tourists sat at the simple tables. The Kaj Kari was recommended, a rich, brick-red curry topped with cashew nuts. We plunged the piping hot fluffy bread into it with relish. Missy roti, a slightly spiced bread was also good for dipping into Dal Makhani (a very good lentil dish), Shahi Paneer (spinach and cheese), Alu Mutter (spicy potatoes) and Dal fry. Second time around we tried Began Barter – a very, rich aubergine dish, Paneer Butter Masala which was our favourite of the day and Gatta Masala (with chickpeas).

We couldn’t visit Rajasthan without a bite of Daal Baati Churma – I knew this from my first Frying Pan Food Tour.  It’s a strange dish – evolved from having to transport food – a ball of hard wheat that you soften by crumbling into dhal and eating with a spicy sauce. We enjoyed the dhosa more I’ll admit, at the restaurant that Kadir called ‘Rambo’ which turned out to be Rainbow. This had a much more sophisticated décor than our lunch venue and was a whole £2 more expensive.

I loved looking at all the street food stalls dotted along the streets, with chai stalls on every corner, but we didn’t chance trying anything. Perhaps we were too reticent – the pani puri stalls with their crisp coatings and spicy insides, really tempted me. The fruit and vegetable stands were filled with the most beautiful fresh produce.

The pool

Staying

We bucked the trend of budget accommodation we usually choose for our long weekend travel adventures and I’m very glad we did. The Samode Haveli was a lavish residence built for the royal family over 175 years ago, which was metres away from the crowded, ramshackle streets but an oasis of calm we welcomed at every return; the constant honking horns only dimly audible in the distance. Other guests were all slightly older but very varied nationalities including one band of motorcyclists stopping off on a tour, all riding original Royal Enfield vintage motorbikes. A turbaned sentry welcomed us at the top of the elephant ramp entrance each time we came back from another adventure.

The gardens were full of very English flowers like nasturtiums and dalias, and the lawns the site of a puppet sho, a game of cricket and a daily dog walk conducted by staff round the perimeter leading the residents’ canine pedigree pets.  We tried a massage at the spa and despite all asking for different ones ended up with the same – not the best ever but relaxing. Areas that were a bit lacking from usual 5 star standards, like thin mattresses and very unfluffy towels, were amply made up for by friendly attentive staff (four porters were sent to take our luggage from the room) and the palatial surroundings including marble fountains, purdah screens and a gorgeous painted dining room. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay anywhere else.

Street life and a conundrum

There’s something that really puzzled me about India. We saw quite a bit of squalor and some people who are not very well off at all. Families were living on the street and there were quite a few beggars. So I presume that some people do not have enough to eat. However, food was being scattered around the streets in abundance. Women made special long sausage things to give to fish, there were great platters of food to give to the multitudes (and I mean mega population explosion) of pigeons outside the City Palace, monkeys got special peanuts, great rubbish heaps punctuated the street corners with stray dogs and cows munching happily away in the debris with passers-by popping up now and then to heap a bit of greenery under their noses. I’m exceptionally grateful that there were no rat temples about. All this in the name of karma. And yet… bony old horses dragged carriages, cobras were denuded of venom and very likely drugged and the sound that a particular goat made next to our hotel indicated that it was far from happy.

What about giving food to people? And why were some animals favoured over others? But then I wondered whether we are just as guilty of animal double standards in the West. We spoil our pampered domestic pets, visit petting farms and get agitated about culling bushy-tailed foxes (who wreak havoc in the countryside if left to their own devices) yet we tolerate (and actively encourage by our buying habits) the insufferable cruelty of millions of industrially farmed animals. You learn not to judge so hard.

Last impressions

Once home, my head hit the cool cotton pillow and I sank into the comfort of a good mattress truly spent – but my mind was still revolving like a kaleidoscope. I returned from Jaipur feeling like I had seen every single shade and hue known to man, and a few extra; as though I’d tasted all the spices in the world, tested every muscle and bone in my body, filled my head with so many sights and sounds that there wasn’t room for a single syllable, mote of dust or beep of a horn. And this was after only thee days in the city. I came back to Dubai feeling extremely grateful for my life, perhaps with a slightly better understanding about some of the residents of this Emirate.  Some of my expectations were confirmed but some blown away in smithereens. Witnessing India in reality was so much more than the books and films promised. I was glad to experience at first hand all its colourful, dirty, frenetic, crazy, grand, bonkers splendour.

ice cream stall

Ice cream seller

More info

We flew direct from the UAE via Sharjah on Air Arabia Flight time about 3 1/2 hours. We booked ahead and the flight cost less than 1000 AED per person. A note of caution though – they changed our flight times both ways at short notice.

We stayed at Samode Haveli – there’s a nice review and a video of the rooms (as well as more about food and drink in Jaipur) here by Gourmet Chick. It’s very popular and gets very booked up so plan ahead.

You can find Kadir near to the hotel or check his website. Highly recommended.

We used the Eyewitness book on Jaipur as a guide book which was pretty good. There is a very interesting book shop in departures at the airport (after your boarding pass has been stamped 6 times – no joke) where I bought this very interesting edition on 10 Easy Walks in Jaipur.

Visa: Check in plenty of time before you go. The forms are extensive and for UK Citizens you have to apply in Bur Dubai and it takes about a week (go early). Visas on arrival soon thank goodness.

So this concludes three posts about our three days of adventure in Jaipur, the sights and sounds, the shopping and the getting about. Thanks joining me in a look back, all your comments so far and for your shared experiences of India. It seems to have a special place in many people’s hearts.

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43 Comments
  1. February 15, 2014 8:35 am

    India is one of the places we’d really like to visit, but haven’t managed yet (so many countries & cities, so little time), your photos and narrative have bumped it into the “really should think about it this year” list.

    • February 15, 2014 9:09 am

      I now can’t think why I left it so long. And this was just one small city.

  2. February 15, 2014 9:19 am

    Loved the details of your Jaipur trip, Sally – another place on my ‘must visit’ list. I’ve been to India half a dozen times now and I fully understand the dichotomy of the place – love it/hate it, wealth/squalour, plenty/famine. Short term palliatives like giving begging children a few rupees only solidifies the system, in my belief – better I think to support schemes that promote small business start-ups and the like. And the food! To me it’s the street food that is the wonder of Indian cuisine and I’ve never had a problem with the gut afterwards, though I understand your hesitation. The reality is that it’s cooked fast to order, is nearly always veg and, if you follow the crowds to the popular stands, is guaranteed to be great! I just wish that the list of Brits who crow about the wonders of Ravi’s (Pakistani food, by the way, not Indian) ever tried the real deal, they would have their eyes open. Thanks for the post – now inspired again to seek out more small canteens in Karama and Meena Bazaar!

  3. February 15, 2014 9:52 am

    Lovely account about Jaipur food. North Indian food personally was extremely spice for my taste buds, especially in Delhi. Although being Indian, I took precautions as well mainly by avoiding a the street food such as chaat, momos, fresh juices which are ever so popular choice of street food across India but bravely took my chances with restaurant food. One shady experience in Agra, but we were sadly out of choice but overall, I may have missed out on the street food aspect during the travel but all in all I had a great variety of north Indian cuisine. I’m so looking forward to visiting Jaipur end of the year. Fingers and toes crossed 🙂

  4. February 15, 2014 12:31 pm

    This three-part series has been amazing. These kinds of stories and photos are what keep me interested in reading blogs. Beautiful windows into other lives and experiences. Thank you!

  5. February 15, 2014 1:10 pm

    Wonderful blog post Sally – you describe everything so perfectly and the photos are almost edible. Thank you.

  6. February 15, 2014 1:10 pm

    Jaipur is going straight on my bucket list after your posts, despite my reluctance to travel Air Arabia ever again (ten hour flight delay in Kathmandu at the airport and on the plane!). I will wait until the visa on arrival later this year. Your hotel is indeed my cup of tea 🙂 Love Sula wines, it’s my at-home tipple of choice.

  7. February 15, 2014 3:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing your trip Sally. I have found your posts thoroughly interesting & enjoyable.

    I travelled India with a friend & your posts reminded me of a thing we used to say all the time – that every hour we would see something that made us want to cry, something that made us want to vomit & something that made us laugh our heads off. It truly is an emotional rollercoaster & your writing conveys that beautifully.

  8. February 15, 2014 4:08 pm

    This all looks absolutely fantastic, and thanks for all the snapshots of the cuisine. I’m really into Indian food at the moment, so this was a great read!

  9. February 15, 2014 6:40 pm

    Being born and raised away from India with my African born, ethnically Indian parents sometimes I go to India with fear but no place has ever captured me like India. No place has stayed with me liked India. I made my first trip to Jaipur when I was 12 and I learned a lot of the stuff my father wanted to show me.

    As you say, books and movies are no preparation. My dad showed me temples and palaces damaged and i saw the destructed by the British and Mughals. It tugged my heart strings to see stories of dehumanising local folk and gems being snatched.

    What I want to say, is that yes India spins frantically and dustily and there is a strong instinct of do-or-die, but why? Because that is what has seeped into the history of the place, fortunes has and lost and then to be rebuilt.

    • February 16, 2014 10:32 am

      Deena – your comment is so thoughtful and personal…. Visiting in person did explain a lot and so much is down to history that shapes the character of the land and people. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to add to this experience through your perspective.

      • February 16, 2014 12:31 pm

        Pleasure Sally, I’m enjoying your wonderfully exciting and honest posts x

  10. February 15, 2014 11:06 pm

    Fantastic final thread of your Indian adventure. As previously, i was throughly swept up by your descriptions and images. I am probably going to Kerala later this year, which will be quieter I am sure, but hopefully as colourful and delicious.

    • February 16, 2014 10:30 am

      Kerala is supposed to be beautiful. My friend stayed on a house boat which sounded wonderful.

  11. February 15, 2014 11:29 pm

    Magnificent! India is such an interesting country. There is so much to see there…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    • February 16, 2014 10:29 am

      Yes – Jaipur was just the start Rosa

  12. February 16, 2014 1:07 am

    India is on my bucket list this year and the hotel you stayed at looks absolutely fab. lovely post.

    • February 16, 2014 10:29 am

      It was a lovely hotel – highly recommended.

  13. February 16, 2014 8:34 am

    This trip was a long time coming – you simply had to go to India and see it all for yourself! I loved reading about Jaipur in your words – my favourite term being ”bonkers splendour!” So true! The Samode Haveli looks so royal, what a splendid place to stay (despite the hiccups)…totally putting that on my list if Jaipur re-enters my travel plans. I had been to Jaipur for a wedding, so it was a completely different and more cultural/family experience – sadly didn’t see the city all too much, but the wedding food was outstanding!

    Thanks for the Frying Pan shout out, though sorry that the daal bhati didn’t live up to expectations 😉 Manvaar in Dubai does some decent Rajasthani fare, so worth a trip if you want to relive some of your food memories.

    • February 16, 2014 10:29 am

      You were my virtual guide to the food in the city – I knew so much about it through the food tours 🙂 Daal bhati was good but it’s just not my favourite ever dish – the kaj kari, another traditional Rajastani favourite apparently, was my top vote. Yes would love to visit Manvaar so thanks for the recommendation. Also the one in Sharjah which I have forgotten the name of …. Glad you read this and like it – my mentor to India 🙂

  14. glamorous glutton permalink
    February 16, 2014 11:21 am

    Oh you’ve brought back memories of those car journeys. We were travelling south from Delhi, careering from one side of the road to the other, me, like you, mainly with my eyes shut. Then at a moment when I glanced up, I saw a man on his stomach rolling down the street, no pavements! I was told he was doing penance and was rolling from one temple to another. India is indeed exotic in all senses of the word. GG

    • February 16, 2014 12:05 pm

      Wow. Makes our experience seem a bit tame – however there were people just strolling, or standing still in the middle of frantic traffic going round a major roundabout. Gobsmacking!

  15. February 16, 2014 12:25 pm

    Thank you for the post, I feel like going there. And the food look so good, and the price to.

    • February 16, 2014 2:28 pm

      Price is a big factor in our budget girls weekends away. We splashed out on the hotel and although the meals were staggeringly expensive compared to everything else it was reasonable compared with Dubai. Elsewhere was mind bogglingly cheap.

  16. February 16, 2014 4:16 pm

    Loved all your photographs Sally on your recent trip to India. Your posts brought back some lovely memories of a few of the same places we visited while on a trip to India with some friends last year. The colors in India are amazing and I so agree with the “white-knuckle terror” which we experienced on a nine hour bus journey to Udaipur. 🙂

    • February 17, 2014 2:39 am

      Nine hours!! Oh my goodness Moya.

  17. February 16, 2014 8:08 pm

    Lovely account of your trip, Sally! I am looking up Samode Haveli and Kadir’s website after posting this comment 🙂

    • February 17, 2014 2:39 am

      Both highly recommended 🙂

  18. February 17, 2014 9:23 pm

    Brilliant post sally ! gorgeous photos . took me to a place faraway in memory land .Reminds me of how much I miss India and how many places are there on my bucket list ! The bit abt good luck when in a rickshaw made me chuckle , its the same in any city in India 🙂

  19. February 18, 2014 3:25 am

    Sally I’ve never been to India but this series of posts makes me want to. Your photography is lovely and your words tell a great story!

  20. February 19, 2014 11:34 am

    I am SERIOUSLY considering changing my next weekend jaunt to Rajasthan after reading your posts 🙂 So colourful and detailed. The hotel you stayed at looked gorgeous – old world charm definitely the way to go in India 🙂 And need to try out all that delicious looking food. Have only tried Rajasthani bread once and I loved it. Need to plan a trip soon 🙂

    • February 19, 2014 5:51 pm

      It was very manageable in a long weekend – very cheap flight on Air Arabia too. Do it 🙂

  21. February 20, 2014 2:13 am

    What a lovely blog post to read. You have captured India so well with both your words and photographs. A whirlwind tour but one that will be in your heart and mind for a long time to come by the looks of it. The colour and sound explosion is really something. After visiting India it feels as if the rest of the world operates in sepia – if you get my meaning. Glad you had a safe and memorable trip. I am catching up on reading blog posts so must read the first two you wrote. Best Torie

    • February 20, 2014 9:07 am

      Your comment sounds like you’ve visited a lot more of India than I did. Love to hear more…

  22. February 23, 2014 9:11 pm

    Remember that amazing Rhajistani dahl we had in Dubai on the ‘frying pan’ tour? – simply the best dhal I’ve ever tasted – and that’s saying something being as it is one of my favourive dishes (if not THE favourite!).

    • February 24, 2014 7:30 am

      I do indeed – it was the first time I tasted daal baati charma.

  23. February 26, 2014 12:20 am

    Haven’t I told you always – India is overwhelmingly kaleidoscopic? I think your initiation into the food part had already happened at Arva’s India tour! Beautiful post Sally. 3 days – 3 posts out of you – says a lot about my India, doesn’t it?

    • February 26, 2014 7:39 am

      Oh it certainly does – and you are right about the food tours, they were my apprenticeship 🙂

  24. March 12, 2014 5:07 pm

    India is such a diverse country and seeing a place I have always wanted to visit through your eyes is a true adventure. I miss the street food and the chaos. Thank you for this!

    • March 13, 2014 8:57 am

      Chaos – yes! Thanks for all your lovely comments Meeta.

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