…you might as well make it comfortable.
Jaipur, India. That’s what Man Singh the First thought in 1592, when he built on top of a previous 11th century fort, and his descendants continued to upgrade the place for the next several hundred years.
This is the fort we tried to visit yesterday, not being sufficiently conscious of the fact that most of India was still on a big Holi weekend, and the place was mobbed. Today we got there easily by Uber by 9:15 and found it a very different scene.
One can ascend to the main gate by elephant, foot power, or Jeep.
Yes, I know you will be disappointed that we chose the Jeep, but we are very sensitized to animal rights since our camel ride. The good news is that we could see the elephant commuters arriving and disembarking in the main courtyard.
The main courtyard leads up to the palace. It’s a lovely central spot, where the returning armies would show off their spoils. Now everyone just takes pictures or dances.
Steps lead up through a beautiful gate to the second courtyard, where public audiences were held. The columns are marble or sandstone, each with a Ganesh figure at the top, and there are great views of the action below and the surrounding ancient cityscape, with the enormously long fort wall in the background. These folks were really protected.
The stairway to the private quarters has the original color-blocked paint designs, still looking marvelous. The colors must have been gorgeous four hundred years ago, but they aren’t shabby at all today.
The maharajah had his own courtyard, overlooking the twelve apartments of his wives. In the center of their courtyard, there was a center hall where he and his chosen lady for the evening could “meet” and discuss world affairs.
One of the queens wanted a chamber built where the light of one candle, reflected in tiny mirrors, would transform the room into a starlit bower. Works for me. And here I am, by the way, imagining my life as a queen – though Don says that shouldn’t require too much thought.
Must have been a lovely home. But we moved on later in the afternoon to a more modern residence of the family, the Rambaugh Taj Palace. Man Singh II and his glamorous wife lived there in the 1930’s, and later it became a jewel in the Taj Mahal group crown. There are still many mementos of his great successes with polo, including the famous Polo Club. No way we would spend the money to stay there, but we had a lovely lunch and a leisurely walk-through.
Don’s Food Corner
Indians are rather obsessed with Chinese food, particularly in the north. And there is a first-rate Chinese restaurant in the hotel where we’re staying. We’ve been sneaking in there for the last few days for bowls of different kinds of soup and some dim sum. All excellent. Last night we actually had a main course meal — General Tso’s Chicken and Peking vegetable fried rice. It was great. The General Tso’s chicken was unusually light and not as sticky sweet as we are used to in the U.S. Perhaps that’s because this dish, which is probably a modern Western invention, has been reclaimed by Chinese chefs and taken back to a more authentic Chinese sensibility. The fried rice was a revelation as well. We understand that Chinese restaurants are especially popular in Kolkata, so we’ll be trying a few of those when we get to that city in a week or so.
But today, we went for a splurge at one of the beautiful restaurants at the Rambagh Palace Hotel. As the photos above attest, the place is spectacularly beautiful. I was anxious to try the famed Rajasthani lamb dish, laal maas. Literally meaning “red meat,” the redness does not come from tomatoes but instead with red chili powder. It’s usually meant to be fiery hot, but at the Rambagh it was not. In fact, the number of Indian dishes on the menu was kind of skimpy.
Most of the dishes were variations on American, British, French and Italian classics. fish and chips, chopped salad, etc. I insisted, however, we stick with the Indian choices. So, we had the laal maas as well as a potato and onion dish in a tomato-based curry gravy called aloo pyay ki sabzi, plus some basmati rice and a gram-flour bread called besan ka paratha.
It was all perfectly prepared, beautifully presented on fine china and with fine silverware. The staff was as charming and solicitous as you would expect in the finest of restaurants. But was the food life-changing? Not so much. Interestingly, this was one of the most expensive meals we’ve had in India, and it was less than $70, including the tip.