Our driver picked us up at Hotel Pleasant Haveli around 10am. As we were leaving, Bhawani (aka Al Pacino) was coming back from his latest overnight camel safari and stopped us. Ironically, our driver was his uncle. What a small town. The best part was when Al Pacino went in for a bro-hug, Vinny patted him on the back only to have loads of dirt fly off of his shirt. He was wearing the same collared flannel he wore with us, which I'm assuming he wore the day before that and the day before that and the day before that. I guess that's what desert life is all about.
We had roughly a five hour drive ahead of us before arriving in our next city, Jodhpur. One thing we have noticed with almost all of our drivers is that they pick you up first and then stop to get gas second. In America, although "a driver" has a whole different meaning, they usually get the gas first then pick you up second. I'm not sure if they want to comfort you knowing that their tank is full or if they just prefer to do it while on the clock but either way, it happened to us in Delhi, Varanasi, Agra and now Jaisalmer. We don't mind at all since all of our rides were prepaid but figured I would share yet another random observation with you. Thanks for listening. You've been a superb audience so far.
The first few hours of our drive were as smooth as a baby's bottom. Newly paved highways, no traffic and very few animal sightings. Some might think it's odd, but none of us said a word pretty much the entire time. It was nice to just be. No sightseeing, no talking, no listening, no photo taking, no people watching. As amazingly wonderful as it is to constantly be on the go and always have something phenomenal to experience, it's equally as incredible to have some down time and alone time. This drive provided both of us with exactly that. Although we weren't physically on our own, mentally we were. It felt good to hit the restart button. Plus, our driver was playing soothing local music that really put me in a calm state of mind. I fell asleep a few times until I caught myself drooling. Must have been a good dream.
About three hours in, we came across some railroad tracks that we had to stop at for the train passing by. The coolest part about this was that the crossing arms were dropped manually vs. automatically like we are used to. There was a man on the side of the road that literally winds them down to stop traffic and then winds them back up to allow traffic through. So old school yet so fascinating.
The last hour of our drive was quite entertaining and the complete opposite of our first four hours. We went from having nothing and no one around us to being inundated with all sorts of mind stimulating surroundings. We passed through some of the littlest villages where women were seamlessly gardening on the side of the road, graciously balancing bags filled with soil on their heads and vigorously pumping water from water wells. There were animals galore for miles and miles and miles including cows, goats, sheep, donkey and camels. It felt like we were living in an Old MacDonald Had a Farm video game (not that it really exists but use your imagination). Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O and on his farm he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O. With a moo moo here and a moo moo there, here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo moo. We were constantly swerving around the animals, stopping for them to cross and honking to warn them to move out of the way. In the States, our traffic is caused from construction at the least opportune time, careless accidents, a few drizzles of rain or everyone attempting to get to the next place as quickly as possible. Here, traffic is caused by animals. So cool.
Around 3pm, we arrived at Ratan Vilas, our home for the next three nights. Built in 1921 by Maharaj Ratan Singhji of Raoti, a royal from Jodhpur and one of the finest horsemen and polo players of his time, it was originally his mansion but has now been converted into a hotel by his grandson and great-grandson, who still live there. It was beautiful. You are greeted by colorful flowers, lush trees, flowing water fountains and a warm, welcoming staff.
This hotel was considered a semi-splurge for us being 5000 rupees or $74 a night. Not a Khem Villas splurge but still more than we have been spending on average. Ratan Vilas was number two on TripAdvisor out of ninety so we figured the price was worthy of it. But what we've realized is, the higher the rate, the higher our expectations. When we spend $35 a night, we have very low expectations so we are usually impressed. But when we spend over $70 a night, specifically in India, we have very high expectations which could possibly let us down. When we checked into our room, we were content. The room itself was nice but the bathroom kind of sucked. There was no door or curtain to the shower so it seemed all the water would just spray everywhere. Oh well, at least we have a shower. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to be satisfied with what we have and not dwell on being unsatisfied with what we don't have. As my mom frequently told me growing up, there will always be someone better off than you and someone worse off than you so appreciate what you have. This was one of those moments.
After we settled in, we grabbed a super late lunch from the hotel's restaurant. They have an adorable little outdoor seating area that makes you not want to ever leave. And we didn't really leave. We sat there for awhile, especially because WiFi only worked in a few places and our rooms weren't one of them. Once we inhaled our food like it was our job, we walked around the hotel grounds. There was a bright blue pool and quaint little courtyards.
That night, management told us that there was a plumbing issue with the room below ours. They weren't sure if it was stemming from our room so they asked if we would be willing to switch in the morning. We didn't mind at all, especially knowing they were going to upgrade us. A few hours later, we proved that there was an issue after all. When we showered, the entire bathroom flooded. All the water from the shower drain went through the clogged pipes, eventually being released through the other drain near the toilet. Everything was soaked. Not fun.
The next morning they moved us right away and were beyond apologetic. We were extremely impressed with their service and attentiveness. The new room was recently completed in October of 2015 and it was gorgeous. Twice the size as our first room and the bathroom was thirteen times better. Very modern with a stunning glass and marble shower. Plus, there was a lovely little seating area right outside that overlooked the pool. We scored big time. I truly believe everything works out for a reason. Whatever the reason is for this, I won't question it. I will just enjoy it. Every minute of it for the next two nights.
It was about 11:30am and we were ready to go explore. Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, is known as the Blue City because of all the bright blue houses beautifully juxtaposed by the dry browns of the desert around the Mehrangarh Fort. We've now visited Jaipur the Pink City, Jaisalmer the Golden City, Jodhpur the Blue City and next up is Udaipur the White City. Following along? There will be a color test at the end.
First on our list was Jaswant Thada. Constructed in 1899, this milky-white marble memorial was built in honor of Maharaja Jaswant Singh II (the thirty third ruler of Jodhpur) by his son and sits above a small lake with an array of whimsical domes. It's a quiet, peaceful spot with magnificent views of the fort and the city proper.
Second on our list was the crown jewel to Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh Fort, founded in 1459. Here is a view from Jaswant Thada.
Considered the best preserved fort in India, it is located on a rocky hill that rises hundreds of feet above the surrounding plain. Seven gates have to be crossed to reach the main entrance and some of them still bear the marks of the various battles fought in the bygone era. It's second gate still stands witness to canon ball hits by attacking armies of Jaipur during wars. This was definitely the most impressive fort we've seen so far. There were palaces, temples, courtyards and million dollar views. One the newest additions is ziplining. Yes, you read that correctly. People can now zipline their way through the fort from tower to tower. Seemed liked a unique experience but we decided against it. Furthermore, the movie Dark Knight Rises filmed a few scenes inside the fort. Everything always relates back to Hollywood I guess.
My Grandma was a travel agent so when I was growing up, she would visit country after country after country. Each time, she would always bring me and my sister back a doll that represented the culture of that country. I had well over thirty of them at one point. Seeing this woman inside the fort making handmade dolls made me think of my Grandma and how much I truly miss her everyday. It really sucks not being able to pick up the phone and call her because no one would appreciate this journey I am on as much as her. When I was fifteen she took me to Bangkok, Thailand and that's what sparked my travel bug. From there on out, I was determined to see the world. Thanks for opening my eyes, Grams. I love you always and forever.
As we were in the fort, we saw three young school kids, all in matching uniforms. The two girls were both in pigtails yet all three of them had red socks, red sweaters and white bottoms. They were so adorable. It seemed as though the state of Rajasthan had a lot more children in school vs. out of school. Makes your heart smile to know that they are being educating on some level or another.
After we were forted out, we took a tuk tuk down to the Sardar Market, which lies directly in the city center. Narrow alleys suddenly dart into exotic bazaars selling anything from textiles, antiques and silverware to handicrafts, vegetables, spices and clothes. In the middle of the market is the Clock Tower, which is a century old landmark surrounded by the vibrant sounds, sights and smells of the various merchants.
Don't you just love this old school weight?
Or this young boy selling fruits and vegetables without shoes and fairly dirty feet?
Or this pasta filled with flies?
Or this woman's nose ring (literally a ring)?
We had read about the Mishrilal Hotel which is supposedly known for its "world famous" lassis. And of course, Vinny was eager to taste for himself. So he got two. One wasn't enough. I think he wanted to make sure they were consistent. Good thing he took one for the team.
We ended our six hours of sightseeing with a visit to Janta Sweet Home. When I first heard about this place, I envisioned it being a bakery. For those of you from the San Fernando Valley, I was secretly hoping it was Bea's Bakery's Indian cousin with Indian style cookies, doughnuts, pastries, etc. The one thing I miss most about home are the sweets (obviously second to my family and friends but we are talking edibles here - although I'm sure my loved ones taste like a warm chocolate soufflￃﾩ cafe with vanilla bean ice cream on top). Anyways, back to my story. Janta Sweet Home wasn't like Bea's Bakery in any way. I was mildly disappointment but got over it real quick. We ordered a Jodhpuri Mirchi Vada, which is a breaded and fried green pepper stuffed with potatoes and a Pyaaz ki Kachori, which is a crisp pastry with a spicy onion stuffing. Both were tasty.
For the rest of the evening, we laid low at Ratan Vilas - ate dinner outside by the campfire, met some wonderful people from around the world and enjoyed the peace and quiet our hotel offers after a long, tiresome day out in the city.
Until tomorrow, I hope your dreams are so dreamy they make you drool like I did...