The taxi we rode in from the airport to our hotel in South Mumbai felt like it could literally fall apart any second. It was a thin piece of metal on wheels and kind of old-fashioned feeling. The driver drove crazy going in between other cars and around traffic through back streets etc. The city was really crowded with people covering every square inch of space.
We arrived at the JW Marriott and after the guards and dog checked the car and we walked through the metal detector, we got settled into our room. Since it was already the evening , we explored our hotel resort a bit, looking at the multiple restaurants and had dinner in the lounge where they had all kinds of complimentary finger foods and drinks. The hotel itself was sitting on the Juhu Beach, one of the most popular beaches in Mumbai which overlooks the Arabian Sea.
Our first full day in Mumbai, we jumped on a tuk-tuk and had it bring us to a main shopping area nearby. We spent some time there looking at the different shops and area. It was action-packed with a constant buzz of people going about their day. We noticed a ton of jewelry shops selling both costume jewelry and all kinds of gems. We had fun sitting down to see what they had but also being careful, because they can make fakes look real. There were also numerous food vendors on the streets but in India…it’s definitely a gamble to eat off the street and to us wasn’t worth the risk of being sick…we stuck to nice restaurants in this country.
Our last full day in India we hired a driver to take us down to Bombay which was a good hour from our hotel. The architecture was pretty modern looking like a typical city. We drove across the huge bridge admiring the skyline but noticing the very smoggy air around us. The driver took us past Gandhi’s house, and then through various parts of the city to get an overall view of Bombay before dropping us off at the Gateway of India. We told the driver to meet us at a certain place at a certain time and went off on our own to walk around for a bit. The gateway of India is a giant archway sitting right on the edge of the water…it is a major tourist attraction although there really isn’t so much to it. What was interesting while we were there was the fact that so many Indian people wanted to get pictures with us!! It must be what the stars feel like…people kept coming up one after the other asking if they could get a picture with us…we definitely got a kick out of it. We had people approach us in other places in India too but this was non-stop, we had to turn people down and walk away.
We walked around the area through the old stone streets…stopping in one of the top hotels to see the inside of it, as well as shopped around at various little stores…there again were many jewelry shops. It was like searching for treasure…the stores had drawers and drawers full of all kinds of jewels. We were hungry so went up a tiny stairway to a small restaurant which ended up having horrible service and pretty bad food. Our time was up after our early dinner…in fact we were late and needed to get going. Traffic was pretty bad driving back up to our hotel but the view was nice along the water where people were lying around in the sand.
We got back up to south Mumbai where we had time to eat some dinner and then took a taxi back to the airport. Our flight leaves India for South Africa tonight!!! India has been an experience, that’s for sure! We’ve seen many rats, lots of garbage and real poverty…but also amazing food, historical palaces and really cool handmade crafts/art. We did not get to see southern India and we didn’t get to experience the yogi/spiritual side of the country which would be a whole different thing…that said, we were glad we added India to our itinerary but were also happy to be leaving it behind.
We could have gone on a day trip to see some important sights right outside of Udaipur, but we decided to stay in the city where we could just enjoy being in one spot for the next couple days. We spent our time walking through different parts of the city…it was more of the same but different. We talked with some of the shop keepers about their goods including another pashmina shop. The guy claimed we didn’t get “real” shawls but that he had the “real” thing. He explained the difference and what to look for in a fake. He was super nice and spent a lot of time with us but we had already made our big purchase so had to disappoint him with no sale.
We also went back to Restaurant Ambrai for lunch which had bad service but good food and good views. Steamy chai tea, spicy food, pashmina scarves, miniature paintings and sparkling gems filled our days in Udaipur. In fact…there was a jewelry store right across from our hotel that we shopped in for a bit. They had a couple very large pieces of black star…one being over 100 carats and we bought it! And no…this is not like buying a 100 carat diamond…the price was very reasonable…it was in its raw form, no setting but it will be beautiful when we get it set! As Giff was negotiating price…the guy asked him to throw in his watch! We did so and got about $50 off the total price…bonus:) It was one of those rubber watches, the thin ones you can get in a sports store. They are about $10 and you can wear them while you do various athletics, many people were making comments about them…not just in India…weird.
With our goodies purchased and our bags packed…a taxi took us to the airport to catch our flight to Mumbai which is our last stop in India!
Today we took our leisurely time taking it all in and joining the hustle and bustle at the many shops in town. First we slept in, and then slowly got ready before even leaving the hotel…one of those days! We went into many stores but also did a lot of walking around allowing ourselves to get lost among the many streets. Gems are the big seller here in India so we started really getting into looking at the various shops for both jewelry, but also the actual large semi-precious stones themselves. The silver was weighed like it is in many other countries to determine the price but what stood out were the many various precious and semi-precious stones everywhere and they definitely like their gold! Tiger’s eye was everywhere since it is local to this country which we thought was very different looking.
After walking around all day , we had a tuk-tuk take us to Restaurant Ambrai which was right on the lake looking over Lake Palace (a Palace turned into a very expensive hotel) in the middle of the water. The restaurant was right outside of the city walls and was the perfect spot to view the sky line and the calming water as the sun set creating a pink glow. It seemed like such the perfect spot, we decided to order a bottle of wine along with a few dishes to get a good taste for the local cuisine. The appetizer was a starter platter with a little bit of everything and then we had a chicken dish in a curry-like sauce which was delicious to dip our naan bread in…
While we were eating and relaxing, we discussed whether or not to buy the pashmina…and decided we should! They would go for much more back home and we may as well get them from the source while we are here. We went back to the original pashmina store even though there are multiple vendors everywhere after our meal. We had him give his best offer and we made the purchase…hoping we weren’t being scammed which is a 50/50 shot here in Udaipur!
We went back to our hotel for the rest of the evening and took it easy until bedtime. Shopping and eating can take a lot out of you!
After breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel, we got in the cab with the driver who had brought us from the airport yesterday, he had set rates which seemed legitimate. We first stopped at a small garden which had a couple old fountains and courtyards to walk through. On our way out, a vendor sold us a memory card for our camera which ended up being a huge deal in comparison to the prices we pay in the US.
Our next stop was the City Palace of Udaipur. The driver drove through the cobblestone streets of the main village pointing out the various lakes which this city is known for and parked very near the main gate entrance. The area was very busy…tons of little shops with all kinds of crafts and people negotiating prices. There were many tuk-tuks whizzing back and forth in the small streets and of course cows walking around…not a big fan of the poop piles laying in the street where we walk!
As we were buying our tickets to tour the palace, we were approached by a local who spoke very good English, he wanted us to pay him to give us a personal tour. Giff really didn’t want to because many times the self-named guides are not so great…and also hard to understand, but this guy’s English was very clear and he seemed genuine. We decided to give him a chance…it was a cheap price and we will learn more from a local.
As we walked up the main gate entrance, we noticed there were three separate walkways which led into the main courtyard, all big enough to fit an elephant which is what they used in war back then. The guide immediately pointed to an area to the right where they use to have elephant tug of wars for entertainment, as well as where the elephants were kept. He showed the thick metal hooks in the ground where they were chained. The City Palace complex is made up of 11 palaces created by various rulers over the years but all in similar styles. They are made of granite and marble and consist of European, Chinese and Medieval architecture. There are multiple courtyards, pavilions, terraces, rooms, gardens etc all with their own beautiful details such as mirror/tile work, unique paintings, antique furniture, porcelain and crystal figures, the well-known and popular miniature art and views of the entire city with its mountains and lakes surrounding the palace.
We took our time with the guide who explained all kinds of things we would not have known if we were on our own. The hallways and entrances to rooms were narrow and short not because the people were short but actually strategically designed so if the enemy got through the gates…they could not come running into the rooms. Also, people had to bow their heads coming into the King’s room…these short entrances made one duck their head.
There was also lattice-work like we had seen in other palaces for the women to be able to watch what was going on without being seen, this palace had a women’s chamber as well. It was very interesting to listen to the stories as the tour guide would tell us about the paintings on the walls. He also pointed out the large sun-god statue made of gold which they prayed to daily.
We were very happy we decided to pay for the guided tour…the self-guided tours are informative but you can’t ask questions the way you can with a local. It was also nice to have him take some pictures of us throughout the complex. As we were finishing up…he said we should also stop by the shops inside the palace walls…it only had a few and those few had to be certified by the government to sell their goods. We agreed to check it out so first started with the scarves vendor. He had us sit down and gave us a cup of hot chai to sip on as he taught us about pashmina scarves and how they are made. He had videos showing the local people making them by hand and explained how the dyes are all natural. He even had a picture of the actual goat where the material comes from. These goats live in extremely brutal weather up in the mountains and therefore have a very special coat to keep them warm. As they get rid of that coat…they leave balls of their fur on the thorny bushes which are then collected and turned into clothing. There are only a certain amount of these goats and a certain amount of locals who know how to turn those strands of hair into a beautiful scarf which takes months to complete. The prices can therefore be crazy…but are top quality. He had us feel various scarves/shawls noting which ones had a mix of materials making them cheaper than the 100% pashmina wool. He spent a lot of time with us and taught us a lot, but we didn’t buy from him because we knew his prices were probably much higher being within the palace walls for tourists.
The next vendor had some tailor-made clothing which we walked right past…we had already done that in Vietnam. The last vendor had all kinds of their famous miniature paintings. One of the artists was there making one as we watched. These paintings are very unique to India and specifically Udaipur, a tradition dating back to 6-7 century AD. The best work has the most detail…it takes the longest to create, every detail is painted…feathers on a bird, buttons on a shirt etc. The paintings are tiny and the paintbrush used has sometimes only a single hair from a squirrels tail. The real ones use all natural colors to paint…minerals, vegetables, precious stones, pure gold and silver. There are many new “artists” creating these look-alike pieces…but one can easily tell a good piece from a fake. A magnifying glass needs to be used for the really good ones to see each and every detail clearly. The scenes painted are traditionally from Rajput or Mughal history and legends. We looked at a few pieces and asked if we gave them a picture of ourselves with a specific background could they paint it into a miniature painting. They said yes and we exchanged email addresses for a possible future sale. Giff and I were thinking one of the Machu Picchu pictures would be really cool in this miniature art form.
We paid our tour guide and thanked him for his time. We walked back outside of the Palace Gate and found ourselves in the middle of town. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking in little shops as we bartered for better prices and admired some of the old architecture amongst the chaos. We walked up the steps of one of the temples taking pictures and peeking in as much as we could without having to take our shoes off to go inside. It was chilly outside and many people were wearing their locally made shawls over their head. As we were walking, we were approached by someone who chatted with us for a bit and then asked us to follow him to his school of art where both “master” artists and students had their work on display. We hesitatingly agreed and followed him down a street and into a small alley where a big sign read, “School of Art”. We walked up the steps and into a small room where several learning students were sitting on the floor painting with natural colors. The guy showed us how the paints were made and had us peer over the shoulders of these artists to see what they were creating. He then walked us into a tiny room full of miniature paintings…they seemed pricey and ranged in quality. Some had a lot of details and others were really just paintings. We purchased a small piece highlighted with real silver and had three animals on it symbolizing love, strength and luck.
The guy who had brought us into the art school also asked us to follow him to a pashmina shop for “real” pashmina…we told him we needed to get going but would stop in for a couple of minutes (are we suckers or what?). The shop was small and full to the ceiling with scarves/shawls of all sorts. The shop owner talked with us a bit about the differences and pulled out some of their 100% pashmina…their top quality. The scarves were delicate but super warm and extremely soft. We said we needed to think about it but that we would be in town for a few days…these were not your typical shawl…they were expensive even in US terms.
We left the shop and walked back to find our driver who was patiently waiting for us. We got in the car and he pointed to a shop which he said was his friend and had the “real” miniature paintings in Udaipur. We had been shopping and were ready to find some food but since the driver waited all day for us…decided it couldn’t hurt to go look. The driver seemed genuine and really wasn’t pushing us as much as giving us an insider tip. We got back out of the car and walked into the shop packed with paintings. There were various levels of quality and as we looked around…the owner saw that we really were only interested in the good stuff. He went into a special drawer, turned on a light and got out a huge magnifying glass. We sat down and he showed us a couple really amazing pieces…one was smaller than the other but both had so much detail…the magnifying glass really brought the painting to life, we hadn’t seen anything like this Both pieces were made by an old-school artist who is older now no longer making these pieces as it takes a lot of focus and a lot of time. These use to be made on ivory but since ivory is now illegal, they use a mix of bone and plastic to create a hard smooth texture. Giff and I were both impressed by this piece and could tell the shop owner got really excited to share it with us…then we started to talk price. Giff is the pro-negotiator and I sat back and watched him at work…he got him to go down about 50% and then the owner said no more…he was willing to let us go. We decided to do it, it will be a really cool genuine piece to have in our home. We paid him, he carefully wrapped it up and we were on our way.
We had a long day and were happy to get back to our palace hotel. We decided to order room service while we watched TV to unwind. We ate until we were way too full…the food in India is really flavorful and delicious!
The Pink city otherwise known as Jaipur is pink because when the Prince of Whales was coming to visit in 1853…all the buildings were painted pink to welcome him. Today we started our day at the City Palace complex which is in the middle of the city and holds several buildings within its walls including a museum, shops, palaces, gardens, pavilions etc. It was where Royalty ruled from as far back as 1727 and still houses royalty today.
We bought the self-guided tour headsets and leisurely walked the grounds going in and out of the various buildings. The museum held clothing, carpets, manuscripts and other items belonging to royalty. One of the buildings was a chamber full of artwork including miniature paintings. There were embroidered rugs and and richly decorated ceilings to stare at while wandering through the building. One of the other museums held all kinds of weapons…swords, guns, daggers etc. which were inlaid with special stones and jewels. The complex had a lot to see and we enjoyed admiring the very specific carvings and various details found in the walls of each building.
On our way out of the City Palace, we saw a snake charmer sitting on the ground with a cobra. We had heard snake charmers could be found in this city but hadn’t seen one until now. They are considered illegal in India so we were excited to run into him. We took turns sitting next to the charmer and freaking out when the snake lashed out. And yes…we got both on video and picture, we don’t exactly see these everyday.
Since we leave tonight for Udaipur (threw out our train tickets and bought plane tickets) we wanted to spend some time walking the streets of Jaipur. There were so many people and so much traffic but we managed to cross the streets without getting hit by cows or cars! The streets were lined with shops…people selling all sorts of goods. We bought a couple of pairs of camel leather sandals for only about $4 each. We also bought a couple scarves from a guy who told us what we had purchased in Delhi was fake, but that his were real…
We continued walking down the alleyways while people watching everywhere we went. The buzz of the city which is the capital of Rajasthan (India’s largest state) was one of constant energy. We took several pictures of the locals…classic Indian people going about their busy day. One of the pink buildings in town also stuck out to us, the Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds. It was a huge pink sandstone building with over a 1000 small windows creating quite a breeze to the palace, it was five stories tall and dated back to 1799.
After spending some time in the crazy streets, we realized we needed to find out how to get back to our hotel to get to the airport. We found a tuk-tuk which we jumped into but the guy spoke little English and was moving slow…we needed him to move fast so paid him and looked for another one. After some walking around, we found a guy who knew the way to our place and did a good job of getting us to the Marriott safely and quickly.
We checked out of the hotel and got our things into a cab which got us to the airport in time for our 5:40PM flight to Udaipur. By the time we arrived, and got to our hotel…it was time for dinner and bed. The hotel was called the Chunda Palace (www.chundapalace.com). It took them 16 years to build, the walls were hand-painted and it had bone inlay artwork. The architecture was a very typical Rajasthan Palace style. We got checked in and saw our room was huge…and the bathroom made of all marble. We went straight upstairs to their terrace restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was on the rooftop overlooking the Pichola Lake and was very peaceful. It was chilly out so they brought us our own fire to keep warm. We ordered a few things on the menu and then moved to the inside of the restaurant. It was tempting to stay outside and enjoy the view but it was too cold to be comfortable.
Dinner was good and it was nice to un-wind in our very own palace before going back to our huge room for the evening.