I can now cross riding an elephant off of my bucket list. Not that it was ever on my bucket list, but it’s been accomplished.
Elephants are one of two ways to get up the front of the hill to the Amer Fort outside of Jaipur – the other is walking, and it’s a very l-o-n-g walk (cars can go around the back, but it’s a traffic nightmare there). However, the elephants are only available in the morning, and under the law they are only allowed to make four round trips up and back. The ride up takes about 15-20 minutes, and rather than feeling bumpy it was more of a rolling ride, from side to side, or in our case because we were sitting to the side, front to back. Our elephant was a rescue, and was 32 years old – if you said “good morning” she would call back! A few times thought it felt as if I was going to be tossed right off over the wall and down the cliff, very scary if you’re afraid of heights like I am. But in the end I survived, had a good ride, and have another story to tell my grandchildren.
The Amer fort was another site where the outside walls gave no indication of the splendors inside. Built in 1592 the fort contains the Amber Palace, which is divided into three parts, and filled with beautiful carvings and paintings. The palace itself is divided into three sections: one for the maharaja, one for his primary wife, and one for the maharaja’s concubines and dancing women.
Our elephants arrived in the huge grand courtyard outside the maharaja’s and men’s section of the fort. From there we entered an ornately painted gateway into the primary wife’s palace, which was made from white marble and opulently decorated. One section of her palace was known as the “Glass Palace” because all the walls and ceilings are decorated with mirrored glass, either as full mirrors or small bits of mosaic tile. The rooms were exquisitely beautiful, and it was easy to imagine how they must have sparkled from the lights at night. The third section of the palace, although not as opulent as the primary wife’s quarters, still contained beautiful paintings, and the women who lived in this section apparently each had their own room.
We left the palace and fort and walked about halfway down the hill where a jeep picked us up to take us the rest of the way down to our van. We then set off on a long drive through the countryside to our lunch destination: Samode palace, former home of members of the local royal family. The area seemed mostly dry and dusty (the hills reminded me of the ones in eastern San Diego county), but as we got nearer to the palace more and more green fields appeared, filled with rice, wheat or leafy green vegetables. We learned the royal family still owns a great deal of farm land in the area.
The palace was like a little hidden gem in the countryside, accessed through an old village. A few members of the royal family still live in the palace, but these days it operates as a boutique hotel and a popular wedding site. It is also sometimes used as a setting in Bollywood films. The palace’s restaurant is renowned and we enjoyed a wonderful buffet lunch in a dining room dripping with giant chandeliers and decorated in gold. Afterwards we toured the palace grounds and were able to watch a bit as they were transformed for a wedding taking place that evening.
The palace was a long drive outside of Jaipur, but we made good time on our way back and headed for our last stop of the day: A Rajasthani textile center. We were again met with cool drinks, and shown a variety of beautiful rugs, much more varied than the ones we had seen the other day. The prices were also better as well. Amy and Phil bought another small rug, but I was more interested in seeing the textiles upstairs.
I had seen a lovely reversible cotton quilted jacket in Delhi and was told it was from Rajasthan, so that’s what I hoped to find and purchase. The center did have the jackets, in a wonderful variety of colors, but when I tried them on I was less than impressed – they turned out to be one of those things that looked good on others but not on me. None of the scarves I looked at interested me either. And then one of the workers walked out with a beautiful black and cream long wool jacket and said, “try this one.” It went on easily and fit well, and I actually gasped when I saw myself – it “sparked joy.” Brett, Amy, Phil, and Luke all gasped as well when I walked out, and I knew then the jacket was The One. Amy liked it so much that she bought another one for herself in a beautiful red wool design. After we had purchased our jackets we learned that the wool fabric for each one is one-of-a kind so each jacket is an “original.”
And then it was back to our hotel to relax and get ready for our last day in India. After checking out from our wonderful hotel this morning we will be visiting a monument and the “monkey temple” complex, a Hindu pilgrimage site, followed by lunch. Afterwards we will all head over to the Jaipur airport for our return to Delhi (Amy and Phil will be flying with Luke to Mumbai) where we’ll catch our late-night flight to Hong Kong.
I almost cannot believe our wonderful tour will be ending today – it’s been the experience of a lifetime!