There was lots of activity going on at our hotel yesterday as we prepared to check out – a BIG wedding ceremony would be taking place in the evening, and workers were all over the hotel and grounds getting decorations and all in place. Also, peacocks could be seen roaming the grounds. It was apparent the wedding was going to be quite a lavish affair.
We learned yesterday morning too that the hotel, the Taj Jai Mahal, was at one time an actual palace owned by the local ruling family! In fact, the royal family still owns the property and the Taj hotel group leases it (and renovated it) to use as a hotel.
Our first stop of the morning was the Jaipur City Palace, owned and currently lived in by members of the local royal family (the same family that owns the Jai Mahal property). A few of the buildings in the palace have been opened to the public, and a few operated as museums. The palace was yet another hidden gem – the outside wall gave no indication of the eye-popping splendor inside.
The second stop of the day, Jantar Mantar, the Jaipur observatory, was another surprise, and one of the most fascinating places we visited on our tour of India. Completed in 1734, the observatory was built by the Rajput king Sawal Jai Singh II, who had deep interests in astronomy, mathematics and astrology. The observatory houses the largest sundial in the world, still accurate to two seconds, and the entire observatory is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Beyond the sundial the observatory also houses several other astronomical and astrological structures, including twelve individual astrological instruments that were used to calculate individual horoscopes. Horoscopes remain important in Hindu culture – for example, according to Luke, each person has 36 astrological attributes based on the date, time and place of birth, and for a good Hindu marriage match a couple should share at least 18 of the attributes. Our little group hired a local astronomer to walk us through the observatory and explain it all. I found it fascinating, particularly the continuing accuracy of all the instruments considering they were built from stone and marble and without the help of technology nearly 300 years ago.
Our next stop of the day was lunch at a nearby hotel, where our group enjoyed butter chicken and lots of naan bread for our last meal together. After lunch we had planned to go visit the monkey temple complex, but Jaipur traffic got the better of us and we instead ended up going to the airport to check in for our flights. Phil and Amy were continuing on with Luke to visit Udiapur and Mumbai, while Brett and I were flying back to Delhi where we’d catch our late-night flight to Hong Kong.
Getting out of India turned out to be a lot more difficult and unpleasant than it had been getting in to the country. We had to pay overweight fees equaling $95 in Jaipur even though Luke tried to get them waived, but the airline would not budge. Also, our flight from Jaipur ended up departing nearly an hour late, and we learned on arrival in Delhi that although Indians are great about politely forming and standing in a queue before departure, it was no holds barred when it was time to get off the plane! We eventually were able to get off the plane, collect our suitcases and head up to check in for our flight to Hong Kong.
I don’t think we’ve ever been so glad that we had a long layover like the one we had in Delhi because airport security put us (and many others) through the wringer and with less time we would have missed our flight. I’ve never experienced anything like what we went through there and never hope to again. We followed the usual rules for taking out our laptops and tablets, etc. – there were no signs to tell us exactly what to do but we watched what others were doing and followed their example. After sending my backpack and other items through the x-ray, I walked through the scanner and was pulled aside for an additional check. I showed the female security guard my neck wallet that I use for my passport and credit cards and she took EVERYTHING out and went through each one of my credit cards and pieces of ID before returning them to me – crazy! Then I went to get my backpack and other things but for some reason security thought I had a knife in my purse (!) so I first had to empty that completely, and the “knife” turned out to be my keychain, made from the handle of an antique silver spoon. Then the security guys didn’t like what they saw in my backpack (I have no idea what they thought they saw), and they scanned it three times, ending up with taking everything out of my backpack and going through it all – jewelry, toiletries, medications, etc. Everything was left in a jumble in one of the plastic security bins for me to sort out. The guards were quite surly too, but eventually I got all my stuff together although it took a while to repack everything so that it all fit again into my backpack and purse. Needless to say, Brett got the same treatment. We left security feeling frazzled and beaten down only to discover we had a near 15-minute walk to our gate. We learned today via Luke that not only was yesterday a holiday in Delhi, but the city had received a threat from Al Qaeda right around the time we were going through security, so no one was taking any chances. Still, it was a miserable experience.
Our flight finally took off around midnight, an hour late, but we had a comfortable flight (although little sleep) and still managed to arrive on time in Hong Kong at 6:30 this morning. We collected our bags, got through immigration and then searched for an ATM to get some HK$ before heading to our hotel. Brett was completely exhausted and drained at that point, and not only did he miscalculate and withdraw way too much money, he also left (and lost) his debit card in the machine! So, the first thing he had to take care of after our hotel check-in was to contact our bank and freeze his card (he won’t be able to get a new one either until when we’re in Japan). Thank goodness I still have my card or we’d be in serious trouble right now.
Once we got that issue taken care of, our next step was to get our clothes sorted and sent to the laundry. There had been no time to get laundry done the last few days in India, and both Brett and I were running out of clean clothes. We were shocked though by the laundry bill that came back for five days worth of clothing for two people: $230 dollars (US, not Hong Kong)! That definitely was an unexpected expense, but we were in a tight spot as far as needing clean clothes. Lesson learned though – Hong Kong these days is EXPENSIVE.
Our hotel room is lovely and comfortable though, and we have a drop-dead view of the harbor and the Hong Kong skyline which is what we wanted here. We slept for around five hours today our of pure exhaustion, and had dinner this evening at the hotel coffee shop. Afterwards we went out and walked around for a bit to try to get ourselves oriented. Everything had looked very, very different and unrecognizable this morning coming in to town, but once we started walking around we recognized many familiar streets and shops and now know right where we are and how to get around. The city is gearing up for the biggest holiday of the year, the Lunar New Year (February 5) and fabulous decorations are already everywhere.
We only have four full days in Hong Kong and want to make the most of them. Tomorrow’s plan is to head over to the Hong Kong side of the harbor and ride the tram up to the Peak, and then hopefully eat roast goose for lunch as well as pick up some tasty egg custard tarts before riding the Star Ferry back to Kowloon. After that, who knows? It’s good to be back though.