Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Travel Tales: India, Day 3 in Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur

Clarks Shiraz has laid out a good breakfast spread. We enjoy a leisurely meal before checking out. It takes far too long but still, we are out by 9 am.

Our guide is ready and waiting to take us to Fatehpur Sikri. I am excited, this is my very favourite monument. As we drive, my mind wanders to a trip when I was 15 or so, many (many) years ago. We had reached late, and it was almost dusk by the time we came to the end of our tour, at the Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chisti. A golden haze covered the countryside. A flock of birds flew overhead, in perfect formation. In front of the Dargah, two musicians sang with their harmoniums. Their voices seemed to rise up to heaven, and then reflect back, all golden, flooding the fortress with wave after wave of beautiful sound. Was it the resonance from the fortress walls, I wonder now. Never before and never again have I heard anything quite so beautiful. Time had stood still for me that day. And here I am, returning to that very place.

We are there in about an hour. Fatehpur Sikri is still glorious. We enjoy our wander through the fort, while the guide gives us facts, and I regale the children with the stories I know about Akbar (a king I admire hugely) and his courtiers. We see the Pachisi (Chess) courtyard where the king used to play with dancing girls as pieces, the Diwan-e-Khas where Akbar presided over his court, Akbar's palace and the palaces of his Muslim, one Hindu and one Christian. Very impressive.

We are not dressed warmly enough. I have left our winter coats in the hotel in Delhi and I have only my shawl with me. The others have just one jumper each. Its not enough. I shiver.

We finally reach the Dargah. There are musicians there today as well...but there is no magic. Tourists mill around me, their chatter replacing the bird calls in my memory. I sit quietly on the steps, lost in old dreams, hearing the sounds of yesterday resonating around the walls. The magic, I realise, is not in the place but within my head.

As usual Maitu needs to find a toilet. There is a woman taking money outside the one here, so I have hopes of it being clean. We gingerly step in. It is terrible. Its amazing how such a simple thing like a clean toilet seems to be outside the grasp of the tourism authorities!!

The road to Jaipur is also terrible, full of pot holes. I see some road work going on though. My books recommends the Rajasthani Hotel in Mahua, which is on this road. We stop here for lunch. I have no clue why the book recommends it because the food is mediocre. But the toilets are clean :)

We reach Jaipur at 6pm. We are stuck in a traffic jam for quite a while. The Clarks Amer is quite nice, though nothing ethnic about it at all. The rooms are spotless and I am satisfied. The local agent comes to meet us and we make an appointment for the next morning's tour.

The driver recommends dining at Chokhi Dhani. Its a bit outside town. Made out like a typical Rajasthani village, it has street entertainers, display huts, handicraft displays, rides for children, street food, etc. Yes, tourist trap but still quite nice. Dinner is included in the entrance price of about Rs 200 per head. Its a vegetarian thali, mediocre.

We return to the hotel at about 10pm and the children and I call it a day while my dear man sits around in the bar imbibing liquids and getting his protein kick until the middle of the night.

Next : Day 4 in Jaipur

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