Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Birthdays in the Golden Triangle

This past weekend, we celebrated the birthdays of our daughters in grand style. We got a car and driver (no way that Aviva or I are attempting to drive in India) to take us from Delhi to Jaipur and Agra. This is sometimes called the Golden Triangle... and it is definitely the "Tourist Triangle" of India.

We are here during the off-season. After a day in the heat of the desert or downpour of the monsoon, it is easy to see why most would choose to come in fall or winter. Still, there were tens of thousands of people at the sites of these two cities. They were probably 5% foreign tourists and 95% Indians.

Mr. Javed Ali owns 14 cars and minivans that take tour groups all across India (www.realtoursindia.com). He was a wonderful driver and host to our adventure, arranging our hotel in Jaipur, restaurants along the way and reliable tour guides at places of interest.  He even got birthday cakes for our girls.

Jaipur was planned and built by Maharaja Jai Singh II (1693-1743) when his former capital city, Amber, became too crowded. In a model of urban planning, he divided the area within the walled city into rectangular blocks, each specializing in a particular craft or industry, which followed the architectural forms detailed in the Silpa Shastra, an ancient Hindu text written in the 4th to 2nd centuries BCE. The city within the walls is still generally organized in this manner, which is extraordinary given that only about a dozen modern Indian urban areas today have master plans, according to one developer I spoke with.

Jaipur is called the Pink City because Maharaja Ram Singh had the old city painted pink to welcome King Edward VII in 1876. It remains a soft pink color today. And the line of the Jaipur kings remains alive too. Although only a ceremonial role in this democratic nation, the maharaja is loved by the people. As we learned from our patient and well-informed guide, Sanjay, the last maharaja died three months ago and his 13-year old grandson was crowned.

On Leora's 8th birthday, we saw all the sites of Jaipur - Wind Palace, Water Palace, City Palace - plus visited a local village-cooperative fabric store, where I had a suit and shirts tailored for me at a bargain price, and a gem shop, where the ladies in the family bought some beautiful and (relatively) inexpensive jewelry. The pool at our heritage hotel (www.hotelbharatmahalpalace.com) was a wonderful end to a hot day.

The highlight of the day was riding an elephant up to the Amber Fort. Although it lumbered and lurched, we made it up the hill.


On Ilana's 10th birthday, we drove to Agra and visited the Taj Mahal. This is a highlight of, not just India, but surely the world! A deserved entry into the Seven Wonders of the World, this monument to love must be the single most visited site on the subcontinent. On the day we were there, we were approached, sometimes in rough and demanding and sometimes in polite and gracious ways, by no less that a hundred Indians who wanted to have their pictures taken with our beautiful girls adorned in traditional Rajistani outfits.

The Taj Mahal is the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan's memorial to his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. It took 20,000 craftsmen over 22 years to complete this masterpiece. The white marble which is inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones is a wonder to behold. It reminded me how much I love my wife!!!

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