Tag Archives: jaipur

Buyer Beware…….

You might remember that I had two friends come visit from the United States in February. We had an amazing time and traveled through quite a bit of India. One of the places we visited was Jaipur. One of the things you are “supposed” to do when you visit Jaipur is go jewelry shopping.

So, we went to the historical sites first – then on the the sparkly stuff. We eeeew’d and awwww’d and tried on lots of fabulous jewelry. We joked how marvelous we would look in this piece or that piece. We tried on necklaces that cost more than a car and we laughed.

We also bought some jewelry. Yep, you know exactly where this is going. Downhill fast.

I want to be careful here not to say that we were not completely swindled. We were taken advantage of – no doubt. But to be honest, my friends trusted me to take them to a reputable place and then we all trusted that we weren’t totally being taken. When we handed over our credit cards, we did it willingly and after negotiating much better prices than we were originally quoted. We even got some free gifts – and yes, that should have been our very first of several warning signs.

The jeweler we met was charming and I am sure he saw us coming a kilometer away – we looked just like tourists straight off the elephant ride and I am sure he smelt rupees. He was patient and explained everything to us. He joked with us and, oddly enough, it turns out  he way over charged us. And like I said, we were happy to pay him because we foolishly trusted him.

Our first mistake was listening to me. I trusted someone with a jewelry referral who has done well by me in the past. But I should have gotten several names and we should have absolutely gone to more than one shop. And my friends and I don’t k.n.o.w. jewelry. Sure we know what we like and we know our price (breaking) points – but we didn’t really understand how the two coincided. That is what we call a big fat recipe for disaster.

So we bought jewelry. And a decent amount of it.

In fact, this ring was so fab that I decided to bring it home. I planned to wait on the bracelet and get it for a special occasion – perhaps my funeral when my hubby learned the full details of the story or my friends realized how badly I misdirected them.

I know, it is pretty, huh?

When we returned to Delhi and spread out our sparklees, my friend noticed that the ring she bought for her daughter was slightly off center. So, we called our guy. No problem. He had a friend traveling to Jaipur the next day and we could just give it to him and the jeweler would fix it and, yes, he would make sure we got it back in time for my friend to return to America with it in hand. Just as charming as we remembered. Promises, promises.

We were slightly concerned about giving this total stranger a pretty expensive ring and were having a hard time believing that it would actually end up at the jeweler in Jaipur. But we were armed with the knowledge that we paid with credit cards and had some protection. That turned out to be about the only thing we did right – pay with credit cards.

That same night we went to a party. My friend was standing with her new bracelet on her arm and it simply broke in 3 places. Nope, she didn’t bang it against a wall – and no, a kid on a skateboard didn’t rip it off her arm while scooting by – and no,  monkeys didn’t fly out of the sky and try to steal it – it just simply fell to the ground in 3 places. She had been wearing it for all of two hours.

That was also not a good sign.

So I called the jeweler and explained that we were not happy. No problem. He would gladly fix it. We asked what would happen if my friend wanted to simply return the bracelet – now that we are none too sure about the quality. We were starting to second guess ourselves about 2 days too late. “Oh,” he said, “that would take about 15 days.” When we explained that was not the right answer because my friend was leaving in less than a week, he simply replied, “that is how it works here. Fifteen days. Or I could bring you cash.”

Holy sapphire Batman.

I had never purchased a large item on a credit card in India and I had not returned anything. So, I didn’t know if this guy was pulling a (nother) fast one or if that was just the way it worked.

There is a jeweler that a lot of expats use in Delhi and I suggested we give him a visit. While there, we asked about the value of our remaining items. The Delhi jeweler (who is well known and well trusted) said that some of the pieces we had he would not even buy – no matter how low the price. It turns out they were hollow and not solid gold/silver pieces – that apparently lowers the value s.i.g.n.i.f.i.c.a.n.t.l.y. hmpf.

So, just for giggles, we asked him to tell us what he would have paid, if he had been so foolish to buy them. None of the pieces appraised at even fifty percent of what we paid.

Yep, I know there is a double sided game going on – if we return the jewelry to jeweler A, we might just have some rupees to spend at jeweler B. But the appraisals were so far off from the prices that we paid. We felt sick to our stomachs and really angry. And of course, I felt the worst of all.

We also asked the Delhi jeweler what would happen if we paid by credit card and decided to return something. That part of the story actually checked out. It appears that it takes about 2 weeks in India to get a credit back on a return. Yikes. Yeah that would have been good to know as well.

(Just a side note – This makes jewelry shopping in India pretty fun though – because the jewelers will let you take pieces home and think about them without paying for them yet. They don’t like dealing with the hassle of returns, so they want you to be sure you like it. And even if a few months after purchasing something, you decide it’s not for you, you can just bring it back and exchange it.)

We left the Delhi jeweler after learning lots and trying on more fun stuff – shhh, don’t tell hubby that part. And we called the Jaipur jeweler. I firmly explained that this was no way to do business with Americans and that I would truly understand if the items were valued 20 or even 30 percent less what we paid – after all, prices are somewhat subjective. But, one piece appraised at 10 percent of what my friend paid. I was shaking. I was furious. And I told him so.

He tried to explain that the price of jewelry is in the eye of the beholder and I further explained that the eyes of these beholders were steaming mad. He (wisely) offered to bring cash to Delhi the next day and pick up the jewelry. Excuse me? You will do what? Okay then. So we set up a time and crossed our ever-loving, ring-encrusted fingers. We laughed that if he offered to reduce the price, we might just keep the jewelry. We did love it after all.

Hubby – ever the pessimist – could not believe that this guy was really going to show up. Now it’s a funny story – but then – hubby was none too amused. My friends had the luxury of having their husbands in the U.S . – 8,000 miles away – and not knowing all the details. Me, I had Mr. Pessimist in all his glory. Not that he didn’t have reason to be doubtful. It didn’t sound or look good.

But half an hour early – God Bless him – that jeweler pulled up in front of the house. He had American $100 bills and he returned our money and took the jewelry back with him. He did not even offer to reduce the prices. I think it was fair to say that he was as done with us as we were with him. It was a pleasant enough exchange that ended with us both agreeing that we simply weren’t meant to do business together.

After he walked out the door and we all started breathing again, my friend looked up and said, “any chance these are counterfeit”?

“Only one way to find out,” I said and we marched ourselves right back to the jeweler in Delhi and bought some replacement pieces.

I guess it really is hard to teach an old mom new tricks. 😉

Girlfriend’s Guide to Jaipur……………

I wrote a Girlfriend’s Guide to the Taj Mahal and you seemed to like it – so I will do the same for Jaipur. If you would just like to read about our trip, you will find day one here and day two here.

The Essentials:

You will want toilet paper, diaper wipes, Purell, comfortable walking shoes, and capri pants for your journeys. And Dramamine – plus an empty bowl for the car (that is just in case the Dramamine does not work and you are stuck in traffic). I stick by that. And I am going to add bottled water and many,  many recognizable snacks. You can buy soda pretty much anywhere – not always the diet variety – but a regular Coke won’t kill you every now and then. And caffeine is caffeine. To be fair, you can buy water just about anywhere too – but just be sure you hear that familiar click when YOU unscrew the bottle. And just say no to ice.

Peppermints or other hard candies are great to have in the car, too. Peppermints are especially good because they can sooth an upset tummy. That’s called a two-fer. When your children claim that, yes, in fact, they just might actually die from thirst unless they get a drink at this very moment – and you are not sure where the next European bathroom might be – you can give them a candy. Peace ensues and all will be right with the world of thirst. You’ll want to pace yourself – the European bathrooms are few and far between. Unless you have boys, then they can just go anywhere – yep, pretty much anywhere.

Eating out:

Think “you say tomato, I say tomahto” on the experience of eating out – pizza in the hotel restaurant may not be the pizza you (and your kids expect). There will a lot of things that are not recognizable. Which is really great if you have adventurous eaters – enter Bear, Flower, and Angel – quite possibly the most unadventurous eaters on the planet. They are still very confused as to why the McDonalds in India do not serve chicken nuggets – just sandwiches. Rome wasn’t built in a day – be thankful for the fries and move on.

We ordered Pizza Hut (yes real Pizza Hut) for dinner – I know you can shake your head in shame – go ahead, I’ll wait – but hungry children are not happy children. Happy children make traveling much more enjoyable. Sign me up for more enjoyable travels. Two large pizzas and four 7-ups cost about $12. They were delivered to the room and I got to stay in my pjs- priceless.

Buffets seem to be a good way for my family to experience eating out in unchartered waters. There are many options and some are recognizable. Sometimes you might pay $10 for your daughter to eat a plate of rice – but it is a plateful of rice she will recognize – and therefore, probably, eat. YEAH! With a buffet, you can at least see what will be on your plate before you order it. Brillant. We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel and they had pancakes, fruit, made to order omelets (be careful here – green chilis can look like green peppers if they are sliced thin enough), toast, and some cereals. Of course, they had some things that were very different than what we are used to – steamed broccoli, green beans, baked beans, cooked tomatoes – but a lot of good choices. I had broccoli for breakfast for the first time in my life.

Change/Small Bills:

Whenever you travel in India, make sure you have small bills with you. Some of the people you will pay for things are not thrilled with coins – not that they won’t take them – they will – but better to see smiles than frowns. They seem to  prefer paper. For example, if you want to take a picture of someone, you might give them 10 rupees for their smile. It’s a nice gesture and doesn’t cost you much. I suggested to my dear sweet husband that perhaps we should ask the hotel for some smaller bills (the ATM machines we have visited give you 500 rupees at a time). He did not agree – but I won’t go there – suffice it to say that you will want some bills with 100, 50, 20, and 10 rupees on the face of them. Then everyone can smile.

Snake Charmer:

When he was done, we paid the snake charmer 20 rupees (see you do need smaller bills – sorry, I wasn’t going to go there). He asked for 200 rupees. Our guide laughed, number one hubby laughed, the man sitting on the bench watching it all transpire laughed. I reminded them all that the snake charmer had cobras – real live cobras. Walk away slowly and backwards. I personally think that if you choose snake charming as your profession, being alive at the end of the day is its own reward. But, who am I to say. We left him with 20 rupees and his life. We paid after the performance. That seems to be the way to go here – for the most part, pay when they are done. He did not send the snakes after us.

They do milk the snakes each day so that their poison is used up for the day. I still do not have a picture of myself charming the snake. I will save my charms for adventures that are not life threatening. But, yes, I did let my children do it – okay, logic does not always prevail here.

Elephant Ride:

570 rupees per elephant (about $11) to ride to the Amber Fort – for this you pay for the ride when you get on the elephant – but save the tip until the end of the ride. We were told that in the city of Jaipur we could ride an elephant for 50 rupees – away from the main tourist attractions – yes that is a big difference – but we chose to ride one to the Amber Fort. I would actually recommend riding the elephants to the fort. The route that cars take is a road that is narrow and small and harrowing. You will get to experience the narrow, harrowing road on the way down from the fort because you can only ride the elephants up to the fort. This will make perfect sense when you see how steep the ride down is – it would be hard to remain balanced on the elephants when they are walking down it.

Two people can fit on each elephant (three if two of the people are little people) and the driver will expect a tip. We gave him 100 rupees. He asked for his money before he let us off the elephant. I had it ready – but it might not be good to let it be visible to the driver before you are ready to get off the elephant. Our driver talked about money the whole way up. His English was hard for me to understand. I have know idea what I did or did not agree to. But he let us off the elephant without too much argument. You can take bananas with you and feed the elephant when your ride is over. Yes, I wish I had known that. When will my kids get another chance to feed an elephant? Prepare your children (and yourself) for the fact that the drivers will  hit the elephants hard – very hard – with sticks – big sticks. Many of the elephants have raw spots on their ears.

Restrooms:

First, use the restroom in your hotel before you leave the hotel. Don’t have high expectations for soft toilet paper.

But, there is a lovely restroom at the Amber fort – it costs 5 rupees per person. (Yes, you did the math correctly – that is about 10 cents). It is clean – very clean – and there is a European style toilet (that means you can sit on it or over it whichever you choose) and toilet paper and running water and even soap. Whoa Nellie. I might just move in here. It is the heaven of all things bathroom. It is the nicest bathroom I have seen in India. Pay the 10 cents – even if you don’t need to go – you’ll just want to visit. There is a girl who will give you a paper towel when you are done drying your hands. I gave her 10 rupees. I know – big spender – that was about 20 cents. Very generous I am.

This bathroom is so great you could wear a skirt or long pants here. Although I still would not recommend them for the rest of your journey. Capris really are the way for women to go.

Shopping After Sight-seeing:

Okay, I have figured something out – I might be a little slow on the uptake – but I have got it now. The guide that we paid to show us the city was well worth the 500 rupees per day that we paid him. But he must get commission to take us to certain shops. Souvenir shops. I do not want to bring home souvenirs to my friends and family – I want authentic Indian items that I can buy in the markets – not in an air conditioned store with wide aisles and 5,000 salesmen. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating – it might have only been 3,000 salesmen – but it was way too many.  These shops are honestly fine if you do not have a lot of time. There are a lot of different things, they are clean, you can and should bargain, and blah, blah, blah. But we had time. I wanted to really shop – in markets. I have not seen a lot of clothing items in these types of markets either – so if you are looking for clothing be very specific with your guide that you want clothing – if he says “textiles”, repeat yourself. Clothing. Textiles seems to mean carpets and linens.

I am rethinking my earlier statement that you should not buy from the vendors at the various sites. The motivation of the guide was not, I think, to keep us unbothered but to protect his commission. I saw lovely things for sale at the Amber fort – specifically puppets. There was a puppet store that I asked our guide to take us back to – he did not take us there – but to a tourist market. We were so angry that we let him go for the day.

Peddlers at the Amber Fort

The peddlers we saw at the Amber Fort were the most “in your face” we have seen. As I think back on the day, I do not remember going through a security check point – so maybe this is why. Anyone can enter the courtyard area without a ticket. But we just continued to say nay. Twelve or so times. And then they pretty much left us alone.

Pictures:

My children were asked many times if they would take a picture with someone. I always said no. It made my children uncomfortable – and me too. So, no it is. Our guide handled most of this for us. However, this does present quite a double standard. I think the Indian people are beautiful and want to take pictures of them. So call me a hypocrite. I am fine with that. If it is a poor person, I give them a little bit to thank them for their troubles.

Guides:

I have said this before and I will say it again – the guides speak English very well but is often heavily accented. So, it really does pay to do a little research before you go somewhere – then you will recognize names and places they are saying – this is very helpful! Our experience with guides was very different in Jaipur than it was in Agra. We were very happy with our guide in Agra – not so much with either guide in Jaipur. Although the first day was much better than the second. We are partly to blame for this. We did not do enough research about exactly what it was we wanted to see and we did not insist on seeing the one thing we really wanted to see – the Monkey Temple – we let ourselves get too easily talked out of it. Shame on us – lesson learned.

The guide each day was 500 rupees ($10). We tipped the guide the first day well – the second day, we did not tip so well. As I said earlier, it seems that the guides make their real money on the commission they get from the shops they take you to. So make it clear whether or not you want to shop in those stores and if not, consider giving the guide a little bit more of a tip – if you are happy with the service you received.

Temples:

We have not been to a temple yet – but we hope to do that soon. One thing I have learned about visiting temples is that women should always be prepared to cover their heads. It is also a good idea to carry a bag with you large enough to carry your shoes in. This is probably obvious to most – but just in case – photography might not be allowed either. If you are fortunate enough to be able to participate in any kind of ceremony at a temple, remember to receive items in your right hand with your left hand underneath your right.

Overall Jaipur is definitely worth a visit. It is a exquisite city with rich with history and culture. We will absolutely go back.

Jaipur – The Amber Fort…………..

Day Two of our adventure to Jaipur – the Pink City. If you have not read about day one – you can do that here.

Enter Day Two.

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This is called the Water Palace. Can you guess why? Yes, four of its stories are under water. We were told the only way to visit it was to swim across the (very dirty) water. We chose to take pictures from the road. I may be willing to move to India – but I do have my limits.

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This must a guard tower – or something. It looked pretty cool whatever it is.

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If you look closely at this picture, on the hill, you will see the wall of the really big fence that surrounds the Amber (or Amer) Fort. I guess if Legos and Lincoln Logs have not been invented yet, your imagination can run wild. It is hard to explain just how steep that hill is or how amazing this wall is. Maybe you should come visit and we’ll take you to it.

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And finally the elephant ride. Angel has been asking since before we left the U.S. if she could ride an elephant. Ride she did. It made her nervous and she doesn’t need to do it again anytime soon. But I feel good knowing I helped her check something off of her bucket list. Tomorrow I am going to post my Girlfriend’s Guide to Jaipur – if you plan to ride the elephants at Amber Fort, you’ll want to read it for sure.

The cost per elephant is 570 rupees (about $11).

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This man will try to sell you a blanket with elephants on it on your ride up to the fort. Hey mister, I am not going to actually buy it – but could you look over here and maybe smile -could you hold it a little more to the left – that’s it – I have a blog  – you and your pretty blanket are going to be on it. Lucky you.

The cost to get in the Fort is 150 rupees for anyone over 7 years old. Well that is any foreign visitor over 7 years old. Non-foreign visitors are 25 rupees or 10 rupees. We did not try to pretend to be non-foreign. It was as plain as the noses on our faces that were are not Indian.

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This was in the main courtyard. If I understood our guide correctly they were either filming a movie here or they do occasionally film movies here. Either way – at some point in time movies might be filmed here. And nope, they did not ask me to appear in a cameo. Dang.

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This was the entrance to the residence area. One poor king who once lived here only had two wives. Another had twelve. I will ask you to remember that I am biting my tongue on this issue. I did not make up the rules and I am (very) glad I did not have to live by them.

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Ganesha is everywhere.

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This is the palace of mirrors. The king with only two wives lived here with a wife on either side. Note to the readers of the male persuasion – if you limit your time to just one woman – you will have more to spend on her palace. The living accommodations for the king with twelve wives – not quite the same.

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I took this picture.

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My husband thought maybe he should take one too. Oh yes, I do see how much better it is. Must I point out that the picture above (the one I took) captured the full border of the panel? I think not. Whatever.

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Then we went to see a concert called Mehfil within the fort. I loved it – Bear, Angel, Flower – not so much. But sometimes it’s fun to torture your children with culture. I highly recommend it. Number One Hubby did not fall asleep – you can take that as a good sign. It was 100 rupees per person ($2). No discount for kids. And it only lasted 20 minutes.

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And they had dancers at the concert too. Flower liked the one in the yellow dress the best.

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And the doors, oh the doors – they are amazing and fabulous.

We learned that Tulsi (a form of basil) is special in India.

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This is a bathtub. Okay – I have bitten a hole in my tongue. But enough already. If you are going to have 12 wives, give them a place to bathe with perhaps a curtain – a faucet. Something. If I stood in this hole it would be about as deep as my shoulders are tall. Still – privacy please. And pssst – come here – shhhh – this is not the guide I would recommend. Don’t tell. And – yes, totally unrelated – but seriously – how do you like my shirt? I will tell you more about where I got it in a post coming to a blog near you very soon.

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We were not so easily wooed by the snake charmers at the fort. Not because they weren’t perfectly charming – but simply because one snake charming per lifetime is enough thank you. No need to tempt fate. And I am not clear if these snakes have ever been invited to a puja. So, step away from the snake. Yes, that big snake called a cobra who is showing off his hood.

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Our guide pointed out this temple to us at the base of the fort. He said there are hundreds of temples in Jaipur and somehow he managed to not take us to any of them. Hmmmmm. Lesson learned – insist on seeing a temple. The one we wanted to see but were talked out of seeing was the Monkey Temple. We are not happy about that. At all.

But Jaipur is lovely and there is a lot to see. Thanks for coming on our journey with us!

Jaipur – the Pink City

This weekend we set out on another family adventure. We went to complete the Golden Triangle. We have been to Delhi and Agra – now on to Jaipur, India.

The ride to Jaipur was easier than the ride to Agra. The roads were more like highways – although it seems everywhere we go we pass village areas with tons of interesting people. They capture my attention fully and interest me at least as much as the monuments. I am going to do a post soon about the people I have seen. They are striking and beautiful and busy with their lives.

There was a McDonalds along the way and several rest stops. Some of them have one European toilet – some do not – just remember, capris, toilet paper, diaper wipes, and Purell. There are several tolls.

Jaipur was the first planned city in India. Its construction began in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. You can tell a difference from Agra and Delhi. The streets are much wider and more organized – more perpendicular to each other and much less random – but they seemed to us much more crowded with people and animals in the street. The traffic seemed busier than Delhi’s traffic. That could simply be because the street are wider – more room surely equals more congestion.

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It is rumored (at least according to Wikipedia) that in 1853, when the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur, the whole city was painted pink to welcome him. Most of the downtown area is still pink. The buildings carry intricate designs – look closely at them and you will find amazing details. If you aren’t interested in architecture, you can still enjoy their pinkness.

We stayed at the BellaCasa. My husband had told me about “service on service” but it is hard to understand without experiencing it. The BellaCasa was a good hotel for us – it was Western enough (although don’t believe everything you read on the menu) and we are not fancy pants – so 5 stars are certainly not necessary – or even desired. The tv got some American shows (in English – that is not always a given) which was nice for winding down at the end of the day. And there is a pool on the roof. Yippee Skippee.

Wait one minute – what’s “service on service” you want to know. Well, besides slightly annoying – it’s the staff asking you at every turn if everything is to your liking. I am not sure anything would change if you said no, but they want you to know they are interested – very interested. It’s the waiter putting my daughter’s syrup on her pancakes for her – I am sorry but – are her fingers broken? Don’t make her think that is normal. That would be no fun for me on our U.S. return. (Yes, sometimes it’s all about me.) And, really, she does not mind pouring her own syrup. She is an expert you might say. Leave her to her craft, por favor.

My children don’t have to walk anywhere, do dishes, wash clothes, take out the trash, or clean the litter. I am frankly drawing the line at them not having to add their own condiments to their own food.

We got lost in the city so we got to see quite a bit of it. At least from the car. Traffic is no less intimidating. But the sights of the city are marvelous.

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This castle/fort is privately owned. I was told that the owner is 92 and that she “is not doing well” so if you are in the market for a home away from home, you might just get a good deal.

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This is called the Palace of Winds or the Palace of Windows. It is a facade. It was built so that the women who observed very strict purdah (covering of their faces from public view) could still enjoy watching the festivals in the streets from the privacy of the palace. It is lovely. There seem to be more women in Jaipur than Delhi who still cover their entire face. Some let their eyes show, some do not. We were told that Jaipur is more old fashioned than Delhi.

And, yes, I am biting my tongue as to not comment on the sheer number of windows this palace sports. I know multiple wives were in favor here, but really, there are a lot of windows. Ouch. Still biting.

The old fashioned nature of Jaipur will probably be changing soon because there is a huge business corridor for businesses who outsource to India. Bring on the Western influences. Please let me apologize in advance for that. You might find some of our influences offensive. Others you will surely embrace. Let’s just hope that all the veils don’t drop.

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This is a statue of Ghandi walking. It did not come out too clearly because we were driving past it (for the 3rd time) but it is unmistakeably him.

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Also in Jaipur is the Jantar Mantar or House of Instruments. It is a fascinating park with 18 instruments to read the celestial bodies in the universe. An astrologer’s sanctuary if you will. This picture is of a gigantic sun dial. Here I am checking it against my watch. It was accurate. Amazing. Truly amazing.

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And then there is the matter of the snake charmer. Charming he was. I am not a fan of all things reptile – but my kids were interested and number one hubby was willing – so a charming we will go.

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The snake was not as impressed with us. Where is that Riki Tiki Tavi when you need him? Bring on the mongoose.

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My little bear loves soccer and I came upon this. Are you kidding me? I did not buy it but, oh, how I wanted to! There was no room in the car for it – otherwise you might just see it in the glen. I really am not clear who would ever buy this except for me. Maybe the owners of the store consulted the astrologers at the House of Instruments and deemed me a sucker. But maybe it was truly coincidental. We’ll never really know.

This was day one of our journey – tomorrow I will write about the Amber Fort – stay tuned.

The Golden Triangle…………

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this map is from maps of India

When coming to Northern India – must people are recommended to travel the Golden Triangle – Delhi, Agra (where the Taj Mahal is), and Jaipur. Do you see where this is going………………….