We will take you on a detour here: our Tata broadband dongle, which we had purchased in Jodhpur stopped working in Pushkar, barely two weeks after we had purchased it, so we decided not to waste any time and to head straight for the only TATA communication showroom in Rajasthan located in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. Our plan was to head straight from the train station to the showroom. Upon arrival there the manager was brought in to investigate the problem. He informed us that although our dongle was registered, follow-up paperwork had not been received by the company, a legal requisite in India for complying with national security regulations
. It appeared that a legitimate Tata salesman had sold us the product with an additional level of "commission" built-in, which is strictly against company policy. The customer service manager was quite appalled that this had happened and genuinely set about the work of remedying the problem. However, this is India, so it was necessary for our hotel to fill out and sign paperwork attesting to our legitimate two-day residency at the hotel. Now hotels are also burdened with additional paperwork whenever a foreign guest arrives. Each guest goes in a ledger along with an accurate record of their passport number (plus photocopy), visa number and lots of personal details. Much of this information has to be duplicated on another form that is copied in triplicate, with at least one copy being submitted to the appropriate government department (incidentally, internet cafes are supposed to fill out the same paperwork for all people using computers; we have found some do and some don’t). When the customer service manager informed us of this additional requirement I intuitively sensed this was going to be another hurdle. In fact when we arrived at our pre-booked hotel and checked with the manager if he would fill out the Tata paperwork, he waved his hands and wagged his head wildly, saying “No! No! No paperwork!” Consequently, we immediately abandoned this hotel and as evening approached we set about trying to find a hotel during the busy season with someone who was prepared to fill out this paperwork. This resulted in a whirlwind of criss-cross travel around the city with our hopes fading along with the sunlight that we would find a room in a hotel that would also provide us with the necessary paperwork.
Eventually we told our auto-rickshaw driver to drop us off and leave us so that we could explore on foot to forestall an escalating fee
. After five or ten minutes of wandering, we were approached by a young man on a residential street who asked if he could help us. We told him of our accommodation needs and he politely invited us into his relative’s late-model sports utility vehicle. We gingerly got in and he drove us two or three blocks away to a grouping of several hotels that appeared far too upscale for our budget; they all proved to be full anyway. The manager at the desk of the last hotel we visited, Ratan Nivas in Sanjay Marg, gave us the option of two rooms and an assurance that he could complete the Tata paperwork for us (“we do it for lots of customers”) in five minutes. Meanwhile one of the porters showed us two rooms.We took the lower priced room at a reasonable cost of 750 rupees, and it was probably one of the best rooms we have stayed in during our entire time overseas. True to his word, the manager had the Tata paperwork filled out and stamped with his official business seal as quick as a flash.
Wasting no time with rush hour in full swing, we headed across the city again to get the Tata broadband problem fixed before the showroom closed at 8:00 p.m. Although it took some time once we were there, the Tata employees involved in correcting the problem in what appeared to be a serious breach of protocol were skilled, efficient, and concerned about us as customers. I’d recommend Tata broadband in India just based on this experience alone, after having not so good experiences with Airtel and Reliance. Yeah!! We got back to our hotel room and could access internet right away. After catching up on email we were able to retire to a comfortable bed, and I was secure in the knowledge that I could wake up and quickly access any emails related to my mother’s worsening health condition.
The next morning we prepared for our one full day in Jaipur with just four items on the agenda: breakfast; Hawa Mahal; Jantar Mantar; and a good dinner before bed. Each item on our agenda dropped satisfying off our list: the hotel breakfast was really good; our visit to the Hawa Mahal in the old city, built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawaj Pratap Singh, was a good choice for a day trip with its stunning architecture and purda
screens, an architectural feature that for us always bring up mixed feelings--these exquisitely carved, honeycombed screens are so beautiful while having served the purpose of cloistering women to keep them from the eyes of the world outside.
We moved on to the Jantar Mantar around the corner, which was a change from forts and palaces and a remarkable exhibition of a magnificent astronomical (and astrological) project undertaken by one man, Jai Singh, with a passion for the cosmos. Begun in 1728, he single-handedly built a collection of what at first glance appears to be a collection of surreal structures, but is really a collection of fascinating instruments, such as the 27 metre sun dial which tells the time within an accuracy of 4 seconds; another series of instruments—one for each zodiac sign--charts the annual progress of the planets for each sign. Modern day Indian astrologers use this equipment in their work of finding auspicious days for weddings and other festivities. Jai Singh built a total of five centers throughout India but this site is the largest and best preserved.
On returning to the hotel for dinner we greeted a couple we vaguely recognized in some way and quickly discovered that we had passed them on a walk to a temple in Pushkar--one of those curious coincidences that continually pop up for us in India
. We quickly became acquainted with Dominique and Jean Michel from France and left open the possibility of us meeting during dinner in the hotel, where we knew that the evening rooftop entertainment was going to be a puppet show. We also knew from the previous evening that it was going to be chilly on the roof, but were determined to wrap up as best we could to watch some traditional Rajasthani marionettes. Before the show started, Dominique and Jean Michel joined us at our table and we had a lovely time getting to know them better and participating in joyous rounds of ‘Frère Jacques’, ‘Allouette’, ‘Fire’s Burning’ and other camp fire songs. Meanwhile, the puppeteer and his very young drummer were setting up for their nightly show. They were obviously intrigued by our singing and picked up on the ‘Frère Jacques’ theme which they kept on repeating throughout the marionette performance and drumming that was to come.
By the time we had ordered and consumed a delicious meal, the puppet show was ready to begin. Now this was definitely not a honed professional performance; but what they lacked in polish they made up for sheer enthusiasm–and the sheer magic of Rajasthani marionettes has the ability to forgive any number of mistakes. One particularly funny sketch was quite unexpected when the puppeteer introduced a Rajasthani “Michael Jackson” that juggled with his own head while singing “Frère Jacques”–quite bizarre
! The young puppeteer (probably in his mid-twenties) had, it seemed, recently introduced fire-eating into his routine and decided to end his performance with a demonstration of his skills. We were all horrified when he took an enormous gulp of kerosene from an unmarked bottle and began blowing huge plumes of fire from his mouth while excess kerosene ran down his chin and dripped onto his clothes. Also, he wasn’t able to properly atomize the spray from his mouth, so excess un-ignited fuel glazed the floor of the dining area. It was like an ice rink with waiters scurrying through it to deliver food and pick up plates. We requested a cleanup, but the puppeteer thought we were asking for an encore and promptly snatched the kerosene bottle from behind the scenes ready to take another swig. Nancy & I were truly appalled that he was engaging in such a high risk activity with poison, particularly since he had shared proudly with us before his performance that he had a baby daughter. All four of us yelled at him to stop before the bottle reached his lips a second time. It took some convincing to prevent him from going ahead with his encore performance but sensing our level of concern for his health, he finally relented and corked the bottle.
We left very early the following morning, 5:30 a.m., for our short train trip to Agra; but before we end this entry we’d like to acknowledge the quality of service, cleanliness and food, and quiet location offered by this reasonably priced hotel, the Ratan Nivas in Sanjay Marg, and want to recommend it to anyone visiting Jaipur, the gateway to Rajasthan.
A short bus ride to Ajmer, and then a 2 hour train journey brought us to our next destination of Jaipur where our intentions were limited, as was the length of our planned stay. Known as the 'pink city' because it was painted pink in 1876 for hosting the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward VII, by Maharaja Ram Singh, we had also heard from many people that it is a busy, noisy, polluted city.