I know I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m trying to catch up now. Jaipur was my first real Indian city, it has a total population of about 3 million. That makes it large by Canadian standards, but pretty small by Indian standards given that Delhi and Mumbai have 20 million people each approximately.
Getting from Rathambore National park to Jaipur was a fairly quick 3 hour train ride. Rajasthan is India’s desert state, so there isn’t tons to see out the window. I suppose it resembles Arizona in a way.
On my first train ride, I booked 2-Tier AC where you have 4 bunks that are separated from the aisle by a curtain. This time I booked First-AC, and there is actually a door that closes. I was seated with a middle aged Indian businessman, and he didn’t have much to say. The general advice I read was it’s better to book 2-tier AC, since it’s slightly less expensive and you generally get seated with the Indian middle class. The interiors of the trains would be quite “rustic” by western standards, but for a few hours they are perfectly adequate.
The adventure always begins when you arrive at the train station and try and find a way to your hotel. From the moment you step off the train, there is typically at least one person offering a taxi to you – sometimes more. However it’s not always advisable to take unlicensed taxis, they are generally more hassle than they are worth unless there are no other options. You have to negotiate the fare in advance (at least if your smart), than potentially after you arrive the driver will ask for more money etc. Thankfully many stations have prepaid taxi stands that are operated by the traffic police. You give the policemen your destination, and he quotes a fare based on distance. You than get a slip which you keep with you, and you hand it to the driver at your destination. This alleviates most of the problems with taxi scams. I saw many, many Indian’s using the prepaid taxi stands, so apparently they prefer them over negotiating a taxi ride as well.
In developing countries I’m always cautious with taxis, even if they are properly licensed/prepaid. I never put anything in the trunk, I’ll put my suitcase on the backseat next to me. If something ever goes awry, you want to be able to get out with all your stuff quickly. If you leave stuff in trunk, than the cab driver can hold it hostage.
My hotel was on the outskirts of Jaipur, about 22KM away. The total prepaid cab fare was around INR 550, or $10. It seems all nicer hotels in India have security checkpoints, I’m not sure if these came about because of the terrorist attacks on the Taj hotel a few years ago, or if they have always had them. In any event, when my prepaid taxi pulled up to the gate the guards examined the trunk and the hood of the car, and asked why we were there. I guess it wasn’t immediately apparent I was checking in, perhaps cause I look young.
I have to say the Fairmont Jaipur was easily the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in. One of the reasons I suspect is their occupancy seemed very low, like in the range of 10-20% of rooms being occupied. The whole property felt pretty dead, combined with the typical Indian hotel overstaffing meant their was no lack of attention. Most likely because I’m a platinum member, I was given a free upgrade to Fairmont Gold which offers a private lounge where you can get breakfast/afternoon tea and ordoeuvre before dinner. The hotel duty manager gave me a welcome drink and a tour of all the hotel facilities. The hotel is newly constructed and has only been open for about a year and half. It’s constructed to look like an Indian palace.
Note on the floor, that’s actually flower pedals that they used to make a design on the floor. The tub they have is massive, and apparently takes a full 45 minutes to fill according to the hotel manager. To top everything off, this is the welcome amenity I received in my room.
Somewhere on my profile with Fairmont I had put one of my passions as art and culture, so I got a cake with a guitar on it. The guitar was actually made out of chocolate, so it was edible as well. Needless to say, I’ve never seen any other hotel in the world do something like this. At the risk of this whole post being about the hotel, I’ll just say that the staff in Fairmont Gold were suburb. It was pretty much like having a personal assistant, if you needed anything they would find a way to get it done. Need a taxi booked? They’ll phone up and do it. My train left quite early from Jaipur, so I didn’t have time for a sit down breakfast. The attendant organized to have a pre-made breakfast ready for me at checkout.
The hotel restaurant was also excellent, they had traditional Rajasthan cuisine. They had an excellent spicy lamb dish, and I asked how it was made and I ended up getting a demonstration of how they cook it right in the kitchen with the chef. They also asked if I wanted anything made, even stuff not on the menu – so I took the opportunity to request a vindaloo curry. The next day they made it as promised, and it was excellent. I imagine some of this is because the hotel was low occupancy, but overall all the staff were willing to go above and beyond.