A comfortable Volvo bus carried Christine and me to Jaipur (about 5 hours by road from Agra) for the third and final part of our Duo Escapade adventure. On the way I snacked on a delicious mustard chicken sandwich that Chef Akshay Malhotra from ITC Mughal, Agra had packed for us. The ride was interesting one, dotted with sightings of bored looking camels and men in colourful turbans. Once we arrived at the Jaipur bus station, a hotel car received us and in a few short minutes we were at ITC Rajputana, Jaipur. As we emerged from the car at the front porch, we were met with a grand musical welcome – a group of singers and dancers serenaded us Rajasthani style, while one danced around us in a horse puppet! Our bags were whisked away by the very attentive staff and after we were garlanded, entered the magnificent lobby. The lobby was so beautiful and grand that I involuntarily stopped in my tracks to soak in the splendor for a moment. The lobby was designed to replicate the look and feel of a traditional, affluent Rajasthani haveli – it was the grandest I’ve ever seen. Marble work, intricate jharokha designs, and beautiful paintings of royalty- everything added to the very old world, royal feel of the hotel.
Here, as well, we checked into luxury suites. Large rooms, with everything we could possibly ask for, these suites also came with a private balcony/sit-out area (although the view wasn’t great- you looked out onto a busy road and some construction work). The living room and bathroom had all the usual amenities and the study table had a framed picture of Christine and me, along with a personal note. I must say here how I love the way ITC hotels makes each guest feel like they’re the only ones in the world! The assortment of snacks in the room was impressive – fruit tarts, brownies, chocolates, biscuits, cheese sticks, 4 types of cheese, crackers, olives, fruits, and drinks – I could very happily live in my room and emerge days later, a few kilos heavier but definitely satisfied.
My butler Vivek was always around to help with whatever I needed. I literally didn’t have to lift a finger, even to pour my own tea. He was always at the door to escort me out, which was useful, because the hotel was so large; it wasn’t difficult to get lost.
After we rested and unpacked we took a walk around the hotel. ITC Rajputana really gives a sense of immense space. The corridors were long and winding, the floors thickly carpeted, the walls decorated with ornate Rajasthani artifacts (clothing, jewelry, art etc), and there were small reading nooks, seating areas and mirrors at every turn. I sincerely believe my daily fitness regimen could easily have been taken care of just by walking around the hotel once. We walked to the ground level where singers and dancers performed every night just outside the Chandravanshi Pavilion restaurant. One of the lady dancers was so graceful – she glided around effortlessly with 5 pots balanced on her head! The musicians showed us their unusual string and wooden instruments; I even tried to play one, with rather embarrassing, albeit entertaining results.
Dinner at the Chandravanshi Pavilion was a royal Rajasthani repast. It was such a pleasure to have Chef Akshraj Jodha with us to tell us stories about the food we were eating. He told us about the different cultures of food in Rajasthan (the vegetarian Marwaris, and the meat loving Rajputs), how best to eat certain dishes, and special indigenous ingredients like the Mathania chilli, and Ker sangri – used as both a main ingredient and a tenderizer, among others. After an assortment of kababs, we were served a Rajasthani thali with more than 10 dishes on it, including Dal baati, Laal maas, Chicken Jodhpuri, Gatte, and even the quaint and little seen Papad ki subji.
The high point of the evening was meeting David Rocco, a famous (and oh-so-cute) Italian celebrity chef who was in the hotel shooting a television series. He chatted with us for a while and charmed us with his self-depreciating humour and refreshing friendliness. I was even on the receiving end of an extended hug!
Post dinner we spent some time unwinding and relaxing in our rooms. I took a long, warm soak in the marble bathtub and then drifted into a blissful sleep on the super soft bed, amidst a sea of pillows. We woke up early the next morning to see the Amber fort – the most famous monument in Jaipur, and the most researched monument in India. The fort can be entered by any one of three ways – by foot, by car, or full-royal style on decked-up elephants. Amber was once the capital of the Kachhawaha Rajputs, and there are many legends surrounding this majestic fort. Inside there are distinct sections, each with their own personality – the mirrored Shish Mahal for instance and an area where the walls were covered in light blue and green inset painting. We even borrowed some colourful turbans and took funny photographs wearing them. After this we drove by the Jaigarh fort (also known as the Fort of victory) and the Nahargarh fort (also called Tiger fort). They were both gloriously large and beautiful in the morning sun.
Now, you can’t make a trip to Jaipur and not shop. Known for its colourful fabrics, shiny gemstones, lamps, and other artifacts, Jaipur is a shopper’s paradise. Christine and I headed off to Johri market where we bought lovely Bandhini saris, dupattas, and some fabulous jewelry.
In the evening we witnessed the special lighting ceremony in the hotel. Guests gathered in the lobby and live music played as the women staff lit candles all around the area. The light caught the mirrors and the whole place glittered. We then drove to Amber fort again for the light and sound show. For those who enjoy history with a touch of music, some great narration, beautiful dancing lights and some drama, this is one show in Jaipur you must not miss. The facade of the fort is lit in different colours as the lights go on and off to match the myriad emotions in the narration. It was slightly chilly that night and we were among about 10 people there, so it really felt like a grand private show. We came back to the hotel and shared a light continental dinner with Mr Sunil Gupta, the General Manager, who regaled us with funny stories that kept us entertained through dinner. Even David Rocco popped by to say hi, much to my delight.
I went back to my room to find more chocolates by my bedside table. The unbelievable amount of care in these small gestures really made me feel special all through my stay. I packed and fell asleep quite quickly, and soon we were up again to catch a bright yellow double-decker train back to Delhi.
The Duo Escapade has been the most incredible adventure for me. ITC hotels in all three cities – Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur left no stone unturned to make us feel like being in the lap of luxury. The staff at all the properties were impressive with their service. And I couldn’t have asked for a more fun travelling partner than Christine. We explored the fabulous ITC hotels and the wonderful cities that hosted them, and fell quite in love with the Golden triangle. A big thank you to everyone who was a part of this, and to those who followed our adventure on Facebook and Twitter. I can’t wait for my next adventure![button link=”http://www.chefatlarge.in/columns/the-duo-escapade-delhi.html” type=”big” newwindow=”yes”]