BOB BONE'S TravelPieces       






Story and photos By Robert W. Bone

Tourists in Jaipur videotape their elephant ride.

A dancer entertains guests at the Amarvilas Hotel in Agra.

JAIPUR, India -- "It's true that elephants have a long memory," Push said.

Push, myself and two others were sitting together atop a moving elephant on a platform that pitched and rocked like a tiny raft on a troubled sea.

Ours was a relatively laid-back creature, but midway on the route the elephant marching ahead of us suddenly turned and glared our way with an angry eye.

She also raised her trunk in an unmistakably threatening gesture. Our own startled beast then went into a reverse gear for a second, while we held on for dear life. Several mahouts (elephant handlers) shouted and waved until the beast ahead turned again toward the business at hand.

Like our own elephant she was hauling travelers up the mountain toward the ancient royal palace called the Amber Fort. We were following the same route and using the same mode of transportation as did the rajah who built the lavish structure late in the 16th century. Our elephant again followed, but at a more discreet distance.

"She doesn't like our animal," explained Push. "It must be something that happened between them in the past."

"In the past -- or in a past life?" I wondered silently, since I was surrounded by a population that believes in reincarnation, whether human or animal. 

While we continued to hold onto the low railing of our little rocking platform, the mahout who was astride our elephant's neck then began to softly sing, not to us, but to the leathery ears flapping below his knees. The gait seemed to smooth just a little, as she became comforted by the sounds.

"The mahout is with her practically all her life," Push explained. "Ah, now look at the elephant coming toward us. That fellow is 75 years old and totally blind. He is the kindest, gentlest creature in town. Everyone likes him, even the other elephants."

Our talented guide showed us through scores of deserted rooms rooms, corridors, and courtyards in the abandoned palace, magnificent enough today, even when empty. But he asked us to try to imagine it in its glory days, when it was also equipped with embedded jewels along with colorful canopies, richly woven rugs, and other traditional Indian accouterments of power and prestige,  not to mention the richly dressed maharajah himself, along with his court and his harem.

On our own tour, Cox and Kings included these three destinations and added one more: the cool, steep slopes of Shimla (also Simla), the village in the Indian Himalayas established as the summer capital during days of the Raj -- the British occupation of India -- when the oppressive heat of New Delhi proved too much for the colonial administration.

Few buildings in the world are as breathtaking as the Taj Mahal.

Fatehpur Sikri, a deserted 16th-century Moghul city, was built from red sandstone.


With the advent of air conditioning, today's Delhi has some cooler buildings, and the hill town of Shimla is now considered one of the best year-round shopping destinations for travelers interested in rugs, shawls, saris, jewelry, and other bargains in Indian arts and crafts. Many artisans are refugees from Tibet who have managed to make their way south to India 

As a glass expert, Push took us to hidden alcoves where those who had attempted to ravage the empty palace over the centuries had overlooked many shiny mirror-like inlays.

In one room, he closed the doors, thoroughly insulating us from the midday sun. In almost total darkness, he asked us to imagine the effect of some royal candles, and then he lit a single cigarette lighter.

 The ceiling and walls surrounding us seemed to come alive with sparkling stars.He led us into another room that featured a magnificent stained glass window, and revealed that he, himself, had accomplished the reconstruction of the colorful window. He said he is going to devote the rest of his life to performing similar jewel-like restorations throughout many windows of the maharajah's palace.


To me, Jaipur was the jewel in the crown of a short trip to India. Indeed, the city is often saved for the finale in what local tourist industry officials call the "Golden Triangle." That is the traditional three-stop excursion: First to Delhi and New Delhi, the capital. Second, to Agra, home of the magnificent Taj Mahal, also certainly no disappointment. And finally, after a brief stop at the deserted red-walled Moghul city of Fatehpur Sikri, to the wonderful Pink City of Jaipur.

Our tour often seemed to be a whirlwind of delicious spices and colorful fabrics. And the elephant was not our wildest ride. That was a toss-up between a harrowing rickshaw excursion through the narrowest streets of the old city of Delhi, and an unscheduled experience, in which 13 of us squeezed into a jeep out in the countryside while en route to Jaipur.

All traffic, including our private bus, had been halted indefinitely by a roadblock demonstration, so we all walked across to the other side of the blockade where Cox and Kings hired a vehicle on the spot to carry us the rest of the way to the Oberoi Rajvilas at Jaipur. This included several miles of dirt roads through rural neighborhoods. Smiling, waving children along this tricky and dusty route apparently had never before seen any kind of foreign tourist.


A harrowing rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of
Delhi made the elephant trek seem like a walk in the park.

he resort was an auspicious beginning to the Jaipur experience. The next day Push and the palace combined to make it all perfect. And thanks be to Vishnu, Shiva, and any other gods in residence, my jeans arrived in time so there was no need to wear pajamas while riding the elephant.