photos By Robert W. Bone
ROBERT W. BONE
Tourists in Jaipur videotape their elephant ride.
ROBERT W. BONE
A dancer entertains guests at the Amarvilas Hotel in
India -- "It's true that elephants have a long memory," Push
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
ROBERT W. BONE
Few buildings in the world are as breathtaking as the Taj
ROBERT W. BONE
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
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.
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
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
ROBERT W. BONE
A harrowing rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of
Delhi made the elephant trek seem like a walk in the park.
The 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.