The Manor, the first boutique hotel in New Delhi, is an oasis located in the city’s fine Friends Colony address, with a restaurant, Indian Accent, that’s reputedly the best in India - for 5 years in a row. The original restaurant has been in The Manor for 8 years, but since early 2019 it has relocated to The Lodhi. Their original restaurant at The Manor still plays host to a series of Culinary Pop-Ups throughout the year.
Driving is an extreme sport in India. The country has probably the best-worst drivers in the world. If i were to compare a rollercoaster ride with driving on an Indian highway, I’d say the former is one relaxing spa treatment. Anyway, we were quite lucky to have a friend from the embassy, who arranged for our own private ride. Near hits and would-be head-on collisions aside, I was not able to get myself to sleep during the long drive was because there was so much to see: the mustard fields that seem to go on endlessly, caravans of camel pulling whatever big load they pull, the beautifully painted trucks, and of course, cattle… lots and lots of cattle.
"Welcome to Jaipur!" The jolly doorman warmly greeted as we stepped into our hotel. "Two marriages tonight, you should come," he then whispered to my ear. It was Valentine’s Day and apparently everyone was getting married. We suddenly found ourselves attending not one, but two such events in Jaipur.
In between wedding activities was our chance to see what the Jaipur has to offer. Our first stop, the Amer Fort, with its amazing maze of tunnels, courtyards and turrets - simply overwhelming. Built on a hillside outside Jaipur, it provides breathtaking views of the entire city. During our visit, the Amer Fort looked like a set from a movie, because it was. Indian superstar, Abhisek Bachchan was shooting a dance sequence for his movie "Bol Bachchan" that day.
I probably spent an hour taking photos of this roadside barber and his customers, just outside the hotel.
As for the wedding that we were actually invited to, it was nothing short of storybook spectacular. A plethora of ceremonies take place leading up to the big day itself, first of which was the Mehndi Ceremony, an integral pre-wedding ritual organized by the family of the bride and is usually a private affair which takes place in the presence of friends, relatives and family members. During the ceremony, the Bride and the women participate by having Mehndi applied to their hands in floral and paisley motifs.
A quick stop to Jal Mahal, the lake palace, during sunrise.
with my beautiful sister, I am glad to have had this trip with her
The largest city in Rajasthan, Jaipur gets its nickname (The Pink City) due to a large part of it having oleander-rose colored buildings. The city itself is a museum of a bygone era. Discovering its numerous forts and palaces is like being transported back to the time of the Maharajas.
The city’s most distinctive landmark is Hawa Mahal whose facade has 953 windows, where royal women used to watch the city below without being seen.
Although Jaipur has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, during our visit, the Pink City itself has yet to make it to the list. In July 2019, it finally received that status.
View. Hawa Mahal is best admired from Wind View Cafe, just across the street. There’s a small passageway and staircase leading up to it.
Admission. It is also recommended that you go inside the palace. Jaipur has a composite ticket system that allows access to 7 important monuments, including those incuded in this journal: Amber Fort, Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal. For more information, click HERE.
View of Jantar Mantar from Hawa Mahal
Samrat Yantra, the largest sundial in the world
Rasivalayas Yantra, each instrument corresponds to a specific sign of the zodiac.
Upanayanam, the sacred thread ceremony is a socially and spiritually significant ritual that marks the coming of age of a male member of the family. If the rite of passage is not completed between the ages of 7-13, it should be done before marriage.
Relax. One of the best places to unwind in Jaipur is at the Rambagh Palace, one of the city’s heritage hotels. If you have time to spare, drop by for high tea (and a little royal treatment) at the hotel’s Verandah Café, which we did before continuing with the day’s wedding activities.
The Sangeet is a pre-wedding event that everyone looks forward to as it is a celebration of the coming together of two families. An elaborate and extravagant affair, members of the family from both sides prepare a variety performances such as Bollywood dances, skits, and song numbers. Think of it as like a "Got Talent" show, except no one gets eliminated.
Admission and Photography. Entrance fee for the City Palace of Jaipur is 400 INR ($6) for foreign tourists (including entry to Jaigarh Fort, 10 km away). The ticket is valid for 2 days and also include the use of a still camera. Photography is limited to the outdoor areas and courtyards, since this is a working palace, you would know if the Maharaja is in residence when the flag of the royal family is unfurled at Chandra Mahal.
Along the busy streets of Jaipur, in the shadow of the enchanting Hawa Mahal, is a little piece of history that simply cannot be ignored. Mounted on a rickety, wooden stand and with a body covered in worn-out black leather, is an 1860 Carl Zeiss camera, believed to be the last of its kind in the world today.
It’s proud owner, Tikam Chand, along with his brother, Surendar, has been taking photos of locals and tourists alike with the vintage camera along a sidewalk that doubles as a studio since the late 70s. A third generation photographer, Mr. Chand inherited the camera from his grandfather, Pahari Lal, a royal photographer for the Maharaja of Jaipur in the late 1800s.
Do. A photo session with Mr. Chand is probably the best souvenir you can bring home. I simply refused to leave the city without being photographed by his vintage camera.
Shopping for costume jewelry at Saraogi Mansion
The wedding night is something to behold, and to this day, the experience still transcends description. I have never seen anything like it. To top it off, there was a lot of singing and dancing, enough to satisfy my craving for some Bollywood action.
Ready for breakfast at the Oberoi
Eggs Ben for Breakfast
Catching some Zzzs on the way to Agra
I often get asked what’s the one place I have visited that made me cry. I’d like to say the Taj Mahal, well almost, alright, no. That’s only because my sister and I were having an argument as we got a little lost looking for the rooftop restaurant where we could catch the sunset. Long story short, after finding the rooftop and a cup of coffee later, we’re all good.
Photography. Get to one of the rooftop cafés in Taj Gand in time for sunset. Two of the most popular ones are in Saniya Palace Hotel and Shanti Lodge. Making your way through the streets is confusing (see above), however you only need to look up should you ever get lost. Where there are people drinking on the roof, that’s where you must be. Allow yourself time to relax and enjoy a drink while you get to take photos of the Taj Mahal with wonderful views from the top. Of course, staying in one of the hotels in this area can also provide you with excellent views without ever having to leave the comforts of your room.
A lot has been said about the Taj Mahal. I won’t elaborate on it since no words can truly describe this masterpiece of architecture upon seeing it - only evoking feelings of passion, love and awe. It is THAT beautiful. Instead, here are excerpts from a magazine article I have written before on How To Photograph the Taj Mahal.
Getting Prepared. The Taj Mahal is the most visited site in India therefore it gets very crowded during the day. The key is to wake up really early and head to the site at dawn while the expected hordes of tourists are still in slumber. We were one of the first visitors to arrive at 5 AM. By the time the ticket counter opened an hour later, people have already started to pour in.
The System. You will have to line up twice, first to buy tickets and the next to enter the gates. This is where having a companion makes all the difference in the world. Take note that there’s a separate line for men and women to enter the gate, so work out a plan ahead in case you have a companion.
Security. It is very strict. So bring only what you need. The whole process of lining up and getting through security took us about an hour and a half to complete. As for those who insist on bringing their backpacks, camera bags, tripods and prohibited items (see next hop) expect another half hour of waiting, as you have to queue again to deposit them for safe keeping.
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The Money Shot. Make your way quickly to where the four long pools intersect and once you’re on the stone platform, aim your camera towards the mausoleum with its reflection on the pool and flick away. This is your version of the classic Taj Mahal shot, and this is the only time you can get a clear shot of the monument reflected in the pool as the fountains are turned on an hour after the gates are opened.
Other Angles. The Taj Mahal looks just as good from any angle. On the east side is the jawab while on the west is the mosque. From both inside these buildings, you can get exquisite shots of the mausoleum framed by its teardrop doorways. Take note, you can only get this shot early in the morning as this area will be packed with people later in the day. Skip entering the mausoleum first and head down from the mosque to where the Taj Museum is. From this spot, you can do your jungle shots using the foliage in the Charbagh Garden to frame the dome. You have to do this all in a matter of 30 minutes or less. When you’re done, you can take it easy and go up the main mausoleum. Although photography is not allowed inside the main tomb, from the terrace you can take photos of its architectural details - from the calligraphy of Persian poems to the delicate piece of latticework on its walls.
Tickets. Can be used the entire day. You can get in early in the morning and come back anytime within the day. Bottled water is allowed inside and is provided free along with a guide map of the city for foreign visitors.
Prohibited Items. Except for cameras and mobiles phones, anything electronic such as video cameras, extra batteries, and mobile chargers are prohibited, as well as food and drinks, including gum, and anything that causes fire.
Guides. Only hire approved guides and photographers who show their Identification cards. It’s up to you if you want their help to get the best angles for your photos, however they ask for quite big tips after.
The Orient Taj, formerly the Wyndham Grand Agra,
courtyard of our villa at the Orient Taj
On the way back to New Delhi with our Papa Minot, the best driver in the world!
We tried the metro, which is surprisingly modern and efficient, to get to Qutb Minar, the tallest minaret in India. With stunningly carved calligraphy and honeycomb patterns, the tower exudes so much character. It’s even made more beautiful by the grounds itself, with plenty of open space to wander around, as well as tombs and ruins to explore.
Humayun’s Tomb, the masculine predecessor to the Taj Mahal. Set in a peaceful garden, the tomb is a perfect place for some peace and quiet in the heart of the city.
Lal Quila, more popularly known as the Red Fort, although quite crowded, is impressive with its red sandstone walls and beautifully carved buildings. An amazing piece of history, one can’t help but feel like stepping back in time when walking its grand halls.
While my sister was off to do what sisters do best – shopping in the new and posh part of Delhi, I decided to wander around the old part on my own. Chandni Chowk – worlds apart from the other places I’ve been to during this trip - is where the sights, sounds and smells of India we’ve read about and seen on TV are. One of the most famous and oldest markets in India, it is the most congested too. With every one competing for space, it’s no wonder most, if not all, who compete in the Amazing Race experience their mental and emotional breakdown here.