We drove back at a leisurely pace to the Rajputana all the while building up an appetite for lunch. We'd decided to eat at the Jal Mahal in the Rajputana ... a restaurant recommended to us for its Rajasthani food. But when we got there we were in for a rude shock. The place was large airy, very nicely laid out and a very pleasant off white colour with very nice staff and a 'Buffet' made up of the usual Punjabi/Moghlai/Continental dishes. We took a deep breath and decided to analyse the situation. This typical 5 Star Buffet we could eat anywhere but the Rajasthani fare we thought should be had in Rajasthan. Just as we were about to make an undignified exit we saw the matre'd coming up. We screwed up our courage and asked him 'wtf' was happening. He immediately informed us that there actually was a Special Set Thali with Rajasthani meals and that it was available on request. We immediately requested! He also informed us that this lunch spread was mainly for the package tourist crowd and they required this 'typical' spread.
What we really liked were the classic lines of the restaurant no unnecessary faux Rajasthani tent ceiling or an excessively kitschy decor.
The Thali took atleast 20 minutes to put together and we whiled our time taking pictures and reminiscing about the last trip where we ate at dhabas and sqeezed into small damp rooms in the State Dept. of Archaeology's under restoration guest house, sleeping on sleeping bags and travelling on foot! This trip on the other hand meandered down the highway of luxury.
They started off our meal with a couple of glasses of chhanchh (buttermilk) ......
...... and a small bowl of papad cones.
Exactly five minutes later they brought in the Special Rajasthani Thalis, and believe me they were special. There was (from right to left in a anti-clockwise manner) a sliced salad, a raita, some amazing red chilli and garlic chutney, the very famous and much talked about - Laal Maas (Red Mutton - nice but it didn't live up to the hype), an incredibly awesome Marwari Chicken (yes, yes I said incredible and chicken in the same breath), a very nice bowl of winter fresh peas in a subtle garam masala and pureed caremelised onion paste, Rajasthani Dal, semi-dry mashed Masala Aloo (potatoes) and an amazing, superb, fabulous, palate pleasuring dessert made of reduced milk, crushed pistachios, ground cardamom and sugar. This simple dessert which they called kheer was the highlight of the meal and it was light, perfectly sweetened and the pistachios added just the right texture change with bursts of nuttiness and the powdered cardamom hit just those specific high notes in the pleasure sensors of the mouth and exploded gently into the olfactory processes. I can say with absolute certitude that I have never had a better kheer.
The meal was accompanied by steamed basmati rice and a basket of Indian breads made of makka (maize), wheat and bajra. I was hoping to see some jou (barley - which was the staple till it was replaced by maize 75 years ago) rotis but that was sadly not to be. All in all this was one of the finest meals I have ever eaten in a 5 Star Hotel Restaurant.
After that beautiful meal we went back to our room for some much needed shut-eye and woke up, got dolled up and went of for Malvika and Rohit's wedding ..... but that is someone else's story to tell. Suffice to say, it was a grand function in the truest sense of the 'Great Indian Wedding', her parents had pulled out all the stops and left no stone unturned. Here's wishing them all the happiness in the world. Take care guys. Thanks for having us there. We wouldn't have missed it for the world
The morning after was a quite morning of introspection and I felt as though it was one of my girls who had been married off, especially since she was the first of my students to do so. We wanted to buy some camel leather juttis (embroidered slippers) so we checked out of the Rajputana and our designated driver took us to the motherlode near the Jal Mahal Palace on the outskirts of Jaipur. The Jal Mahal rests in an artificial lake/reservoir with a beautiful promenade.
The Jal Mahal (Water Palace) was built on the Man Sagar lake by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. The Palace is beautifully lit up at night but alas we had no time to see that. The lake is a major waterfowl watching location with birds right from the Common Moorhen to the exotic Flamingo using these waters.
Opposite the lake are the Royal Cenotaphs of the ruling Kachwaha Dynasty of Jaipur.
On our way back we also visited a Jaipur mainstay - A Blue Pottery Centre, but were disappointed as this ceramic is now ubiquitous all over the Indian landscape and there were no new shapes or designs.
We finished our trip with a visit to a cotton cloth manufacturing centre to buy some typical vegetable dyed dabu bedsheets and ended up at our new hotel - the Suryaa Villa (which we had booked online via Make my Trip.com) behind the Moti Dungri Fort. It was a nice small, very economical, friendly and clean hotel. In fact it is more of a B&B than a hotel and the rooms are all named after various birds! I think we were in the Oriole.
Our room - spacious, clean, crisp linen, well aired with all the amenities and a nice view of the front lawn.
The most important thing about the room was the Bathroom - it was large (much larger than I expected), bright, well ventilated, with fresh towels and absolutely spotlessly clean and odour free!
Tucked behind the front building of the hotel was a small courtyard with a sit-out coffee shop and 'pool' .... the coffee was standard but took 45 minutes to make an appearance (not that I or my book were complaining) and it drove Rhea almost to distraction.
The pool was really just a 12 foot by 12 foot tiled water tank! But nonetheless it was clean, full of water and a challenge only the criminally insane would have considered in the Rajasthan winter. The windowed room behind the pool was the restaurant where we had a really nice dinner (simple food made hot on the spot) and a superb breakfast buffet (inclusive and unlimited) of toast, butter, jam, poha, scrambled eggs, bananas and cereal with milk, followed by tea/coffee. I'd recommend this place any day!
We spent the morning lazing in bed and then packed up and left for the airport and our flight back to (Navi) Mumbai.
Mumbai - which we were just as anxious to get to as we were loth to finish our holiday .... and the weather in Navi Mumbai a balmy 30 degrees C in winter as opposed to a high of 16 degrees in Jaipur!
Thank you Malvika and a big thank you to your parents.