We're now at the Hotel Madhuban having had many more adventures between Agra and Jaipur. We did get to the Taj Mahal the next day at sunrise, but it was cloudy! And there were crowds! And frankly it was anti-climatic after having visited some other similar mausoleums like Humayun's Tomb in Delhi and Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb in Agra. We left Agra to drive towards Jaipur, stopping at Fatehpur Sikri (the walled city that the Mughal emperor Akbar built in 1571) where we had to run a gauntlet of young men wanting to be our guides "Please madam, you will be safe with me! I will keep all the touts away from you! I will explain everything and you won't get lost!" And boys and old men trying to sell us cheap jewelry, postcards, books... Our Canadian sensibilities were really tested! And in fact we did get lost in the city...found ourselves retracing our steps and wondering what the heck we were looking at...then all we had to do was attach ourselves to yet another large group of English-speaking tourists (there were many). From Fatehpur Sikri we stopped at Keoladeo Ghana National Park for a welcome respite from the traffic, and spent the next 2.5 hours on a cycle rickshaw accompanied by a naturalist guide on a bicycle. In spite of the drought this area is experiencing, we saw lots of birds (storks, paraqueets, kingfishers, ducks, geese), antelope, jackal, and a python! Best of all there was no one trying to sell us anything. The final destination that day (Wednesday) was the Abheneri Step well, and wonder of wonders we were the only people there! This is quite a ways off the beaten track, and we had a gracious man VJ Singh guiding us. This is a huge well built about 1100 years ago and is very deep, but completely surrounded by stairs down to the water. This would have been a welcome respite from summer heat. We stayed that night at the Bhadrawati Palace hotel and it was rather eery...we were the only guests in the enormous palace!
Yesterday (Thursday) we picked up Yvonne in Jaipur and headed north to the Shakhawati. We enjoyed exploring some of the "havelis" or frescoed mansions in Dundlod, and spent last night in Nawalgarh at Apani Dhani, an eco lodge. Now, this is a place I would definitely return to. You can google the website and see for yourself. The water is solar-heated and guests are encouraged to take Indian baths (a bucket and dipper) rather than a shower. Sure enough I had an adequate bath in very hot water with about 2 litres of water. There are photovoltaic cells for electricity. The buildings are built as ecologically as possible using sun bricks and straw with pampas grass thatch roofs (these have to be renewed every 2 -3 years because of termites). The food is vegetarian and is grown organically on their farm. A portion of the room rent supports various social causes in the area. I wished we were not rushing off!
Today we had a complete change of pace from sightseeing...the castle at Samode was closed due to a wedding and so our driver took us to a 5 star heritage hotel in an old fort at Chomu just north of Jaipur. We had a very luxurious lunch that cost us about 3x our usual fare. We were shown around the property and into some of the rooms--definitely not the kind of place we're staying at!