We’re up early today, in the quiet pre-dawn, ready for a hot-air balloon ride over Jaipur. After a quick wake-up coffee or tea and a pastry or two at our exquisite lodging, the Rambagh Palace, we’re met and driven to the city’s outskirts, where our balloon is being inflated, awaiting the dawn of the brilliantly red Rajasthani sun. Arjun, our cheery balloon pilot, spends half the year in France, floating above the Loire Valley, and the other half at home here in Jaipur. He welcomes us, we step into the balloon’s gondola, and off we go, wafting high above fields and villages, following the light breeze, watching another balloon temporarily eclipse the rising sun like a gaily coloured moon.
Arjun lets us slowly sink down a bit, and we wave to school kids on their way to class, office workers on their bikes, families breakfasting atop their homes. We follow the gentle dictates of the wind, perhaps flying over the massive Amber Fort, or the city, or its bustling outskirts, always in close communication with our support vehicles below. When Arjun finds a landing spot, we slowly descend, landing with the barest thump. Suddenly we’re the stars of the early morning show, surrounded by Jaipurians, eager to take selfies and shake the hands of us exotic folk.
After a leisurely breakfast and time to freshen up, we head out with our Micato Travel Director for a day of sightseeing and more spirit-enlivening.
First to Jaipur’s immense and gorgeously ornate City Palace, still the home of the royal family that—in concordance with the British—ruled the Pink City for centuries. Micato has long had a special relationship with the erstwhile rulers, and after a wander in the Palace’s fascinating museum, gardens, and courtyards, we’re discreetly ushered into magnificent, normally off-limits private rooms and view-rich aeries atop the Palace’s family quarters.
Leaving the main Palace, we’ll gaze up at the adjacent Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds, a high, fantastically filigreed screen from which women of the royal family could gaze in privacy on Jaipur’s forever active street life.
Our air-conditioned vehicles, stocked with cool water and snacks, take us to the Jantar Mantar, an astronomical observatory built by Sawai Jai Singh II almost three hundred years ago. Jantar Mantar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its sundial, just one of many huge instruments, is the world’s largest. Seemingly as whimsical as something out of Dr. Seuss, the Jantar was strikingly accurate in its calculations of the movements of the sun, moon, and planets.
Time permitting, we’ll pay a visit to a local school supported by Micato and its guests. India is Micato’s ancestral homeland, and we’re a little prejudiced perhaps, but a visit with the school’s sparkling, joyously eager kids will give us another reason—our trip will be full of them— to see why India faces the future with such optimism.
Now to a luncheon at one of the city’s finest restaurants, where, with the help of our Travel Director, we can sample a variety of local and international dishes and relax before the afternoon’s activities.
On another of our Jaipur days, we’ll visit the Amber Fort, and marvel at its intimate courtyards and fountains, and be bedazzled by the Sheesh Mahal, or Mirror Palace, which surrounds us in a magical mist of reflected light. But today we’ll drive into the countryside for a visit to the lapidary Samode Palace, erected by noble satraps of Jaipur’s maharajahs.
Samode is a quintessentially exquisite Indian palace—as location scouts know; it’s been the centerpiece of many Indian and international films, including HBO’s wonderful Far Pavilions—decorated with magnificent frescoes, inlaid marble floors, gracefully ornamented pillars, entire walls of bright mosaic, lovingly tended gardens, all testimony to the immense wealth of Rajasthan’s artistically-inclined elites.
After that immersion in elegance, we’ll make a short drive to a private estate owned by an old Micato friend. Here we’ll spend an afternoon helping bathe and taking a short walk with lovingly cared-for elephants.
And after a lovely afternoon, we thank our new friend, and enjoy a wonderfully catered dinner in a flowered arbor. Then back to the Rambagh Palace for a nightcap, a dance performance in the Palace’s gardens, or an early night after a typically vital Indian day.