Sunday, May 24, 2009

Volume 24. Indian Dreams

"Truth Alone Truimphs"

When last we heard from roving

Global Around Town

Senior Travel Correspondent

Douglas Wingate

he was holed up in a Palace

in Jaipur!

Here's a little taste

of his recent trip to

"Incredible India"

(as the country's current ad campaign touts):

"We arrived in Delhi on Thursday evening May 14, where we spent our first night at the lovely, lovely Shangri-La Hotel in the heart of New Delhi, just off the central Connaught Circle close by the nearby seats of government , India Gate, and myriad embassies. The Shangri-La, aptly named for the famed paradise of the popular book and Hollywood movie LOST HORIZONS by one Lord Hilton (no relation to the hoteliers of that name, by the way), is not unexpectedly a modern Chinese-born deluxe chain, akin to an Asian Four Seasons. Happily, the hotel in Delhi is truly a veritable traveler's utopia.
The very next day, we set off for the raison d'etre of our trip (or "yatra," as an Indian holy trek is called) -- the town of Pushkar, in the neighboring state of Rajasthan, which is midway between the famed "Pink City" of Jaipur and the equally famed "lake city" of Udaipur (where the James Bond flick, OCTOPUSSY, was famously filmed at that city's many palaces).

Pushkar is home to the ONLY temple in all of India in honor of Lord Brahma, one third of the well-known trinity of Vedic deities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

As our yatra was intended as a leisurely and luxurious one (although on a very remarkably low budget; see the end of this story for details on that), we first stopped just outside Jaipur, in a gorgeous "Heritage" property known as SAMODE PALACE, a historic royal residence that is spectacularly run as a deluxe hotel nowadays. Our room was big enough to comfortably hold an entire cricket team (India's own unique superstars of sport) -- with a living room, sleeping area, dressing room, writing room, and bi-level bathroom. Although all of it was magnificent, the bath in particular was especially fit for a raj (as kings were called in India). The main floor of the bath was completely modern with a sleek and spacious shower, but there was a special "upstairs" addition (reached by its own set of marble stairs, and surrounded by a carved marble balustrade) where the most glorious tub sat, carved from a single piece of white marble with claw and ball feet no less. But ..., perhaps the piece de resistance was the faucet, which was a marble lions head on the wall, from which bathwater gushed out of the lion's open-jawed throat. A museum piece if ever there was. For more details and pictures, see The night we were in residence at the palace, we happily enjoyed the special benefits of a Spanish health services company that had rented out the gardens and ballroom (the former Durbar Court room, where the local royalty historically received other dignitaries) for a grand gala evening, including fireworks above the palace grounds. Magic!

The next day, we were off to Pushkar itself, a few hours south of Jaipur. Pushkar is best known to many in the world for its famous annual "camel fair" -- usually held in November.

To the spiritual traveler, however, Pushkar is even more famous as being home to the ONLY temple in all of India, dedicated to Lord Brahma the Creator, who is one of the famed triunvirate of Vedic deities that also includes Vishnu the Maintainer, and Shiva the Destroyer. How it is that Brahma has only the one temple in all of the world, while temples to Vishnu and Shiva are as plentiful as McDonald's is worldwide, is a mystery of sorts. There are many competing theories as to the reason for this. To read one of them, see But, what is not in dispute is that if one wishes Brahma's live-in-person blessings, one MUST come to Pushkar!In town for this spiritual purpose, we indeed enjoyed a personalized lakeside puja (prayer ceremony) to curry the Creator's favor, followed by a public evening aarti (fire ceremony) in his honor as well.

Happily, for those seeking these aforementioned spiritual boons, Pushkar -- while a relatively small town -- does nonetheless also have a few royal residences that have been refurbished as first class hotels as well. Most notable are the PUSHKAR PALACE and its sister property, the JAGAT PALACE. We stayed at the latter, which is a lovely heritage hotel that boasts a traditional Indian exterior, along with a very Agatha Christie-like, British Colonial interior. For details on both, see

The next day, we started our trek back to New Delhi, stopping in Jaipur proper, well-known as part of the GOLDEN TRIANGLE, the de rigeur grand tour followed by the well-heeled visitor to India: the other points of that triangle being the capital city of Delhi itself, and the city of Agra, home to the nonpareil TAJ MAHAL. Jaipur's historic nickname is the "Pink City" -- so named for the fact that its great City Palace and related royal buildings all were painted a ruddy Salmon Pink, a gesture of honor by the MahaRaj of Jaipur in 1853, when England's Prince of Wales (who of course was to inherit the title of Emporer of India -- until the country gained its independence nearly a hundred years later in 1947), came for a heralded state visit. The buildings have been so painted ever since.

The city is considered by many to be one of the treasures of classical Indian architecture. Uniquely, its design follows the ancient Indian architectural principles of what is known as Vastu (or Sthapatya Veda), a science that has recently been revived for its maximum value by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,

the modern founder of the worldwide Transcendental Meditation organizaton (See ). According to Wikipedia ( see -- for all manner of detail of what to see and do in Jaipur):

Jaipur is considered by many urbanists to be one of the best planned cities. In an era when most of the rajputs were busy fighting with each other, Jaipur's kings diplomatically broadened their control sphere maintaining good relations with the Mughals.
The city was planned according to Indian Vastu Shastra (Vedic or Pouranic Planning for the comfort and prosperity of the citizens). The directions of each street and market are east to West and North to South. The Eastern gate is called Suraj (Sun) Pol, while the Western gate is called Chand (Moon) Pol. There are only three gates facing East, West, and North including the Northern gate (known as Zorawar Singh gate) which faces toward the ancestral capital of Amber, while many gates face South.
Although the present city has expanded from outside of its walls, the original planning was within the walls. The gates used to be closed at sunset and opened at sunrise. Almost all Northern Indian towns of that period presented a chaotic picture of narrow twisting lanes, a confusion of run-down forts, temples, palaces, and temporary shacks that bore no resemblance at all to the principles set out in Hindu architectural manuals which call for strict geometric planning. Thus, for Sawai Jai Singh II and the Bengali Guru Vidyadhar (who was a 'Shaspati' - Hindu Priest Architect), the founding of Jaipur was also a ritual and a bronze opportunity to plan a whole town according to the principles of Hindu architectural theory.
The town of Jaipur is built in the form of a eight-part Mandala known as the 'Pithapada'. Nine signifies the nine planets of the ancient astrological zodiac. It is also known that Sawai Jai Singh II was a great astronomer and a town planner, and hence the 'Pithapada'. Also, the commercial shops are designed in multiples of nine (27), having one cross street for a planet.

As a perhaps-interesting, modern sidenote, there is in fact one city in the United States also planned entirely according to this same ancient wisdom of Vastu. It is Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa's newest city, where all the homes also are aligned with the four directions, and the entrances to the home are always to the East, in tune with the natural enlivening power of the Sun as it rises in the East, thereby promoting each home's inhabitants enhanced good fortune and health (See ).
(As a further note of full disclosure, your humble writer has one of his homes in this very same Maharish Vedic City!)

Back in Jaipur however, we ensconced ourselves in the sister property of the SAMODE PALACE, known as the SOMODE HAVELI, basically a city palace built by the same royals that built the magnificent country estate in which we had earlier stayed two nights before. Like the palace, the city residence HAVELI, is now run as a truly deluxe hotel, with every amenity that a global deluxe traveler seeks, but also with all the grandeur and character of a "heritage" experience. As only one example, the grand swimming pool at the HAVELI had the currently de rigeur poolside canopied beds, along with enormous bedside standing fans (sadly or more aptly -- mercifully, there are no servants with animal-hair fans anymore!) to keep guests cool as a cucumber in this desert state of Rajasthan. Of all the sites to see in Jaipur (including such highlights as the famed Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal, and the grand Amber Fort outside of town), the most unusual is undoubtedly the JANTAR MANTAR, an improbable, larger-than-life, Vedic astronomical/astrological park just off Jaipur's main City Palace. See giant instruments, which dwarf a man, feel like one has entered a giant's chess -- or similar game -- board. Just extraordinary! For a modern understanding of these fantastifcal intruments from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, see

The next day we headed "home" to Delhi, where we returned to our utopian Shangri-La again. While Delhi abounds with urban pleasures, we chose to pursue our spiritual aims still, and visited several of the city's lesser-known (at least to the typical tourist I think) temples that honor the Indian version of the Virgen Mary -- known as DEVI, or translated into English as MOTHER DIVINE. To many, there is no more powerful Devi temple in Delhi than the KALKA JI temple ( see ), virtually hidden next to the modern architectural masterpiece, the Baha'i Lotus temple, built to resemble a giant marble lotus flower (see ). While the Baha'i temple is gorgeous visually, the KALKA JI temple offers amazing "darshan," or blessings, to those who come to receive the beneficence of Mother Divine. This power is related to the fact that it is one of the famed some-64 SHAKTI PEETHA temples, which are natural power centers emating from the cosmic power of the cosmically divine mother.
And lemme tell ya, a visit here is indeed one very wonderful mind-blowing experience -- wow, wow, wow!

We also visited another lesser known temple (to toursits at least, that is), called YOGA MAYA Mandir, (very close to the tourist hot spot of the KUTUBH MINAR. See ). The Yoga Maya temple is also a temple to Mother Divine, in this case the sister of Lord Krishna, of Bhagavad Gita fame. This temple's beauty is more settled, with a serenity that is enveloping -- a very good place to settle in for some deep meditation, taking with one the motherly protections of Krishna's sister, Yoga Maya herself.

As a final tourists' note, I will say that May is a great time to visit India. It's the time when many Indians head off on traditional Himalayan yatras. It's also before the monsoon rains arrive a month later. It is hot, hot in Delhi and Rajasthan but that's fine when staying royally -- as we did, all of which were cooled by very efficient A/C. Best of all perhaps is that since this is not peak tourist season, all of the aforementioned royal luxury may be had by a relative pauper, like us! No room in which we stayed was over $175, and most (the Heritage palaces in fact) were closer to $100. In contrast, compare the "in-season" rates at the deluxe Shangri-La, which can cost upwards of USD$500 in October through March.So, for a very glamorous, but budget-minded, trip to "Incredible India" -- try the off-season. You'll love it, I think!

The topnotch travel agent I used to make everything effortless for me, for many trips to India now (6 or more maybe) my now good friend Ranjan Gaur, who owns his own Delhi-based travel agency, that offers travel service for any and all trips in India, but with a special emphasis on "spiritual India." He's definitely the guy to go to when you want to get off the beaten track to see what's cooking in mystical matters. Of course, he is great at making sure you can enjoy your creature comforts too, as he was the one responsible for us getting an unheard-of low price at the deluxe Shangri-La in Delhi, for only some $160 a night right now. He also was the one who suggested the 3 luxury "Heritage property" hotels on this trip too. He is a very amiable fellow, who comes from the Brahmin caste (highest, priestly caste) of society, so he has knowledge and entree where some may not. His English is now excellent, and he can joke with complete ease with Americans and Europeans -- which is a real treat in my book. He has his own luxury van (a Toyota minivan with captains chairs, and great A/C) available in Delhi, and road trips beyond, along with excellent, safe drivers. For the money, I'd use him every time!

His details are:

Ranjan Gaur
RUDRAKSH HOLIDAYS B- 602, Ansal Chamber - I, 3 Bhikaji Cama Place New Delhi - 110066
Tele :- 0091 11 46150718 / 2619 8701 /2619 8702
Fax :- 0091 11 2619 8702 Mobile :- 0091 98103 21044
BEST EMAIL: "Gaur, Ranjan" <>. "

Many thanks to our inveterate traveler Doug Wingate
and to Wikipedia for their photos.

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