Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bharatpur - Deeg Palace

We took an exciting bus ride where no one seemed to speak a lick of English to Bharatpur, and then tried to transfer to another bus to take us to the right side of town for the bird park. We found the right bus and many people indicated that it would work for us, but one particularly pushy tuk-tuk driver kept telling us that it wouldn't, and seemed to be making arrangements with the driver and ticket seller to prevent us from getting the ticket. He wanted 50 rupies to take us 4 km. With some effort we managed to talk a rickshaw driver down to 30 rupies, though he talked with another buy along the way (clearly about us and the fare--they speak the numbers in English even while speaking Hindi), and then asked for 50 rupies when we arrived, like his friend told him to do. After we got across town, we found out that the standard rate is 5 rupies, though I doubt a white person has gotten it that cheap in years. No wonder the bus isn't a typical way to do that trip. Even though we can afford it, these rickshaw rides do add up, and it is really frustrating to be treated this way.

Anyway, we only took the rickshaw as far as the park entrance and then walked the last half km to the Royal Guest House recommended by Lonely Planet, and checked into the nicest room we've had all trip, and for only 400 rupies ($8/night). It even had its own on-demand water heater (which made the water crazy-hot for like 3 minutes then shut off). Then went up to the shady rooftop restaurant for lunch. The food was a little overpriced, but whatever. At lunch we met Elsie from Scotland, who invited us to join her for her trip to Deeg Palace that afternoon. She's been traveling with a driver for a week and a half and hadn't had a moment away from him that whole time until the day before. She seemed very lonely for English-speaking companions, and also said her driver kept making her eat at very expensive restaurants--like 800 rupies for one person, compared to us normally spending 300 rupies between us! We didn't tell her that her "included" room here was probably only worth around $10/night. These tour companies charge around $100/day for transportation and lodging, so they must be making a bundle! Still, it’s probably a much more relaxing way to see the country.

We piled into her car: her and us in the backseat sharing two seatbelts (though the owner assured us we didn't need to use them because he was friends with the cops), the driver up front along with the home stay owner and his 8-year-old daughter in his lap. The owner gave us a very nice tour of Deeg Palace. He evidently has a regular IT job and just does the home stay thing on the side for fun and was taking the day off to show Elsie around. It was one of the nicer palaces we've seen, complete with old furniture inside, and one of the buildings was stolen and taken by ship from Delhi. Wow!

We had a nice dinner together back at the hotel where we learned about Black Salt, a pinkish salt mined in India with a particular set of impurities giving it a unique but familiar flavor. We also got to hear about the owner’s organic farm nearby where much of our dinner had been grown.

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