I have been to both Agra and Jaipur and seen most of their star attraction, a few several times. I visited both the Taj Mahal and the Amer fort only last year but then this year offered some unique opportunities. It was easier to do road trips and most of these attractions would have fewer tourists due to a mix of Covid fear and government policy. It was a dream come true to see the Taj nearly devoid of the crowds early morning. While I did not visit the Amer Fort again, there were other attractions in Jaipur to try. I did a safari in the Jhalana Leopard reserve, though I wasn’t lucky enough to spot the majestic animal. The food in both locations was fabulous.
How this trip was planned is an amazing tale. All the bags were packed Saturday night and I was sure I will be going somewhere on Sunday morning, just not sure where. The Farmer protests on the road to Jaipur and some booking errors made sure that it was only past midnight when I knew I was going to Agra. The Amarvilas was too attractive an option and having eaten there earlier meant that I knew how grand the experience was going to be. The Jaipur hotel was booked a while ago and Monday and Tuesday were going to be at the Jai Mahal Palace.
I started at about 8 am and was soon speeding at the fabulous Yamuna expressway. The accident-prone highway is known for its biker gangs and high speeds. Recently installed speed check cameras have put a damper to the fun side of it, but it is still a great road to drive on. I did see a biker gang being stopped by the cops. The highway also has several service areas that allow access to facilities and good food every 30-40 km.
After a brief stop at a Starbucks, I was at the hotel by around noon, just at the early check-in time that my Amex card got me. I had been to Amarvilas for a meal before, but this was my first stay. The hotel is majestic with a view of the Taj from every room. The higher rooms have a better view and I ended up on the third floor, out of 5. The room was large and luxurious with a wonderful balcony to appreciate the wonder of the world.
I was keen to have a meal outside the hotel and the concierge suggested this place “Pinch of Spice” which was 10 minutes away and a traditional Indian restaurant. It was indoors and the tables seemed a little closely spaced. Since I had been sent by Amarvilas, I was seated at a corner table and the one next to me was kept empty for a while. The food was delicious and I had a good dining experience.
The rest of the day was spent enjoying the hotel – highly recommended. The property is beautiful with amazing lawns and walking areas. I had visited the bar about a decade ago and remembered a drink from that time. The bartender made the ‘Mumtaz’ for me and while it is deep red, the taste and the complexity were incredible. He also made me taste some of his current favorites. This was followed by a fabulous dinner and the simple but tasteful Bellevue restaurant. The prawns were perfect and the fig & cognac ice cream was fabulous. A walk in the well-lit lawns with beautiful reflections and the sound of falling water was a perfect ending to the day.
I was up early the next morning and got dropped at the Taj Mahal entrance at 7 am, right when it opened. It was a unique opportunity to see the Taj without the crowds – a very rare sight. I had seen the Taj several times before but mostly in the day time. The changing moods of the marble marvel were quite a sight to behold as the Sun rose and changed the slightly blue morning tint to pink. Even the famous Diana bench was empty for someone to sit and get clicked in the best picture spot. I must have clicked hundreds of pictures from every possible angle of the great monument in the two hours I was there. No photography is allowed indoors, though the inlay work in the marble is incredible. The light coming in from the windows creates an amazing aura inside, but alas no pictures.
The visit was followed by a fabulous breakfast at the hotel with some of the most exotic options I have seen at an all you can eat breakfast. I spend the next few hours walking around the hotel before deciding to skip lunch and head to Jaipur where some friends and a very different adventure awaited…