Jaipur, the pink city



The walls of Amber


After visiting Amber Fort our first morning, Ingrid and I together with our smaller group of friends went on our own adventure and separated from the tour group. We hired cars and went exploring Jaipur. We had one agenda – shopping! And I really wanted to see Jaipur up close as it is considered one of the best examples of Indian urban planning using Vastu Shastra or the science of architecture based on directional alignments and astrology.

Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is about 11 kms away from Amber. In 1727, the Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II moved his capital from Amber Fort to Jaipur. Here he was able lay out a very well planned city – wide roads, zoning rules, network of grid streets. There’s even a mathematical formula with the way the streets were laid out – cut into six sectors separated by wide streets of 111 feet. Apparently 111 is a holy number in Hinduism and considered lucky. Commercial shops were designed in multiples of 9 (27); nine signifies the 9 planets of ancient astrological zodiac and twenty-seven signifies the 27 naksatras. Source.


We entered one of the seven gates of Jaipur’s old walled city. I was in awe. It was really PINK! Most buildings, like the Amber Fort, were made of red sandstone.


In 1853, the Prince of Wales visited Jaipur and the whole city was painted pink to welcome him. Up to now, the city is still painted and maintained in pink.


On-going maintenance.


I was so amazed to see so much local enterprise and modern commerce in a place that is completely frozen in time.


Ingrid and I were just in awe. I kept saying, “It’s authentic! Nothing is contrived!”


There was so much activity. It was beautiful, scary and exciting.


The Hawa Mahal or the Palace of Winds built in 1799. Don’t let the imposing 5-storey facade fool you. This building is just one room deep on the top three floors. The purpose of this palace was for royal ladies to be able to watch the city streets and the market without being seen by outsiders. Back then royal women (yes, plural) were not allowed to be seen by other men. It’s like one big architectural veil with latticework windows made of plaster and stone. Interesting to note too that the ornamentation is only focused in the front not the back of the building. Amazing.


Finally, our driver took us to Gem Palace… after much debate and deception attempts. He kept saying “Gem Palace, no good. I take you to better place.” But we had a goal. We had to see Gem Palace. Turns out, there is a system in Jaipur where business establishments pay up to 30% commission to tour operators who recommend shoppers – this includes hotel concierges, taxi drivers, tourist guides etc. Places like Gem Palace do not pay commission and that’s why drivers will try to discourage you from going.


The driveway of Gem Palace


I am fascinated with woodblock print fabric and was amazed to see it as wallpaper at Gem Palace.


I loved the feel of the place! The jewellery was beyond! The rooms were fantastic in it’s old-world character. The Gem Palace was established in 1852 by the Kasliwal family of Jaipur. They have been jewellers for over 8 generations, even serving some Mughal emperors. Their shopping bag bears the crest of the British empire twice because of their appointment by the Earl Mountbatten, Governor General of India and Richard Gardiner Casey, Governor of Bengal.


There were photographs of kings and queens from around the world – Princess Diana etc. Iconic personalities like Jackie Onasis, Mick Jagger And also some Hollywood stars like Gwyneth Paltrow.


We were entertained by an Italian-speaking gentleman who, as it turns out, is a 7th generation Kasliwal gemologist. Samir Kasliwal helps run their family’s precious business. I guess he figured out that we were major fans of jewellery, he brought out some of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever seen! And he let us play with them!!!


Ingrid’s piece was gorgeous. You must read her story of this place. The emerald opens up like a locket to reveal a very interesting “surprise.”


We all got to try the most precious pieces! These were museum quality! Needless to say, we were like kids in a candy store. I’m not exaggerating… I will never forget this experience.


O.M.G. The size of my diamond (I like saying “my”), was bigger than my thumb!


Here’s a closer look at the piece I wore. Sigh.


And the reason why I love Indian jewellery, they embellish the back side of each piece even if it’s not seen by anyone but you. Whoa!


A grand sarpech made of emeralds and diamonds. This is the jewellery that adorns the turban at most Indian wedding. It’s for men.


It was hard to leave Gem Palace. But we had to rush. I was determined to shop at Anokhi, specializing in woodblock print fabrics. Same thing happened. Our driver tried to trick us to going to his recommended shop by saying Anokhi was 45 minutes away and that it was closing at 7:15. But I insisted. I said I had an appointment and that I knew it closed at 8pm. Ingrid and I got there 10 minutes before closing time. I hoarded and later panicked about excess baggage.


We got a very little and quick taste of Jaipur. But it was really colourful and exciting. Here Claudette’s driver assisted us in crossing the street (inside the Pink City!). It was 50 seconds of hell. I was screaming my head off – half frozen and half wanting to sprint. But I knew that doing that would kill me instantly. So we took baby steps and screamed like crazy women.


After surviving the hellish road-crossing, we were met by a not-so-amusing holy cow. The horns! He definitely wanted to be left alone.


A page from Fiona Caulfied’s Love Jaipur book. My friend Alicia Sy recommended this and I’m glad I found it. It’s not easy to find this book. When I got to my Jaipur hotel, I checked the bookstore for the “Love Jaipur” book and the bookstore keeper directed me to the Kama Sutra section. Toink! Haha. This book is filled with inside information on where to go, what to do, where to buy and how to experience Jaipur so you’d fall in love with it. It’s a series by the way; she also has Love Delhi, Love Mumbai etc. The book itself is beautiful – made in acid free paper and fabric cover. It even looks letter pressed (there’s an old book binding and press industry in Jaipur). It also comes in a cotton and silk pouch.


I went away with some fantastic purchases from Jaipur. Treasures, not because they are precious in price, but because they were all carefully crafted by hand.

And in the short time I was there, I fell in love with Jaipur.

I will be back.



Finally, Jaipur



Our bus’ window.


Warning, this blog entry is photo-heavy. I am too attached to my images. It was heartbreaking to edit them out. So here are the ones that made the cut. There are hundreds more in my iPhoto. But for purposes of story-telling, these will do. I had to split the article so I wouldn’t slow down your screen. Please click on “Read more” below to see the entire photo blog after the jump.

Like I said, this was a whirlwind tour of India. I always considered myself a traveller rather than a tourist. Patrick and I like to stay at places for 5 to 7 days, with no planned itinerary. We do the must-sees then we avoid tourist traps. The rest of the time, we try to live like locals. My mother always told me to see local markets and places of worship to get a taste of a new place. This trip was not like that. I joined a tour group for the first time.

I was with a bigger group. The itinerary was well-planned and tight. Our days were packed with all the must-sees. Plus, factor-in the land travel time between Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and back to Delhi, this “road trip” left very little time to explore local shops and markets. But my little group of friends are resourceful. We pooled our talents together and we were able to do micro trips to specific shops. More on that in future posts.

I know most people wanted to see the Taj Mahal. And let me tell you, it is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s has always been on my list. But this trip, for me, was really all about Jaipur. I’ve always been fascinated with Jaipur and the region of Rajasthan.


Our road trip from Delhi to Jaipur in the middle of the night.


We arrived in Delhi in the middle of the night, like at 2AM. Then we boarded our bus to Jaipur. It normally takes 4-6 hours by land depending on who you talk to. Ours took much longer because trucks were out during the night, hence slower speeds and heavy road traffic. Our driver probably deserves an entire entry about him, haha, but I’ll spare you the gory details. Just look at the first photo. Yes, he hit “something” on the way to Jaipur. We don’t know what it was. All we heard was a freaky shatter of glass. Then we all went back to sleep.


This is what woke me up. Hello Jaipur!


And so, twelve hours into my journey I missed my daughters painfully. They would love to see these guys on the road.


And Mr. Camel.


After a quick stop at our hotel, we continued on to see Amber Fort.


The ride up this hill was breathtaking.


All along I thought the town was named after amber – the gem stone. But it is actually pronounced “Amer”. Amber is about 11 kilometers from the city of Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan. This was the capital of the ruling clan of Kachhawa from 1037 to 1727AD after which it moved to Jaipur.


Upon entering the gates of Amber Fort, we saw this woman dressed in colourful clothing cleaning the rocky floor by the gates. This was a common sight inside the walls. (Annoyed that this was saved in low-res, grrr).


For sale.


Outside the gates, vendors sold all sorts of colourful things.


I was fascinated with these elephants. But I didn’t get to ride them. Most touristy books recommend riding an elephant around the fort. We didn’t have time. Besides, I got the picture.


A happy welcome.


Amber Fort turned out to be one of my most favourite sights in India. I want to go back.


Claudette Vitug and Ingrid aka the baghag.


Chef Stevie Villacin (look at that bird flying towards him)


Carved marble screens.


There were so many layers at the Amber Fort, around four. More photos after the jump.


Click here to see the rest of the story and photos




In a few weeks, I’ll be going on a short trip to India. I’ll be with a small group together with my good friend Ingrid. I have always wanted go. And so has Patrick. But we have this thing about not leaving the children alone. So we only either travel with them or bring them to my folks (in Canada) then jet off somewhere. Neither option is possible. So it’ll just be me. It’s hard not to have any family around.

Last year, my sister in law Isabelle, who lives in New York, went by herself. She came back with lots of woodblock print fabric, great photos and 7 pounds shed off (thanks to her North American tummy and the Indian diet). I plan to do the same thing, including the weight loss. Good luck to me.


Isabelle in India, December 2010


I have featured Isabelle’s New York apartment in my livejournal blog many times. Isabelle is in the design industry in Manhattan. She’s exposed to architecture and interior design even on the trade level. So she knows where to get anything. Her place is gorgeous and always evolving. (I’ll post links to her apartment if and when livejournal goes up again. It’s currently under attack once more.) Her current phase is, naturally, India. Look at how she worked Indian fabric into her very chic Manhattan apartment.


The bolster pillow is from Suzani. Though it looks it, it’s technically not Indian.


The chest is made of pressed or hammered tin, made in India but bought in NYC.


Her two old French chairs got reupholstered using Indian wood block print fabric on “katcha” found in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.  She says it wasn’t cheap there but she still went for it. Interesting mix of the luxury of a gilded french bergere paired with something humble. (Note: San Miguel de Allende is a fabulous place in Mexico. I’ve been there before I reconnected with the Philippines and it quenched my thirst for something local and artsy/crafty.)


From another angle.


“I’ve gone Indian in my bedroom. I hand stitched the curtains myself.” — Isabelle


Here’s how the lovely prints look like with backlighting.


Indian woodblock print sheets paired with headboard draped in an embroidered blanket she got in Mexico City.


She changes the look of her headboard by simply draping white cutout fabric from India. “Nothing fancy,” says Isabelle. “I lugged that quilt through 4 international airports. They were so inexpensive. It was hard to choose at the factory. No two patterns were alike.”


I love the mixing of different prints.


Indian woodblock printing factories, here I come.



Canada weekend



Canada Day started for us last Friday, we’re in a different timezone. Someone in Twitter told me that most Canadians don’t celebrate Canada Day. I don’t know in what planet because every Canadian I know celebrates it somehow. Or at least says happy birthday Canada. It’s’ particularly big this year because the world is watching. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in Canada on their first official trip as a couple. More on that in a bit.

There were no parties here, or at least that I know of. I used to celebrate with the Canadian Embassy Manila. Once I got to cut the big maple leaf cake with the Ambassador, Peter Sutherland, his wife and a real RCMP (mountie). Those parties were great – with real Canadian salmon, beer, cheese and all things good.


Canada Day in Manila years ago


So we’ve been having Canadian bacon from my mom. She’s here the whole month of June. She goes back home tomorrow. Every time they come here they know what to bring me – cheese and bacon.


I can now make a really good bloody caesar. Really. Really. Good. I used to have to wait until I reached a Canadian territory before I could order a caesar. Everywhere else they think its a bloody mary. It’s not.


Thanks to Clamato, which Rustan’s carries sometimes, I can make a bloody caesar anytime.


I even have a real taste of home. My brother sends me these bottles of relish. He makes them from his garden.


Now the kids can ice skate. My mom used to be a skate mom when my sisters were in preschool. She would chaperone and help tie the kids’ skates.


She’s getting better each time. More than I can say for myself because I’m terrified of the ice.


I’ve been following the Royal Tour via this iPhone ap. It’s pretty good and detailed. I sent my sister William and Kate’s itinerary. My youngest sister is currently in Quebec City visiting her in-laws. I’m not sure she’ll go see the Royals because really, who goes to these things with the slight chance of seeing them up close? We tried to convince her, or at least I asked her to find a fridge magnet of W+K in French. My BIL Mathieu doesn’t really care, LOL. Not sure if its a guy thing or a Quebec thing. Haha.


I loved loved loved this hat. Great choice, Duchess! She’s really won my heart. Haha. Now I can’t wait to see how they’ll charm the Quebecois. I’m watching that…
Source Canadian Heritage, Canada Day Noon Show.


I’m loving all her fashion choices. This reminds me of a K&Company dress from a couple of years ago. I have it in all colours, except ours is not v-necked.
Source Canadian Heritage, The evening show on Parliament Hill


Here’s a bit of a booboo. This photo was on the iPhone Royal Tour ap for a few minutes. I thought it was cheesy but cute. A bit off, actually. So I wanted to grab the link to post it here. As I was doing all that, the photo disappeared from the site. All that was left was this thumbnail (much expanded now, hence the pixellation). Why did Heritage Canada remove it? Were they asked? Or as Frances Sales, editor in chief of OK magazine thinks, perhaps they will sell the photo to a publication?


How’s your weekend coming along? Anyone else watching Catherine as much as I am?

Staycation at the Sofitel



A couple of weeks ago we stayed at Hotel Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila. We didn’t go anywhere far or exciting this summer. Though the kids’ activities were action-packed, we couldn’t let this summer go by without a little treat so we went for a staycation instead of a trip. The universe conspired and we ended up at the Sofitel Prestige Suite for three days. It was wonderful.


View from the entrance to the room.


The living and dining areas.


Same area, reverse shot. Can you see my kids checking everything out? They do this type of inspection everytime we enter a hotel room.


View from one of our windows. I lost count of how many windows and balconies there were. Our room was really long.


I wear a lot of blue and white stripes. I was so pleased with our room.


So were the kids. They couldn’t believe how big it was. The two “littles” danced.


Lily checked out the amenities. The bathtub was big. The kids loved it.


I loved the toiletries. For three days we all smelled like Hermes.


Our bathroom had two back to back lavatories.


Lily claimed the rights to the “office.”


I loved the idea of having a little home office like this – adjacent to the master bedroom and facing a view of the bay.


Lily’s drawing. Check out the personalized stationery!


Of course we hit the pool right away.


I have fond memories about the Philippine Plaza pool. It was a landmark then. It’s still spectacular now. Lots of kid-friendly parts. But there were very deep parts too (I’m so not used to deep pools anymore). The slides were not for kids below 12. It’s pretty trecherous. Exciting for big kids.


Lily's way of relaxing
Lily loves doing this. Chillax.


She looks so grown up
Sophia loved the idea of being so close to the sea.


They were wishing there was a beach. (Soph’s multicoloured nail lacquer was badly in need of a re-do.)


Lily and Stella


Good thing there was a sandbox.


Stella took long naps. Here, she just woke up and took off her clothes.


Warning, this photo is guaranteed contagious. After her siesta. Yawn…


The hotel is so beautiful at night. We took long walks and even swam at night.


The kids played in the playground and stayed up way past their bedtime.


Beautiful architecture, inside and out.


Best view of fireworks from our room. There just happened to be an event at their tent.


Patrick and my favourite part was our access to Club Millesime, their executive lounge. Everything was free.


It had been newly renovated.




Great memories were made again.