Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jodhpur's fort
Letter from Delhi
January 25, 2011

There’s a lot of comfort and convenience in depopulated Wellington, a relaxed city which served as my casual base under the protection of my great friend Jack during the eleven days spent in New Zealand. I hope to go back to its low skyline, windy situation and abundant coffee bars, which always serve a wacky chocolate fish with your caffe mocha.

The flight to Brisbane lasted an easy three and a half hours, with an efficient transit through immigration as the rains pounded Queensland. I took a train down to Gold Coast, an hour and a half, and met up with Venetta Fields, whom I’ve known since my early days in Hollywood, when she sang background for everybody famous; thirty years ago she moved to Oz, and now she’s a legend there. Under intermittently sunny skies and high humidity, we wandered the locality, and had a chance to visit Gaia, a beautiful destination spa halfway to Melbourne. This excellent facility is set on a verdant hilltop with 360 degree views, one of the top spas in the world. Rustic bungalows with all the modern conveniences, yoga and pampering treatments, and personalized food service. The property enjoys an outstanding international reputation and I am not supposed to mention that Olivia Newton-John is one of the co-owners. I’d like to return for a retreat there- one has the feeling it’s a place to really recharge and restore.

They call Jodhpur the Blue City

I left Brisbane as the waters crested, just before the worst of the flooding. Stood in line at the airport for 2 hours to get my boarding pass- they were short-handed because people were tending to their threatened homes. And then the computers went down. The flight left an hour late, for which the overly-polite Aussies apologized repeatedly.

A long haul to India, and rather than touching down in Singapore, Malaysian Airlines dropped me in Kuala Lumpur for a 10-hour layover. They did provide a clean hotel room a short shuttle ride from the airport, where I had a nap and a shower after the 9-hour flight. The KL airport is huge and new, and often inexplicably difficult to navigate. They’re proud of their signage system, but it took a lot of puzzling to find my way out and in, and the strange traffic patterns in the duty free area often meant navigating bottlenecks in narrow passages where only 2 or 3 people could pass at a time. Every international brand is represented there, but no real bargains or shopping finds. I was glad to get back on the jet for the 6 hour leg to New Delhi.

My friend Dr. Manas Fuloria invited me to accompany his family on a visit to Kingdom of Dreams, a kitschy new enterprise down in Gurgaon, kind of a combination Bollywood plus Vegas plus Disney, with an over-the-top food court called “Culture Gully” next to a huge theatre which features spectacles along the lines of “The Lion King” with big production numbers. There’s a new magician coming to town and he will no doubt pack in the crowds. If you’ve pretty much exhausted all the tourist attractions in the Delhi area, you need to see this place at least once, if for nothing other than the decor. There’s a shopping level above the food court with overpriced everything, and no shortage of junk. Your challenge: to leave without buying anything. I dare you not to succumb.

I had the pleasure of going back to Chhatra Sagar, an 11-tent luxury resort set on a dam in Nimaj in rural Rajasthan, operated by my friends the Rathore family. First visited it two years ago and fell in love with the place, its comfort and quiet and nobility of purpose. Also, great food. Had two glorious nights of sound sleep, saw a lot of birds and wildlife, and rested up for the next chapter of this odyssey, which will take me to Europe.

I built in a night in Jodhpur, my first visit to Rajasthan’s capital known as the blue city, and it is quite a place, filled with outstanding handicrafts, history and very kind people. Could have stayed another couple days easily. Slept at Raas Haveli, in the old city, a highly recommended luxury property (I’ll write in more detail on that for Lucire in coming weeks and include pictures.) Few properties could be so well situated, set at the base of the hill where an historic fort dominates the skyline. This is a great facility, with a smart architect, every modern convenience and a world-class kitchen. It’s early in the life of the property, so get there while you can, and avail yourself of the sky blue tuk-tuk the haveli keeps for guests. A walk through the narrow alleys down to the open market below the clock tower also a must.

I motored about 30km southwest of the city to the copmpound of a rugmaker named Roopraj, who showed an amazing array of durries he weaves. All natural fibers and dyes, traditional patterns and he supports about 50 local households who create the products by hand. While it’s a bit of a expedition to get out there it’s a trip worthwhile, and the prices are right. He will ship almost anywhere in the world.

The biggest news is regarding Runtime, my novel about a technology company in India. The book will be published by Prakash, India’s largest, with a great distribution system, meaning every big bookstore and airport in the country. I’ll be making the last tweaks on the manuscript this week, then an editor will spend a month doing whatever it is they do. The book goes to the printer around April 1, and will be in stores by the beginning of May. This means I’ll be back to India another two or three times before 2012. The team at Shanti Home joined me for a celebratory lunch with a cake. Life is getting interesting.
Some of the durries sold by Mr. Roopraj

Gurgaon's Kingdom of Dreams, a bit over-the-top
Chhatra Sagar in Nimaj