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Saturday, April 26, 2008

April 23-26, 2008: Jaisalmer
Heritage Inn Rating: Average to good
The hotel staff greeted us with a mala and had a welcome board with our name posted – nice touch.  The rooms were very average with poor lighting (too many energy efficient bulbs with not enough light) although they were clean and overlooked a nice courtyard. The staff in the dining room was fairly attentive but the breakfast (included) was mediocre.  Lunch and dinner (not included) was quite good.  
Guide: Kamal Rating: Average to good guide. 
At the beginning of the tour, Kamal was informative about the fort and the dam, giving the history of each in some detail.  However, it would have been nice for him to accompany us into the Jain temples (much like other guides were doing with their groups) to explain some of the carvings on the walls.  Beyond the beauty of them, they were meaningless because we could not understand the symbolism of them without benefit of someone who knows the history.  Again, this guide would have served us best if he would have turned off his cell phone and done what he was hired to – guide.  In the evening, he explained that he would take us on a silver tour into the town to see the silver craftsmen and their work but instead took us to a showroom where a silversmith plied his jewellery.  The same thing happened with the textile tour.   What we saw was a showroom with salespeople trying to sell us blankets and cushion covers rather than how the garments were made.  His cell phone again provided much distraction for him with not much else for us.  He explained the next day on the way to the camel ride that he was disappointed that he spent the previous day with us and we did not purchase anything so he got no commission.  He may need to understand that ALL tourists do not come to India with the intention of buying trinkets.  Some actually come to appreciate the history and culture.
After lengthy discussion of karma, I explained my interpretation of karma to him (karma is part what you make of your life and part destiny and your effort is proportional to your reward), our purpose for this trip and our lack of interest in craft stores, he redeemed himself somewhat and arranged for a camel cart for my parents since they would not have been able to do the camel ride.  At the end of the tour, he said that he learned a valuable lesson from me that day - one that he will carry for the rest of his life.  I hope so! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 22-23, 2008: Bikaner
Heritage Resort Rating: Very good
Overall, the facility and staff was good.  The rooms were good as were the dining facilities.  The dining staff were accommodating and the variety at breakfast although not as lavish as Castle Mandawa, was good. The Ayuevedic massage was a welcome treat after 5 days in Delhi’s heat.  
Guide: (don’t remember his name) Rating: Good
This guide, although knowledgeable about the history of Bikaner, seemed intent on letting us know through one means or another that his Brahmin status was usurped by the opportunities of the untouchables of Bikaner and India in general.  His little rant about the injustices he as a Brahmin now has to face with the outlaw of the caste system was unnecessary.  His knowledge of the fort was good and he did explain about the paintings and the maharajah’s presence at the fort.  He told us to walk around part of the time on our own but not knowing the history, it was just a walk to look at some of the architecture.  Other groups in the fort had their guides explaining individual carvings and symbols which would have been helpful to us too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April 21-22, 2008: Mandawa
Castle Mandawa (Rating: Excellent)
Everything about the Castle and staff was outstanding.  From the moment we entered the facility, we were offered a cool drink and a wet facecloth.  The staff were warm and friendly every step of the way. The upgraded splendour of our rooms was indeed a pleasant surprise after the Connaught.  The staff was helpful and friendly without being intrusive.  Dinner (not included) was a spread fit for a king’s feast and the entertainment was a nice bonus.  Same with breakfast (included). The staff was again attentive without hovering and the selection of breakfast food was good. Whatever they are doing, they are doing it right.
The guide: Mahboo (Rating: Excellent)
The guide was friendly and courteous.  He explained the history of Mandawa and our walk through town was very informative.  He did not appear to be rushed or in a hurry and answered all our questions in a knowledgeable way.  Given our first experience with intense desert heat, he was willing to wait for us or cut short the tour when we were no longer able to tolerate the heat.   The guide was sincere, humble and attentive.