Filled with scary stories of overpriced tuktuks and pinched behinds, we arrived in Jaipur nervous and prepared for battle. Sure, our first encounter with a tuktuk driver was incredibly rude and we decided to walk three kilometres; and yes, the tourist shops didn’t entertain our requests to bargain; but what we found in Jaipur was so much more.
After arriving at the beautiful four story Rajputana Guest House and realizing we had booked a room for the previous night, our host laughed and said that we could of course stay for the four nights we had paid for. We sat down to a delicious home cooked meal with some fellow travellers. We learned that our host, KP, used to work as a five star chef at the Taj Palace in Jaipur. This being said, his food spoke for itself, so much so, that it, along with my feelings towards his hospitality, deserve a blog entry of their own.
First off, I won’t pretend to be an authority regarding what is good art and what is not, however what I felt when introduced to KP’s cooking and hospitality was that this man, at his core, is a true artist. The passion and care KP puts into his food, home and each conversation is filled with kindness, energy and a genuine love for his country and life in general. Each meal, by far the best we’ve had in India, was prepared from scratch using fresh local ingredients. Even the curd (yogurt) was made in the home, before fraternizing with granola, bananas, apples, pomegranates, honey and coconut to make our breakfast Muesli. While each dish was its own special occasion, the ones that stood out the most were the stuffed capsicum peppers, with their delicious caraway seeds, the magical banana pancakes, the butter chicken as well as all the food we enjoyed on Christmas day, which I will elaborate on in a moment.
On our second night, KP shared with us the story of his life’s journey over a bottle of whiskey. He spoke of his youth, his family, past occupations and of how he came to run the Rajputana Guest House. It was very clear that KP thoroughly enjoyed learning about other cultures through the guests that visited his home. Even more so, KP takes great pleasure in serving others and sharing India’s culture with his guests and does so in an honest and passionate way that leaves your heart warmed and your brain fuller than before you arrived. The recurring theme in each of our conversations was destiny and by the end of our second night, we knew it was destiny that brought us to his door.
What was originally a four night stay in Rajasthan’s capital, turned into a fourteen day holiday getting to know KP and his wonderful family. We were so lucky that we were the only guests for the first week or so. Aside from many more late night conversations and bottles of whiskey or rum (one with a rooftop bonfire), we were fortunate to have many other unique experiences, some of which I will share and while I could go on and on, I will do my best to keep them brief. After I purchased some material, KP took me for a ride on his scooter to his tailor where I was measured for some trousers. They of course fit great and I love them; all-in they cost about $16CAD. When my chest congestion hadn’t improved, KP kindly took Chantal for a scooter ride to the pharmacy to get me medicine. On another day, Chantal and I joined KP and his mom on a trip to the vegetable market and supermarket where he purchased extra supplies so I could make his family BBQ sauce, which they had never tried. Since they are vegetarian, I cooked eggplant and mushrooms in the sauce. Chantal and I also accompanied KP and his mother to the Ganesh Temple, where they go each week to worship. Together, we also visited Jaipur’s Birla Mandir, an immaculate white marble temple. We also went to see a Bollywood movie with KP and his mom; this was a super cool experience and unlike seeing a movie at home, the theatre was full of energy and cheering.
On Christmas Eve we found a potted plant outside our room, decorated from top to bottom with Christmas ornaments, garland and lights; this was done in secret by KP’s lovely sister, Vinisha. This kind gesture made us a little less homesick as did telling KP and his family about each of our families’ traditions at home; they were keen to listen. One particular tradition I shared with KP was that each Christmas morning, my family has a shot of tequila together. He must have liked this one, because as we sat down to our Christmas breakfast, a large shot of rum was placed in front of each of us. For breakfast we also enjoyed a banana pancake with honey, eggs, toast, indian potato chips and an amazing chocolate fruit cake that paired unbelievably well with the rum. For supper, we feasted on tandoori chicken, fresh vegetables, egg curry, a bean curry, rice, chapati and more of the stuffed capsicums. This was topped with chocolate cake, fruit cake and silver-foiled cashew cookies. In the evening we drank chai with the family, gave them some small gifts to remember us by and Vinisha and her mom dressed Chantal in a beautiful blue sari and jewelry. After this KP, Chantal and I drank whiskey late into the night.
On our last day at the Rajputana Guest House, Vinisha pampered Chantal by putting henna in her hair, and cutting it. She also spent the evening putting henna on both of Chantal’s hands and arms. Both were beautiful and so very kind. The family gave Chantal and I extremely thoughtful gifts including material for pants and a shirt, and a scarf for myself. Chantal received a gorgeous pashmina, a lovely kurta (indian style shirt) and beautiful jewelry. We were both so touched and felt so fortunate to spend our Christmas away from home with such a welcoming and loving family. While getting to know KP and his family, we learned more about India and its people than we ever could have from tourist sites and museums. It was difficult to leave but, we know we have a home away from Canada, one we will surely return to.