Last Friday I went, with my hotel inspector’s hat on, to see The Raj Palace, a sumptuous hotel on the north side of the old city. I went with Suriendra Singh , who is a cousin of the owner. We were shown around the exquisitely restored Palace by a man in white shirt and black jodhpurs. The 38 rooms and suites are very luxurious and decorated with specially commissioned furniture and artefacts that the owner has collected to reflect life for a royal in the 18 century. The bed-linen comes from Italy and the Maharaja’s Presidential Suite is decorated with gold leaf and has a computer in the bathroom to remember guests’ body temperature so the bath water will be just right for their next visit. The whole refurbishment has been done with incredible attention to detail and though it verges on being over the top, it isn’t. We ate like kings under a dazzling Swarovski chandelier and there were rose petals floating in the fingerbowls.
After dinner the car was waiting in the courtyard, and we set off back into the Jaipur traffic. The town is busy at 11pm, people like to be out when it’s a bit cooler - and the street vendors are busy, the cows eating from the take-away packets on the piles of rubbish (their second stomach has obviously adapted to a diet of rice, a little imported grass, cardboard and carrier bags). As we left the main drag to go down a slip-road, our headlights panned a wide stretch of pavement, and a dormitory of sleepers were silhouetted against the pink structure of the fly-over. Some were lying on the typical low beds with a string mesh base, some slept on the floor and some were sleeping on their bicycle rickshaws. It was only a fleeting glimpse and I am not sure if it is where people live or just somewhere they rest up before a nightshift, but they were certainly having a different evening to the one I had just had
Earlier in the day I had gone with the children to their monthly check-up at the hospital. We went by the No. 6 bus and then walked in a crocodile a short distance, snaking through the traffic to the SMS Hospital. It was 12 noon and stifling hot. We were headed for the ART (AntiRetroviral Treatment) Department and had to pass through A&E – a bloodied motorcyclist was being stretchered out of the back of an ambulance – down a long wide corridor and up a flight of stairs. The floor was covered in rubbish and the walls were "splattered" – the washroom just indescribable. The SMS is the public hospital – ie for the masses and, I am told, they just don’t care or know to treat the place properly. It was built by the last but one Maharaja of Jaipur - and it is the biggest teaching hospital in the state of Rajasthan, with top research units etc. (and particularly for HIV/ Aids).The doctors were totally professional, and that is what matters. But I was shocked by the state of the place.
As always, it’s a question of educating the people – and where to start? People are trying but it’s a monumental task with such a massive underclass in such a vast and expanding population. Bring back my rose-scented finger-bowl.