Accompanying several friends on a lengthy trip to India where they were purchasing artifacts for their two stores in America, I felt like a real-life Maharani as we checked into the Taj Mahal Hotel for a few nights in Bombay. It was 1982 and my friends had been to this part of the world many times before but it was a first for me. My excitement was overwhelming as I found myself surrounded by the marble and gilt of the room décor and the exotic looking, obsequious service people.
After a few days roaming the streets of Bombay, with its sacred cows ambling beside us, we headed to Jaipur, an ancient once-royal city whose Rambagh Palace Hotel was once home to the Maharajah of Jaipur and which is now a luxury hotel. It was late October and the population was readying itself for a festival known as Diwali or festival of lights. My friends told me that the holiday celebrates the triumph of good over evil and people get new clothes to wear and get together with friends for snacks and sweets. They planned a celebration dinner the evening of Diwali and suggested I get a special outfit to wear. The Hawa Mahal, or palace of the winds, overlooked the main shopping thoroughfare. This spectacular structure, built in 1799, is five stories high and covered with intricately decorated small windows. Darting in and out of the many open-front shops along the street, a striking outfit caught my eye. It was black silk shantung, with stripes of gold and silver, and consisted of pants, a tunic top and a large shawl. When the evening of Diwali arrived, I dressed and entered the Rambagh Palace gardens and verandas on the way to dinner, dressed in my Indian-lady finest frock. To my delight, every walkway and path had been lined with little clay lamps that were lit and shimmering in the dark. Suddenly spectacular fireworks began lighting up the night sky and I was overpowered with the beauty of it all.
I was invited back to India three times with my friends after that first trip, but, while all visually exciting, none of them could compare to being in Jaipur for Diwali.