I was on the run from time. Never spending too much time in one place, going through dodgy streets and to questionable places, the chase had started to take its toll on me. I needed to find allies among the unwanted. It was time for monkeys.
I definitely started sounding crazy.
Method of arrival: Bus
I had been reading everywhere that at times the best way to see part of India is by renting a rickshaw for an entire day; this certainly was the case here – I managed to do minimal if any research on this last part of my journey. Wikitravel suggests that you shouldn’t pay more than 600 rupees for an entire day rental, yet I let myself be persuaded by my driver to give him 1000. Considering that you are going to be with him all day (and considering I was depending on him to take me to all the nice places) having him on my good side seemed more important than haggling down to pay 400 rupees less. It’s not always about being cheap.
Lucky – the driver – had a very unique way of persuading me to take a whole day with him (at first I was reluctant – I did know some places that I wanted to see). He had this journal with people from all over the world write about him in their native language, and he even had someone from Romania who described how awesome and everything it was. More of a ploy than something that genuinely made him more trustworthy in my eyes, but I am always one to appreciate such effort and skill in manipulating others.
The weariness of the trip was making me depressed – and so was my constant attempt at being cheap in a very cheap country.
Enter Galta Ji: THE MONKEY TEMPLE. It was really the boost that I needed. My driver parked at the very bottom of the little hill and handed me over to a local boy that would supposedly protect me from the anger of the monkeys as well as tell me stories. I bought some nuts which proved useful when I wanted pictures with the critters.
Needless to say there will be a ton of photos of monkeys.
The trek up to the Sun Temple and the short encounters with the rhesus macaques (that is the actual species of monkeys that plagues these lands) would prove rather insightful both to India as a whole and to Jaipur. From the top one could see that the city was poor and barely looked like what one would consider a “tourist destination”.
I also learned that humans, just like monkeys, are incredibly behaved as long as I have peanuts to offer. Once the offerings stop, however, they become restless and aggressive. The same tone would exist with many of the people I encountered here – friendly when there was a prospect of me offering money but changing the tune quite abruptly once I dispelled that dream.
A group of women, coming from deep inside the mountains, crossed the lower pathways. Monkeys started gathering from everywhere, albeit these were supposedly quite friendly compared to the ones you would meet further away from the city. These macaques had plentiful food from tourists and local children, whereas the others starved and became aggressive.
All I had wanted to do in India was to ride an elephant. So I was very excited when I read that the Amber Temple offered elephant rides. Unfortunately, they would only be there until noon, which, due to my erratic travel plans, would not have been doable. Luckily my driver took me to the elephant village!
I use the term “village” loosely. Just like the Kodanadu Elephant Reserve, some might expect a land of free elephant, roaming in jungle like landscape. Nope. It was more of a desert sprinkled with giant cement houses (very similar to the ones in Zoo Tycoon). For the price of 1500 (could be lower but I felt rather magnanimous) you hitch a ride on the biggest land mammal of planet Earth.
He felt leathery. And big hairs came from his head, at times fluttering his ears to make the flies go away. There was nothing between me and the elephant, except for my jeans and my underwear, riding the elephant bareback (nothing unsafe here gentlemen). I roamed around the encampment, my tour guide constantly taking pictures of me.
On the elephant, I understood how perhaps at times the rulers of this world felt unstoppable. It wasn’t fast, but boy a creature that lifts me up by his trunk, can rip apart trees and then when i get down it puts its foot in the air so I can step on it… Who can stop this?
The Amber Fort, as previously mentioned, is one of the great attractions of Jaipur. To a large extent, once you’ve seen one Mughal fort you’ve seen them all; however, there was more greenery and water bodies here than in the Jodhpur fort. The same lack of care, however, made me rather sad. Dry water fountains, broken stones, unkept gardens. It was a pity that no one would care more than leave this place to complete ruin.
It was time to spend money. Some shopping for jewellery and a shawl, feeling ripped off again but in the same time its difficult to feel ripped off once you do your bit of haggling (so at least I tried) and it ends up for sums near 10￡. For rings and shawls. Really. Conflicting feeling inside.