India is now officially in tourist season as the monsoon ends and the temperatures drop, but as we left Agra after visiting the Taj Mahal, the 40C with 300% humidity felt more like the face of the sun than "the cooler winter months" promised by the guidebook. With heat like this, my forehead in India has the constant appearance of a supersoaker firing range and I've slowly had to accept the small puddle that has formed a permanent water feature at the bottom of my back.
Aquatics aside, after leaving Agra we hit the highway in the direction of Jaipur. En-route we stopped at an alleged "ghost town" with a mosque asking for €5 entry fee. It's highly unlikely that anyone from Tourism India is reading this, but if you are, please note that your ghost town is neither ghostly nor town-like and is in fact just a pile of stones. I was expecting something like that little village in France that still stands empty after the Germans came to pay their respects. Instead, we were faced with the foundations of a village, which we were forbidden to walk around, and a mosque on top of a hill filled with clucking French tourists. The expression "tourist trap" springs to mind, and the number of persistant touts would probably confirm this idea.
*N.B. Between these two paragraphs, a bird shit on my foot. The strange part being, my foot is under a table, there's a roof over my head and there are no birds around...Incredible India...I mean it looks like bird shit...Maybe the mozzies are bigger than I thought?*
We retereated from the mosque's ticket counter, €5 better off, and back to the car with hopes for the next stop, the monkey temple. Two hours later, somewhere in the hills of Rajasthan, we found ourselves in a village, ruled by primates, built onto the side of a hill. It looked like the kind of place where Lara Croft would burst out of a doorway, backward roll, starjump, forward roll, and slap an ape across the face. Clearly that's Monty Python Tomb Raider but you get the idea of the temple.
We bought some nuts, and spent an hour or so at the whim of the monkey gods. Most of the inhabitants were friendly and hospitable, especially after being bribed with a nut, but one mother took a disliking to me after her little one got shoved by another monkey and missed out on a nut. Clearly this was my fault and mama monkey came toward me with a war cry and a look that suggested eye gouging intent. Seconds before she had her hairy fingers in my sockets, the monkeyman (a real man with a self-given title) who was speaking with Lana, stepped in front and stopped her with a human/monkey grunt. This did the trick but mama monkey still wanted my blood and so I backed away slowly, throwing nuts in the opposite direction. We arrived safely, without monkey injury, an hour later in Jaipur.
The next day, after another fine rooftop breakfast of chai, toast, omlette and butter suffering from sunstroke, we went out to the edge of Jaipur and marvelled at the steady stream of elephant taxis, trafficking sunburnt westerners up to the hilltop palace of shiny shiny. The real name is something a tad more official but I never found out as we didn't go in. We opted to watch the elephant taxis instead. And, in defence of my cultural ignorance, in Europe we've got plenty of history with palaces and forts but elephant taxis... a little thin on the ground around Hamburg.
After photographing the tuskless monsters from every possible, respectable angle, we made tracks in the direction of Jaipur's bazaars. A fatal decision. Indian traffic is fantastically chaotic but when channeled down narrow lanes, everything simply comes to a crunching standstill. We spent several small lifetimes, waiting behind motionless tuk tuks, slowly choking to death on exhaust fumes and after only 30 minutes, it becamee too much to handle. We bailed out, pansy tourist style, and went back to the hotel.
That night, desperate to avoid traffic but experience something at the same time, we were formally introduced to the world of Bollywood...
Day 6 - Delhi Belly (negative aside from a few rumblings)