I’d heard a lot about ‘The Pink City’ which is one of the reasons I’d come to Jaipur, though I actually knew nothing about it. The name for me conjured folkloric images… an assortment of mystical, old buildings inside a crumbling fortified city that glow pink in the sun… Some say it’s an unexplained optical illusion, but other folk say it’s an ancient curse……. Nah, it’s none of that. It’s just a bunch of buildings painted on-the-turn-ham-pink.
(The reason is if you’re interested: in the 1870s the Maharaja [ruler] of Jaipur really fancied Prince Albert and wanted to impress him when he visited so got everyone to paint everything pink). (One part of that isn’t true).
Like Old Delhi, this fortified and pink part of Jaipur is a hectic warren of bustling back streets. It’s an interesting place to walk around, and there’s a palace there somewhere too which I try and fail to find. After getting too hot and tired, I give up looking, find the first tuktuk and ask for ‘Monkey Temple’. I don’t even know what Monkey Temple is – although I’m guessing it’s a temple with monkeys – it’s just something I’ve heard a few people say. I’m in need of calm, I have 5 hours to kill before my train and I think ‘Yeah, I could do with some monkeys’ so off I go.
Correct. It is a temple with monkeys. The temple itself (which is actually the sun temple and is dedicated to the sun god) is at the top of a steep hill, at the base of which are hundreds of monkeys and men trying to sell me peanuts to feed them. One guy, who keeps repeating ‘I am MONKEY MAN!’ (disturbing) insists that I need a chaperone to climb up to the temple with me. He scaremongers me with a story about an American couple who declined this and when a monkey jumped on the woman’s shoulders, the man whacked it away, and got bitten. I look down at the monkeys who are are screeching like maniacs and baring their teeth and all I can think is … RABIES! RABIES! RABIES! So I acquiesce. Turns out my ‘chaperone’ is Monkey Man’s 13 year old nephew. Once we start climbing the hill I notice the monkeys have disappeared, I ask him ‘Where are the monkeys?’ He replies, in complete earnest: ‘Not here. Only at entrance.’ Right.
So my 13 year old monkey chaperone and I climb in total monkey-free surroundings for a good 20 mins. It’s completely knackering in the heat, but we chat a bit about his school and his favourite subjects and he asks if I am married and I say no which causes him much confusion (in India quite a usual reaction to that answer, I will later learn). Half way up a woman steps out of her makeshift tent home and before I even know what’s happening I have a yellow and orange dot on my forehead and I’m being asked for money. Initially I feel frustrated that tourists are preyed upon like this, but then I look at where she is living and I soften a little and hand over some rupees. She has blessed me (I think) after all.
The temple at the top is small but quite magical and serene with views over Jaipur. Whilst looking at the view a man asks for a selfie, I joke ‘ok 100 rupees!!’ He looks at me like I’ve killed his mum but then brought her back to life, such is the array of emotions showing on his face. Tough crowd. He doesn’t understand my jokelet and we have an awkward selfie. I won’t joke again in India. I come back down the hill and take selfies with goats and cows while young monkey chaperone looks on.
Later, I leave Jaipur, go back to Delhi to fly to Goa. I sleep in Delhi airport which is a horrendous experience – I lie on the cold marble floor with my bag as a pillow and feel both physically and emotionally uncomfortable all night, before I catch my not-even-that-early flight the next morn.