In our previous episode, we were turned into crocodiles and the kids of Saksham were made of love. And now, today!
Todd and I walk to a small nearby restaurant that sells breakfast, but all they have today is gulab jamun (delicious cake soaked in sugar syrup) and as tempted as we are cake for breakfast seems like a bad idea. I’ve been wildly curious about the McDonald’s since I saw it our first day here. I avoid McDonald’s in Toronto because I don’t like it much, but I know fast food places cater to the country they’re in and I want to know how they’re doing it here. So we go inside.
Looking at the menu I’m really torn – everything is different and everything looks delicious – McVeggie, Green Chilli Kabab Naan, Salsa Bean Burger, Grilled Spinach and Corn (okay, I don’t want that one). In the end I choose the McSpicy Paneer and Todd gets the McAloo Tikki, we both get fries and a coffee which comes to 418 Rs. ($7.65). The McAloo Tikki is pretty plain, but the McSpicy Paneer is delicious and filling and I highly recommend it.
We pick up our dirty clothes at the apartment and walk over to the laundry stall, which is run by a tall granny. Todd asks how much our laundry will cost in Hindi, and she says 600 ($10.98) for all the laundry, two ironed button down shirts, and a cloth bag to take it home in, ready tomorrow by 3 PM. Just as we’re handing it over Shahid arrives in his autorickshaw and we are on our way!
We all bop along to Hindi music as we zoom down the road, including a hip hop worship song about Krishna that I make a note to look up when we get back to the apartment. Shahid stops at a lassi shop called Lassi Walla and the owner makes us lassis on the spot, blending the yogurt, ice, and spices and handing them to us in clay cups, two for 120 Rs. ($2.20) total. I drink it all and want more, more, more.
We pass a scooter passenger carrying an upsidedown adult-sized bicycle on his lap. We pass an elderly couple on a scooter wearing military style helmets that say “STUDS” on the back. Some of the autorickshaws have five passengers, people sitting on laps, chatting as they head toward their destination. I ask Shahid when he started driving as he navigates the chaotic streets with absolute confidence. “I was fifteen,” he calls from the driver seat, “And I was so scared the first time! But soon it became normal for me.”
We buy three kilos of bananas from a roadside vendor, and then climb the steep hills in the autorickshaw. The hills are so steep and the rocks so sharply defined that the landscape seems absolutely unreal, like I’m in the 1970s Disneyworld ride in which you’re riding a car with a movie running on either side of you. (If you’re under forty you can’t possibly understand what fabulous high tech that was, but IT WAS AMAZING.)
AND THEN YOU GUYS WE STOP AND SHAHID HELPS ME FEED THE BANANAS TO MONKEYS
YES HE DOES
MONKEYS WHO COME AND TAKE THE BANANAS
RIGHT FROM OUR HANDS
I AM BASICALLY JUST MADE OF SMILING AT THIS POINT
This is Jaipur’s Galtaji Temple. And there are monkeys everywhere, just running around LIKE THEY DO. No cages.
We are feeding the langur monkeys, white and black, imagine the fastest cat you’ve ever seen, and then multiply it by ten and that is their LAZY speed as they leap unimaginable distances to get the bananas. The ones we’re feeding are polite adults, and then a teenager langur monkey comes running up, leaps onto the top of a low fence and SCREAMS baring his sharp teeth and I swear I can almost hear him saying, “GIMME GIMME GIMME”.
As we keep walking, dodging cows, the monkeys change, they’re brown now and smaller. I’m holding out a banana to a heavily muscled older monkey when a cow gets in his way and he reaches out and bops the cow on the snout and the cow (who is approximately thirty times bigger than the monkey) gets out of his way.
Another monkey grabs a banana and then – just like that friend you have who buys the new iPhone and then, six months later, throws it in the garbage in order to buy the new NEW iPhone – takes one bite and sees Todd holding out a new banana, so he throws the first banana on the ground and grabs the second one. (It seems impossible standing here that anyone ever doubted that people evolved from monkeys.)
The temple is set on a hill, the brown buildings blending into the sand coloured rock. As I’m taking a photo of a monkey eating a carrot, a cow ambles over and tries to have some carrot too and Todd says, “Maybe the logic is ‘two leggers feed me, that monkey is a two legger, probably that carrot is for me’.” The monkey scowls at the cow and leaps away. A young monkey sees an old one coming and crouches. The old one stops, looks at the young one for a moment, then flops down on the ground in one big flop. The young one excitedly start grooming the old one, who closes their eyes contentedly. I’m squatting on the ground taking photos when I feel little feet! Scrambling up my back!
A MONKEY IS RIDING ME LIKE A HORSE AND NOW I KNOW WHAT REAL JOY IS
She is especially interested in my blue hair, and pulls it experimentally. I stay as still as I can, hoping she will stay right where she is for the next ten years at least, but she hears a noise and jumps off and runs away.
As we walk up the hill two teenage boys ask for a photo with me, then a young couple asks and then two grannies. I am charmed to be THEIR monkey – strange and fleeting and photo-worthy (though probably riding them like a horse would not be welcome). When the grannies hug me, it feels like a hug from my own much-missed mom.
Suddenly there’s a huge commotion. Monkeys are swarming up the rocky hill, which is sheer – lots of handholds but no angle at all – you know that scene in the Lord of the Rings when the orcs are swarming in the Mines of Moria? It’s exactly like that.
As the adults run urgently on the rocks, all the other monkeys stop what they’re doing and start towards the rocks. I’m reminded of the way humans who are strangers will become a temporary tribe in the face of danger. But whatever it is – a wolf? A panther? – it’s dissuaded by the Orc Swarm and soon the monkeys are lazing around in the sun again.
A grown monkey is sipping water from a man-made pond and I’m taking photos when he turns, sees me sitting down, and climbs on my back. I am absolutely thrilled. Todd is taking photos while saying, “He’s figuring out the zipper on your backpack! He’s opening it! Oh no, but also, he’s so smart!”
As much as I would like to keep this guy forever I’m worried he’ll eat my passport, so I stand up. But he’s just as happy to go for a ride on my shoulder, and we walk around together for awhile until he gets bored and leaves, loping away.
I am, by now, delirious with happiness.
We climb farther up the hill.
I see a very old man sitting on a rock with white hair and a long beard. Next to him sits a very old and bedraggled monkey. They both stare, inscrutably, into the distance.
A group of young men pass us. One guy has a microphone in his hand. As they come down the hill he starts the most half-hearted Hari Krishna chant I’ve ever heard. If someone made a Youtube sketch called Millenial Hari Krishna Chant, this is what you would see. There is a lot of put-upon sighing involved.
We pass people bathing in another man-made pool, and at the top of the hill we turn and walk back down. I see two young monkeys trying to groom each other, make a mess of it, forget what they’re doing, and wrestle instead. I see a baby nursing who does exactly what every human baby does, keeps the nipple in her mouth while turning to see me walk by. As we’re nearing the exit Todd goes to the washroom.
I see three baby monkeys playing and am taking photos when one comes over to investigate my scarf. Hardly breathing, I watch him reach out his tiny hands and touch the scarf, making tiny peeping sounds to himself as he investigates. He peers closer and closer until his sister comes running up and tackles him and they roll over and over. All three babies come over twice more to see me.
And then it’s time to go. I had an easier time leaving Disneyworld when I was five years old. Goodbye, amazing creatures. Goodbye, goodbye.
Want to see more photos? They’re all here: https://www.instagram.com/sagetyrtle/