A train ride to Jaipur, the Amber Fort and the Monkey Palace
Sunday 7th August 2016
From Agra we took a Chair Class train and travelled like Kings and Queens to Jaipur. Train wallahs brought us chai and hot food throughout the journey - soup, pastries, curry with rice, and cake. We ate everything, even when we had no more room. When in Rome and all that. From the window we watched as the landscape turned from built up housing blocks and the remnants of city, to open countryside and rice fields, then back to city again as we approached Jaipur.
In the taxi to the hotel, we noticed how already, this place seemed more bustling than Agra. Strips of markets lined the streets, interspersed with veg and non-veg restaurants, and attractive red and orange brickwork formed the walls of this fortified city. Later on, we would find it so much easier to travel around. People didn't hassle us like they did in Delhi and Agra, we were less of a commodity, and we'd be free to explore more at our own pace.
In the morning, we flagged down a tuk-tuk and asked the driver to take us to the Amber Fort, Jaipur's finest and most famous lookout point. We agreed a price, and he set off in the opposite direction. Hurtling out of town, he soon decided to pull over a police man and ask him to translate for us that the palace was very far away - 35km. There was then a flurry of exchanges where everyone seemed to be saying Amber Fort / Amber Palace / Amber Fort / Amber Palace.... many times each in various tones, until it dawned on the driver, 'Ah! Amber Fort!' And off we went in the other direction. We drove up into the hills where people rode past us on elephants, and camels dozed in the road.
The fort was amazing and stood out on the hill from miles away. Walled paths snaked up towards the palace as we began our ascent to the top, passing flower sellers, drink vendors, and bizarrely, a man offering scales for people to check their weight. Along the way, as has been typical of our time so far, people (mainly men) crept in front of us, surreptitiously taking our picture, or posing awkwardly nearby so a friend could snap us in the background. Many were braver than this though, and asked to have their picture taken with us. The word 'Selfie', it turns out, is a universal phrase. We obliged to almost all of them, but when we asked why they wanted photos of us, they replied, 'For the memories'.
Oh the memories! ....Of that day we saw those two massive white people, dripping sweat from every pore...
I have to say, Rene was the biggest hit, as these young men draped their arms around his shoulders and told him, giggling, that he looked like David Beckham or Tom Cruise. It was quite the spectacle.
Later on, after we'd managed to flag down another rickshaw driver in the hope of visiting the Monkey Temple, we found ourselves in another stressful scenario when we realised he didn't know where to take us and kept stopping to ask other people for clarification. He also kept making stops to deliver the urns of oil he was carrying in the back, which was clearly his priority of the day.
Way way way out of town, he pulls up at the entrance to 'Monkey Temple', which looks like a scene from a post-apocalyptic Wild West. Three boys come running over to sell us monkey nuts and offer to be our tour guide in order to protect us from the monkeys. There's more hoo-ha over what price we have to pay the driver and whether he will or will not wait for us, and then we reluctantly agree for the oldest one to be our guide because he basically tells us we'll get rabies if we go alone.
On we walk, up a remote dirt track to a palace that he assures us is at the top of the hill. In hindsight, it was probably not the most sensible tourist stop for us, given that I only had time to get two of my three rabies vaccinations before we left and Rene doesn't really like animals. There are a few monkeys dotted around, and the guide tells us he knows how to protect us, but won't give away his tricks when we ask what they are. As if by way of reassurance, he reveals he's been bitten four times, so by now he knows what to do. Four times bitten....fifth time shy? Is that a phrase here?
Almost as though he can sense our fear and is massively enjoying it, he further warns us, 'There are people at the top of this hill. Don't talk to them and do NOT shake their hand!'
'Why's that then?' we ask, already not liking the answer.
'They're drinking and taking drugs and they can be crazy.'
Oh good! So we have to watch out for the rabid monkeys AND and the local drug users on this glorious ascent towards our doom? We look at each other and read each other's minds, as only a husband and wife, who value their lives, really can.
'Erm....I think we'll give it a miss actually!'
Highlight: A well deserved ice cream at the top of the fort.
Low point: The whole monkey death trap thing.