India, man. Fucking India. I’m astonished.
I woke up around 10am and had breakfast on the roof terrace with Jonas and James, and met an English girl called Ellie. She’s been travelling for sixth months and it shows; she’s covered in scars and bruises with a wild story for every one of them. We spent an hour talking, then I set out into the town of Pushkar with Jonas – see, while Jonas had recovered from his stint with food poisoning, James had tagged in to the sickness ring, and was curled up on his bunk sweating and groaning.
I really like Jonas and James. They’re the same age as me, we share the same sense of humour, and they remind me of my friends back in the UK. They’re a couple of really good guys just out for a fun time, sans pretensions. Post Berlin, it’s refreshing to meet people who aren’t afraid to genuinely enjoy things.
Jonas and I explored Pushkar and made our way down to the sacred lake in the centre of the mountain-ringed desert town, ignoring the fake holy men hustlers who tried to sell us blessings and flowers on the way down. We took our shoes off and went down the white stone steps to the ghats, and ambled idly between the scores of people bathing in the waters. We sat a long time in the shade to watch the prayers and rituals, and the holy men blessing families with burning incense and powdered paints, rose water and pink lotus flowers.
We headed up to the Brahma temple after; the only temple to the Hindu god of creation that exists in the whole world. A couple of local guys were running some odd shoe protection racket; as I took my shoes off and put them in the heap outside the temple, the shoe mafia told me that it was dangerous to leave them outside, and I should pay them to watch over them for me. I told them to get fucked and Jonas and I went in separately instead, lest they nick our kicks when we were inside.
The temple was fine – I’ve seen a million already and after the enormous laser show fire jet maniac explosion temple in Delhi, any temple thereafter has its work cut out. I felt a little fraudulent walking among the colourful Hindus; they prayed and rang bells and worshipped, I stood and gawped and pondered. But nobody seemed to mind my presence.
We left the temple, picked up our shoes, and finished our lap of the lake around the shady far bank. Ate dal with a chapati on the way back, and zonked out for a couple of hours at the hostel.
We met up with Ellie and two other English girls, Bex and Hollie. Becks? Becs? Bheks? Fuck knows. Whatever. Bex. Anyway, we decided to head up one of the mountains that looms over Pushkar to catch the sunset. We got a tuk tuk to the bottom of the mountain, where the chairlift started. On the ride there, Ellie and I sat on the back bumper and chatted about how nothing ever goes smoothly in India. Every venture outside goes haywire the minute you step into the street.
The girls got the chairlift, and Jonas and I decided to climb the endless, outrageously steep stone stairs. We regretted our decision after about 30 seconds, obviously, but we are stupid males and far too proud to turn back. Apparently I’d rather drag my melting corpse up a thousand ragged steps than suffer minor embarrassment.
It only took us fifteen minutes; it’s meant to take half an hour. We absolutely paced it because we wanted to beat the girls – and we did. I arrived at the top of the mountain and was greeted by sweeping views of faraway fields, and a pack of furious looking marsupials. Jonas and I stood at the top of the temple gazing down on the desert below, with the Pushkar lake now a winking puddle, and waited for the girls. And then they arrived and informed us Ellie had been attacked by a monkey.
Allegedly, the culprit had been scrapping with another monkey, and had then veered away and lashed out at Ellie instead. She had four red claw marks down her back, and a couple of spots of blood came through where the skin was broken. Now, I didn’t think it looked too bad. But Bex and Hollie took it upon themselves to diagnose rabies immediately, and suggested a hospital visit. I could see Ellie’s mind ticking over, worrying quietly, and I tried to smile reassuringly and tell her she’d be fine.
“No you won’t, not if you don’t get the injection,” said Hollie. “Rabies kills in 24 hours and only one case in the world has survived.
“Right,” I said, “but animals with rabies have crazy eyes and frothing mouths.”
“No, they can show no symptoms.”
“But don’t worry, because it didn’t bite you, it scratched you, and it’s only spread through blood or saliva.”
“But the monkey might have licked its fingers.”
RIGHT, OKAY, FINE, SHE IS DOOMED.
Regardless, we’d already climbed the mountain, so we sat and watched the sunset. Sunsets in India so far have all been the same: the sun slips down a cloudless sky, morphs into a watery red orb, and vanishes beneath the smog that skirts the horizon. We played music and talked, with Ellie periodically mentioning how gutted she was that she had rabies now. I reminded her of our tuk tuk conversation half an hour earlier: one minute you’re watching the sunset, the next you’re being savaged by a scowling monkey. Nothing in India runs smoothly.
It got dark as we descended the mountain in the cable car, and at the bottom we asked a tuk tuk to ferry us to the little doctors office near our hostel. Ellie went in, paid 15 quid, got a rabies jab in the arm and a tetanus shot in the arse cheek – an arse cheek that the doctor gave a good, long pat, presumably to make extra sure the shot would work.
With Ellie’s imminent zombification prevented, we went to get drunk. Pushkar is a dry town, but for some reason a couple of bars openly serve beer. We drank 8% Kingfishers and swapped silly stories, and back at the hostel at midnight we drank whiskey on the roof with Ankur.
I love travelling. I love it so much.