Every day in this country is insane and the further I travel the more absurd it gets. I love it.
Dave has been in Delhi this whole time, doing god knows what, and he messaged me last night to say he’d be arriving in Jaipur at midnight. I left a note with Sid at reception for Dave, telling him hello and that if he tried waking me I would fucking shank him. I spoke to Sid in the morning and asked if Dave had arrived, and he said yes, four hours late, and that they smoked hash together sitting on the floor. I said yes, that sounds very much like Dave.
I went out for a coffee while I waited for Dave to emerge, with Adam and his Irish pal, Connor. They’re good guys, and it’s a shame they’re both travelling to Delhi to fly elsewhere in a few days.
I found Dave when we got back an hour later, bleary eyed with unwashed hair, half asleep but smiling to see me. We hugged and together with the Swiss/Chinese couple from yesterday, we hung out on the hostel balcony, which after three days in the hostel felt like my own private lounge. We swapped our stories from the past week; it was good to be reunited. We’re a long way from Berlin.
Dave asked me if I wanted to get a coffee. I said I’d just been for one, but sure. We wandered out in the early afternoon sun and found a little street cafe with local people hanging around on motorbikes and a shit ton of flies. I sat and fried in the outrageous sun and we ate veg chow mein. I’ve been washing any street food down with a bottle of coke, in a vague hope that the coke might bleach any harmful bacteria from my stomach. We’ll see how that goes.
After we ate, Dave suggested we do something fun. He wanted to find a park and drink beers but I’m fairly sure boozing outside is illegal here. At least, I’ve seen nobody doing it. But then Indians aren’t big drinkers, so who knows.
So I suggested something I vaguely remembered seeing in a Jaipur guide – the monkey temple. We got a tuk tuk there (Dave dropped his water bottle out of the side and we had to pull over so he could stroll into moving traffic to get it), and found ourselves on the edge of the city, where buildings hit mountainside and stop dead.
We crossed beneath a large, red, monkey-covered gate, and ambled up a steep incline to what looked to be the monkey palace at the top. A few local kids joined us and asked us ninety nine rapid questions. It can get a bit annoying – I wouldn’t mind, but the hundredth question is, inevitably, can I have some money please?
I gave 20 rupees to this smiley little kid in a ragged striped jumper because he seemed like a proper cheeky bastard and a good sport and I took a shine to him. Told him to spend it on sweets.
We climbed the hill over the city and hung out with the monkeys, and inside the temple we met an old lady in a bright pink sari who showed us around and gave us bracelets, rice and bindi spots. There was a 17 year old kid who kept following us offering to keep us safe from the deadly monkeys for 200 rupees, who as far as we could see were lounging in the shade grooming each other’s fur. I tried to tolerate him but eventually he got so insistent and incessant that we had to tell him to bugger off and leave us alone.
We made friends with the old lady’s grandson, who fell in love with Dave’s drum, a small hand drum that he had just bought that morning. The kid wouldn’t part with the thing, so in the end we let them keep it and swapped it for a little wooden statue of Ganesh.
Halfway back down the hill, with the city still laid out before us and the baking sun high above, we met an old man with very dark skin and grey dreadlocks. He was holding a jar of bright pink rose petals floating in perfumed water, and was wrapped in a white loin cloth with an orange scarf. We said namaste, and in broken English he told us he was a holy man. So, naturally, we asked if he wanted to get high. He said yes.
The holy man smoked something called chirrum from a clay pipe, and we smoked hash. We couldn’t chat too much, because his English wasn’t much better than our Hindi. But sometimes you don’t need to say too much. We smoked together and watched the city, and we tried to learn the chants he kept sporadically bursting out into. We asked for a few photographs with him after, then hugged, gave him 20 rupees for food, and said goodbye.
At the bottom of the temple, after passing pigs and monkeys and chickens and lizards and camels and dogs, Dave wanted to hit up a Sikh wedding we could hear down the road. I was tired and dizzy from the sun by this point, but I said okay, sure. But then Dave was Dave and asked a random bystander on a motorbike if he could give us a lift.
The kid about 19 and super keen, and invited us both on. I said no, but they twisted my arm. So the three of us mounted the bike, me on the back clinging to Dave’s shoulders, and we set off. Straight past the wedding. Onto a highway.
I yelled over the wind that I wanted to grab a beer or something, hoping this would mean we would turn off the main road and go into the city, where the busy traffic makes high speed impossible. But the driver heard my panicked request, and laughed, and yelled back ‘do not be afraid – in India, everything is possible!’ And with that, swerved lanes, and plunged into oncoming traffic.
“For fuck’s SAKE,” I yelled in Dave’s ear.
I was laughing and exhilarated, sure, and you only live once and all that, but at the same time, I mean, I was three people back on a motorbike going against traffic down a triple carriageway. And so I am not ashamed that I told the driver to pull over after a couple of minutes. He pulled up into a dusty car park and I jumped off, with the kid laughing at me and asking why I was so afraid. I didn’t even bother to respond, I was high and shattered from the heat and my life had just flashed before my eyes, and I was in no mood. The kid invited us to his family home to buy some marijuana and drink chai, and Dave was happy to oblige but I said no. I’d had my fill of adventure for the afternoon.
So, we tried to shoo the kid off but he wouldn’t leave, riding alongside us shouting questions as we walked away. He wouldn’t take the hint, until Dave and I lost our temper simultaneously.
“MATE,” said Dave. “FUCK OFF,” I finished, and he did.
We walked a hundred meters back the way we came and found a dozen tuk tuks idling on the edge of what looked like a slum.
“Just gunna grab some water,” said Dave, wandering off into the market.
“Right,” I said, rolling my eyes so hard I nearly snapped my optic nerve.
I mooched along behind, already fuming after the stupid motorbike kid, and sat on a bench with fat bluebottles whizzing in and out of my ears and nose while Dave perused the slum market. Every stall was covered in grime and ash, built out of old tarp and blackened bricks and tangles of wire, and three hundred pairs of eyes watched us with quiet interest.
The older locals are more relaxed, and laugh to see the young kids creep over and stand around us. As we sat and Dave drank his 5 rupee chai, a silent, ponderous crowd formed around us, consisting mostly of preteen kids.
They didn’t dare approach by themselves – they’d only wander over when an adult addressed us first. One guy asked “Why are you here? Why did you come to this place?” which I found unnerving – though in all likelihood he was just baffled as to why two tourists would wind up so far off the beaten track.
I wasn’t speaking at this point, feeling more uncomfortable with each passing minute. I have a long fuse and a big comfort zone, but we were, compared to the residents of the slum, alien millionaires, and I felt vulnerable – even though I don’t ever carry more than 2000 rupees on me.
It’s hard to convey why it felt so strange, because nobody was threatening us. I was quietly concerned about pickpockets, and so kept my money and phone firmly gripped in my pocket the whole time. I know it’s shitty of me to assume the worst in this way, but after the motorcycle my nerves were frayed and I was ready for a beer.
And then, because fucking of course, the motorcycle kid pulled up again somehow, offering us night clubs and chai and marijuana and asking a thousand intrusive questions without a breath. I was laughing to avoid weeping with frutration.
It was all getting a bit much, so we hastily left the slum and found a tuk tuk to take us home for 150 rupees. He said 100 when we set off and raised the fare after we arrived, but we couldn’t be bothered arguing. All the drive back we were checking out of the back window, half expecting to see the motorcycle kid following behind us yelling questions.
We bought beers and I wrote a few diary entries back at the hostel as the sun went down. Adam, Connor and the Argentinian girls arrived back from their day, and we drank beers and Argentina maté and smoked too many joints. Three India dudes from Delhi arrived and we invited them to join; they were all clad in matching multicoloured turbans and wearing sunglasses, despite it being midnight. And they smoked a shiiit ton of weed. Before long, there were three or four joints circling at any one time. Rishar, one of the Delhi guys, started smoking two at once. Delhi goes hard.
Adam and Connor cooked pasta for everyone, and it was good vibes all round except for this English guy called Rod who arrived. He was about 65 and a raging misogynist, and genuinely said the words ‘poverty doesn’t exist in Britain, it’s all just greed and bone idleness’. While the rest of us were swapping silly travel stories and asking about each others lives, Rod seemed keen on monologuing about what an outrage is was that single mothers spent their benefits on flat screen TVs and muttering about how people should live within their means. I told him I disagree in no uncertain terms, but couldn’t be arsed debating. 65 years of being a breathtaking twat wasn’t going to be reversed after a 5 minute conversation with a scruffy English kid.
I tapped out before long and hit the hay in the small hours. We only went out for a bloody coffee that morning. Dave went out later with the Delhi guys for food, got locked out of the hostel, and had to climb in through the window, because of course.