India Can Never Change Its Spots

Delhi is now one of the most polluted cities in the world and it’s said that spending one day here is the equivalent of smoking twenty cigarettes. As the plane taxis you into the terminal, a dusky haze fills the air, you can barely see where the airport boundary meets the slums. Ironically, as you disembark ‘I can see clearly now’ plays over the tannoys. The uninterested customs officer stamps your passport with one eye on something else, then a lifeless time waster, who looks like the airport cleaner flicks over your passport, before you’re finally allowed to collect your bags. Welcome to India.

It’s been six years since I last walked on Indian soil. A lot can happen in six years, so I was half expecting Delhi to have changed, maybe to be more Westernised, or more organised? No matter how many times you visit India, nothing can truly prepare you for the complete and utter chaos that hits you in the face when you walk down the street for the first time. You don’t quite know where to look, at the man praying to a tree or the cow in the middle of the road. You dodge the traffic but almost trip over a guy eating a biriani off the pavement. Someone is following me asking ‘which country’ and giving me all the ‘lovely jubbleys’ under the sun but I can’t hear him for the din of a million horns beebing at once. Is there any change? There’s some in my pocket, but that’s about it.

Travelling by sleeper class on a train in India is like eating a meal in Delhi, you never know which bacterial infection you’re going to get. Chai sellers, keyring sellers, legless beggars, chanting babas, blind fellas or shemale brothers, it’s like the conveyor belt from the generation game and I’m going home with a cuddly toy.

Please allow all passengers to disembark before board the train…

Jaipur was named after it’s founder, Jai Singh II and is the capital of Rajasthan. It’s a marvellous, bustling city surrounded by fortresses and palaces. The Hawa Mahal was built in 1799 to enable the ladies of the royal household to watch the city go by. Hawa Mahal stands at the heart of the old town also know as the Pink City. In 1876 the Maharaja ordered all the buildings to be painted pink, the colour of hospitality, to commemorate the visit of the Prince of Wales.

Hawa Man

Amber Fort just outside of Jaipur centre is the cities main attraction. I didn’t go inside to view the courtyards and museum, walking to the top was enough for me. Here you can see Chinese tourists promoting elephant cruelty, snake charmers whistling away, and vendors practically giving away the cheapest tat in all of India. Although an impressive building with a great setting, Amber Fort is about as authentic as this penis enlargement cream…

Paana Meena Ka Kund step well is a quiet spot away from the Raj crowds. Step wells are ponds in which the water is reached by descending a set of steps to the water level, but also somewhere locals could come to socialise on hot days.

Jai Singh II was a very clever man and a keen astrologer. Just outside the city palace he built an observatory known as Jantar Mantar, which literally translates into Calculation Instrument in Sanskrit. Each of these stone structures uses the sun to cast shadows, which in turn give you information about the moon and the stars. The giant sundial even tells us the time to the exact minute as the earth rotates, or as the guide likes to say ‘the ert rotten’.

In India, any temple that is abode of many monkeys is known as a Hanuman Temple, after the superhero like Hindu monkey god, Hanuman. This particular Hanuman temple, is apparently home to over 10,000 of them according to the peanut feeding/rabies protection boy who follows you up for a tip at the end, I gave him the left over peanuts.

Amazingly enough, wild Leopards can be found just on the outskirts of hectic Jaipur. Leopards have always been common in the Rajasthani hill ranges, and now that flora and fauna thrive in the Jhalana Forest, Leopards sit at the top of that food chain. Sometimes even nipping into the city itself to feast on the odd stray dog. There’s around 30 Leopards in the 21sq kilometre forest, but today they decided not to show. The consolation prize was plenty langur monkeys, numerous birds and a cold from sitting on the back of a freezing safari jeep for three hours. Looks like I haven’t won that cuddly toy after all.

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