Jaipur, India: The Monkey Business Traveler

Ashutosh Ratnam challenges his fear of monkeys in Jaipur, India. Surrounded by Rhesus monkeys at the Galtaji hill shrine, Ratnam makes some new furry friends.

Rhesus macaques at the Galtaji hill shrine in Jaipur, India. Photo by Ashutosh Ratnam.

Getting mugged and nearly molested by a troop of monkeys isn’t everyone’s idea of holiday fun.

But the volume and persistence with which Jaipur hawks its forts and palaces can sometimes make you sick enough to sell yourself ‘very-nearly-catching-rabies’ as ‘breakaway adventure’.

I am at Galta, a hill shrine established by Rao Kriparam, a courtier of Maharajah Sawai Jai Singh II. The place itself sits 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away from the picture-book Pink City. But in it, when surrounded by desperate, desperately hungry primates, I am a million miles away from everything the adverts want you to believe.

Princely Shrine Turns Banana Republic

Galtaji, as it is reverently referred to, calls to different people in different voices. Devotion brings some to the Sun Temple built in the 18th century. Awe draws others to the panoramic view-points overlooking Jaipur that dot the hill.

A want of choice sees uniform-clad schoolchildren being ferried in as part of the token exam-ending picnic. A morbid fear of Rhesus macaques is what has brought me here.

It is early evening as I drive through the 50-foot high gateway that serves as the mouth to Galta. Astride the family’s 1980 Royal Enfield motorcycle, I am a picture of renunciation. I have chosen against bringing the usual tourister equipment – no guide book, no maps, no bottled water. All I have brought is bait. Tied to the back of the motorcycle is a gunny sack containing four kilos (nine pounds) of fruitfly-ridden, dirt-cheap overripe bananas.

There is a turn on this one-car-wide uphill drive which leads to why most people come to Galta – the temple and its rather magnificent complex of bathing tanks, fountains and frescoes.

Humans bathe in the upper reservoir, supposedly ‘two elephants deep,’ while the lower half-elephantly one caters for the other dominant primate here. Both are constantly replenished by spring water flowing from the mouth of a marble cow built around the wellspring.

I make sure to miss that turn and keep climbing.

The higher up you go, the worse the path gets. It thins and the tiles turn older and more worn out. Cowdung cakes to be used as fuel by the locals are left to dry everywhere, and acacia juts through the now broken walls of the trail.

After a good forty minutes of dodging cattle and the people feeding them, of watching concrete slowly but surely loose the battle to thorn bush, and of steering through an ever-thinning obstacle course of vendors peddling everything from chewing gum to chillums, I am somewhere that feels far enough.

Jaipur, India: The Monkey Business Traveler