100 Days in India Project
13/ 100 Galta Ji Monkey Temple
We have visited the beautiful city of Jaipur, in the northern Rajasthan state of India, a couple of times now. It is a relatively relaxing and cultured place, a few hours south of Delhi by train. We knew of the main touristy things to see but, as usual, we chatted to our host when we arrived and she mentioned a few other places that were definitely not on our radar. She also asked whether we were visiting for the famous Jaipur Literature Festival because that was what everyone else was in Jaipur for.
Embarrassingly we had to admit that we hadn’t in fact ever heard of the festival – there were gasps of shock from our fellow well-read houseguests – but we went along and had a brilliant day. As a bonus we even found an incredibly hipster coffee bar along the route that provided us with the most enjoyable coffee of our trip. It was certainly tastier, but much less amusing, than the time we stopped in Delhi at a little tea / coffee hole-in-the-wall where they had enticed us in with a beautiful gleaming coffee machine. Upon ordering two drinks the chap working there emptied some sachets of Nescafe instant into mugs whose decorative slogans had worn away almost completely, and then used his lovely machine like a kettle to fill our cups with hot water.
Aside from the book festival, we made a trip to the Galta Ji Hanuman Temple in the Aravalli mountains nearby. As with so many places in India we arrived and were greeted by incredibly exquisite architecture in a beautiful setting. There were also a TON of monkeys scurrying about the place. The floor and walls were heaving with little primates, perched upon walls with a mischievous look in their furry faces.
Hanuman is a very popular Hindu god who has the form of a monkey-man hybrid and, for that reason, followers of Hanuman would go to one of the great many temples devoted to him, such as the Galta Ji. The Lord Hanuman seemed especially popular amongst young male drivers who channeled the energy from little overly-muscled man-monkey figurines that were hanging from the rear-view mirrors that they never used. He was usually depicted holding his two red clubs and was definitely not the god I would choose to mess with.
Although they worship the monkeys, they don’t really look after them all that well. There were a lot of sick ones with terrible wounds and diseases hanging about and getting shunned by the rest of the monkey community. One ancient one was being harassed every time it tried to leave the water and I felt very sorry for it. You couldn’t even argue that it was poverty that prevented the Indian people caring for the monkeys as the car park was full of very nice cars (to even own a car of any kind in India you would have to be considerably wealthier than most). Well-dressed families would arrive in their 4x4s, stop for a meal at the cafe there and walk through the temple complex oblivious to the dying versions of the animals they are praying to.
The temple is on a hill and there are several man-made ponds, each of varying holiness, called kunds. The worshippers would walk up the hill to bathe in the sacred waters and possibly contract a rare disease from a dead monkey floating at the opposite side. There were numerous signs banning tourists from taking pictures of those bathing areas, and my respect for their culture meant that it didn’t even cross my mind to try, but it seemed to be OK for local men to do it. There were multiple families washing in communal areas, almost completely naked, whilst the men of the households, standing fully dressed, filmed everybody on their mobile phones. We found it quite creepy but maybe we were missing something.