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Started: 2016-01-12 13:15:03

Submitted: 2016-01-13 01:36:28

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In which the intrepid narrator visits a temple infested with monkeys and flies to Goa

While planning for our trip in India, my mother arranged a complicated itinerary involving regular trips between different cities around India. I was too distracted at the time to do much more than copy the arrangements she made; though my hit-list of places I wanted to visit was different, I figured we'd be better off sticking together than if I tried to head off in my own with Calvin.

On Sunday, 27 December, after two days in Jaipur, our plan was to fly to Goa via a lengthy layover in Mumbai. Our flight didn't leave until the afternoon, so after breakfast and checking out of our hotel, we had enough time to see one more tourist site in Jaipur -- at least, once we managed to pick up Willy at his house. Our taxi driver for the day spoke very little English, and when we gave him Willy's address (which included the phrase "near Ganesh temple") he thought we actually wanted to go to the Ganesh temple rather than near the Ganesh temple. So we ended up driving past the street we should have turned on and had trouble convincing our driver that what we really wanted to do was take two u-turns to get back to the street we wanted. We did end up right where we wanted to be at Willy's house, and after that he was able to talk to the driver in Hindi.

Our tourist stop for the day was Galta-ji, a ravine filled with temples infested with rhesus macaque monkeys. Despite the fact that the temple to the monkey god Hanuman isn't the largest or most interesting temple, the whole complex is known as "The Monkey Temple". Our driver dropped us off at the bottom of the hill, on the inside of a minor gate, and we climbed the road leading up the hillside toward the temples. This road was infested by monkeys and also featured a tout with a misshapen cow with two small limp legs hanging off its rear.

Rhesus macaque monkey family at Galta-ji
Rhesus macaque monkey family at Galta-ji

I'd seen feral monkeys wandering the streets in India before, but this time there were more of them than I'd seen in any one place, and more juvenile monkeys and obvious family groups, sitting and grooming each other and often appearing to pose for pictures. We climbed up to a saddle point then descended into the ravine on the far side, and by the time we were half-way down the ravine we started worrying whether we ought to head back to get to the airport in time. I wanted to see temple, and I figured if I left Calvin (who was more interested in scrambling up the rocks than the temple itself) with a responsible adult I'd have enough time to see the temple and come back. I ran ahead for a quick look around the temple.

Human bathing pool at Galta-ji
Human bathing pool at Galta-ji

The temple complex filled the bottom of the ravine, and was centered around two ceremonial pools, one each for men and monkeys to bathe in as part of their religious observances. (There was supposed to be a third pool for women to bathe in, but it wasn't obvious to me if that was the first small pool I passed, or if it was another more-secluded pool.) The pools were grimy and filled with algae and did not seem like places that would meet my standards for public bathing safety.

Monkey bathing pool at Galta-ji
Monkey bathing pool at Galta-ji

I hurried back up the hillside and caught up with Bethany, Willy, and Calvin, who were making their way back up to the saddle. I ran ahead again to see the Surya Mandir (Sun Temple) above the saddle, which featured an impressive spire and an even-more-impressive view of Jaipur.

Spire at Surya Mandir
Spire at Surya Mandir
Jaipur from Surya Mandir
Jaipur from Surya Mandir

I caught up with my family again at the taxi, and we drove through the outskirts of Jaipur towards the airport. On the edge of the city the buildings were a mixture of formal and informal ("slums") development, and in some cases the informal developments had become regularized by the city government and were officially supplied with water and power. I saw goats eating trash and food scraps in the gutter, with the occasional pig to keep things interesting.

We arrived at the airport, checked into our flight, went through airport security (where everyone got the same hand-wanding, with women screened by a female security officer behind a curtain), and tried to figure out what we could eat for lunch. We had seen a Cafe Coffee Day (the indigenous version of Starbucks) on a terrace above the terminal, and had hoped that we'd be able to access it for lunch, but it was not obviously accessible from inside the secured area. We settled instead on a sit-down restaurant where Calvin could order pasta and the rest of us ordered Indian food according to our own tastes.

We finished eating and arrived at our gate just as our flight to Mumbai started boarding. We all booked our tickets separately on the same flight, so I ended up near, but not next to, each other. (As usual, I gave Calvin a window seat and took the adjacent middle seat for myself.)

Our flight to Mumbai took about an hour and a half. From my middle seat, I couldn't see much as we flew out of the desert of Rajasthan into the wetter Maharastha. I could at least see our approach into Mumbai, as we descended over the Arabian Sea and made our final approach over apartment blocks mixed with informal developments encroaching on the ponds and gutters in the neighborhood of the airport.

VT-PPU at BOM
VT-PPU at BOM

When we landed in Mumbai we were presented with a novelty for India: filtered and UV-treated drinking water from a water fountain. Willy refilled his water bottle, but I was a bit more cautious, drinking only enough to sate my thirst.

Willy with a rath (ceremonial chariot) at BOM
Willy with a rath (ceremonial chariot) at BOM

Domestic arrivals dumped us off in baggage claim, where we double-checked that our bags had in fact been checked through to Goa, then followed the signs for domestic transfers. This dumped us into the back of Terminal 2, so we had to make our way to the front of the terminal to go through security again -- despite just having arrived on a supposedly-secure domestic flight. This accomplished, we had about four hours before our connecting flight to Goa departed.

The central domestic departures waiting area was a gleaming shopping mall with a food court at the far end. At one of the shops in the middle of the mall I found a bookmark with the likeness of Saraswati, the Indian goddess of learning (and, by extension, libraries), which I bought for Kiesa.

We parked in the food court for a few hours. I failed to get on the local WiFi, which required a code to be texted to my mobile phone. It accepted my US mobile number, and I verified that my phone was in fact camped on the mobile network and capable of accepting text messages, but I never received a message so I was shut out of the network. Bethany and Mom used Willy's two numbers to connect their phones and engage in social media.

At length we ate supper (I had a masala dosa, and fed Calvin a cheese dosa -- which, whether it's an American perversion or not, it does exist in India), and eventually made our way to the departure gate. I saw a sign for a prayer room next to the gate and went with Willy to look at it. It had been designed to allow Muslims to pray, with cubbies for shoes and water to wash, plus a large carpeted area to pray. It was empty, and I sat on the bench at the back of the room and enjoyed the island of peace inside the busy airport.

In the waiting area at the gate I found where all of the other white people in India were: on their way to Goa (or, presumably, already there). After almost a week in India where I barely saw any other white people we were suddenly in the midst of a group where foreigners outnumbered Indians.

At length our plane boarded, delayed for some unspecified reason, and we made our way to Goa. When we landed and I'd claimed my bag, while I was waiting for the rest of my family, I got a call on my mobile phone from my bank, whom I'd neglected to inform that I was going to India. Their fraud-protection system had rejected my attempt to get cash at an ATM in the airport in Mumbai (but had let me get cash once before, in New Delhi), so I had to switch ATM cards and use my secondary bank account. I assured them that I was, in fact, in India, and they put the appropriate travel flag on my account so I could continue to use my card.

We took a pre-paid taxi from the airport to our hotel, about 45 minutes away in the capital of Goa, Panaji. We arrived after midnight, local time, and collapsed into bed (once we'd completed the lengthy check-in procedures).

Proprietary email formats enable better communication through garbled messages.
- Scott J. Galvin, 21 May 1999