Paul meets a group of dancing policemen in the Punjab, attends a cricket match for the blind, and falls in with a gang of racketeering eunuchs.
Having conquered China, comedian Paul Merton now sets his sights on India, an astonishingly diverse country of one billion people. Paul intends to beat his own path around this enormous subcontinent, shunning the traditional tourist spots in favour of unexpected sights and surprising detours. “This is my India,” he says.
Confronted by the noise, traffic and swarms of people as he arrives in Delhi, a jet-lagged Paul cannot fail to be dazzled by his surroundings. “This country is overwhelming – a dizzying mix of sight, sound and colour,” he says. Over the course of his eight-week trip, Paul hopes to discover the heart of India: “It’s a country of contradictions. On the one hand, you have a nuclear superpower; on the other hand, they worship snakes!”
Paul’s first stop is a finishing school where he learns the finer points of Indian etiquette, including essential tips such as always eating with the right hand and burping to show one’s enjoyment of a meal. Afterwards, he meets his guide, Ruchira, a journalist with expert knowledge of India. Ruchira has a good inkling of what Paul might like to see, and takes him to visit a somewhat unusual airport.
The airport in question boasts only one, battered old plane – but Paul is relieved to discover this aircraft is not supposed to fly. In fact, it remains stationary on the ground while locals queue up to go on board. The flight attendants go through the motions of preparing for take-off, much to the delight of the ‘passengers’, for whom this experience is the closest they will come to flying.
This bizarre flight simulator is the brainchild of the plane’s captain, Mr Gupta – a former engineer who re-assembled the craft in his backyard for the benefit of the locals. “Basically, we’re fulfilling their life dream,” he says. Paul, who is wary of air travel at the best of times, thinks this is definitely the best way to fly – even when the captain ‘ditches’ the plane in some imaginary water and the passengers have to jump out on the slides.
Later, Ruchira takes Paul to meet the Monkey Squad, a group tasked with clearing Delhi’s streets of their infamous primates. “Like everything else in India, there’s a unique solution,” she says. In this case, the monkeys are chased away by larger monkeys and their human handlers. Paul is especially pleased to hear these hard-working simians are considered government employees. “So they’re civil servants!” he declares. Leaving the capital behind, Paul heads to the town of Bikaner in Rajasthan and visits a temple where rats are revered as sacred beings and allowed to run around the building. Paul overcomes his natural aversion to the scavenging rodents and even feeds them by hand, declaring them to be “not so bad” on closer inspection.
Paul’s first week ends with a trip to a massive religious festival in the remote town of Junagadh. The Shivratri celebrations are dedicated to the god Shiva and attract more than a million people. Paul meets a group of naked holy men who shun the wearing of clothes, and feels privileged to be initiated into their sect. Ruchira reveals that this particular group is famous for performing unusual arts. “One of the arts they have practised is that they can do anything with their penises!” she says. An intrigued Paul cannot help but seek a demonstration of their eye-watering abilities.