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The First Piper Travels to India

Published 30 March 2016

Ross Jennings

Ross Jennings

Ten days in India is not a long time, you’re barely even scratching the surface; however, I decided to make the most of it, bagpipe in hand, with Delhi, Jaipur and Agra at the top of my list.

Ross Jennings, aka The First Piper at the Taj Mahal

I always try to learn the word “bagpipes” in the language of the country I’m visiting, because it’s basically the quickest way to explain what I’m carrying isn’t a weapon. Bagpipes in Hindi is “masaka baja”, or so I’m told. “Masaka” meaning “mosquito” (I see where they’re coming from there!) and “baja” meaning “instrument”. Naturally, I decided to refer to myself as the “masaka baja walla” (“walla” meaning “man”).

Delighting drivers in Delhi

I kicked off my Delhi day of bagpipes at sunrise in the shadow of India Gate, and I was rather surprised at the lack of visitors. Being in the world's second most populous country, you'd expect people to be everywhere at all times, but nope, just me. I was initially revelling in the fact that I could snap a few pictures in peace, but I was also slightly craving the attention seeing as this was the first time I was going to pipe in India!

Tuning bagpipes at India Gate

Pretty happy with my silhouettes shots, I squeezed the drones into action and the reed quickly kicked in with a “MUUUUHHHH” (phonetic for bagpipes?!) and I slipped into a rusty rendition of 'Cock of the North' (yes that genuinely is a song), and out of nowhere a military car swerved into sight. Typical. He drew closer and the nerves quickened my heart-rate, but to my surprise the driver just leant out the window with a beaming grin on his face, giving me a massive thumbs-up followed by a yell: “SCOTLAND!!” What a legend. On I went with ‘Cock of the North’, very content with the fact that India was now country number 40.

Serenading elephants in Jaipur

A trip to India isn’t really complete without seeing an elephant, and I was secretly hoping I’d get a few pics. Amber Fort guarantees you the opportunity, but the mahouts aren’t such a fan of you taking photos… unless you have a set of bagpipes, that is.

Ross with the elephants and mahouts of Amber Fort

I sheepishly walked up to the group of elephants at the base of Amber Fort, and was instantly ordered to play by their mahouts. The idea of startling a bunch of two-tonne mammals with a very loud sound is frankly quite terrifying, so I decided against playing whilst standing so close. However, I agreed to play a few hundred metres away if they let me take a few pics. Done-deal.

I couldn't wipe the grin off my face as I stood there, bagpipes in hand and an elephant trunk in the other. Pretty surreal if you ask me. I turned to walk away and the mahouts angrily shouted (they must have thought I was going back on our deal) so I was forced to pipe then and there. The result: several two-tonne beasts stomping, grumbling and marching towards me. I was promptly asked to stop. Turns out elephants don’t like bagpipes.

Ross, post-elephant encounter

Avoiding the authorities in Agra

The Taj Mahal is phenomenally beautiful. Those Mughals definitely knew a thing or two about architecture, although they evidently didn’t plan on allowing pipers to serenade their mausoleums. The security couldn’t have been less enthusiastic with my kilt, and the fact I was desperately declaring myself as a “masaka baja walla!” Time for plan b.

After asking a few people I found a path that took me down the side of the Taj Mahal perimeter wall, right down to the Yamuna River, and to a wooden boat. Too good to be true.

Ross and his bagpipes on the Yamuna River

Walking through Agra in a kilt attracts a fair amount of attention, and I had not gone unnoticed. Military security appeared up again, which is fair enough considering I was right outside one of the ‘World Wonders’. Instead of assuming I’d be able to subtly glide across the river on a wooden boat with the bagpipes, I decided to just get them out and play in front of them. I’m genuinely not exaggerating when I say that I had them clapping and laughing within minutes! They practically forced me onto the boat to play and take photos.

Playing the bagpipes in any open space is ridiculously invigorating, but to have the Taj Mahal as a backdrop pretty much leaves you speechless. Definitely one for the bagpipe bucket-list.

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