Monday, November 17, 2008

Misadventures - When Monkeys Attack

Going to India, I really looked forward to seeing monkeys. I don’t know what it is about them that fascinates me, but I’d always wanted to see one.

Reading up on what, before the trip, loomed as an exotic, wild land draped in stereotypes, I was amazed at some of the stories I encountered, especially those regarding monkeys.

The most ominous of those stories was about a pack of monkeys murdering New Delhi’s deputy mayor. OK, maybe murder is the wrong word, but they pushed him off of his balcony, and he fell to his death.
In other news, I read about the problems New Delhi was experiencing with monkey break-ins. There were several reports of monkeys rummaging through refrigerators, then slapping women who tried to stop them. I couldn’t help but laugh at that one.

Possibly the most intriguing story I read regarding the furry little bipeds was the effect they had on New Delhi’s transit system. Apparently, small, mean monkeys frequently rode in the passenger cars on the trains, forcing passengers to ride on the roof by chucking…stuff…at them.

While many countries would find a way to eradicate the problem with varying degrees of damage to the monkeys, Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, is sacred, making monkeys protected.

What, then, to do?

The answer authorities came up with was rather creative. A larger breed of monkey was drafted into city service. These larger monkeys, Langurs, are friendly to people, but scare the little tyrants out of the train cars.

I did not see this firsthand, but read on a reputable news site that passengers and Langurs ride the cars in harmony.

With so much monkey mayhem evident in the place I was about to spend two weeks, I read up on how to get them to leave me alone.

Don’t make eye contact, and don’t show your teeth, as these are seen as challenges, and the monkeys simply aren’t afraid of people. If you’re holding food, and the monkey asks, then the monkey should get. The “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” phenomenon apparently doesn’t apply.

Being the conscientious travel companion I try to be, I sent off an e-mail to my friends so they, too, would know how to avoid confrontation.

It was on Elephanta Island, in Mumbai’s harbor, when I learned that my friend, Peter, hadn’t bothered to read.

Home to a handful of villages, a cave complex dating back to the 600s and a colony of small monkeys, Elephanta Island is a must-see for tourists. Its caves are one of India’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Walking through the bazaar on the way to the caves, we saw monkey after monkey. Some sat, some played with each other, one stole a vendor’s water bottle and one attacked Peter.

I tried to warn him. About the time I said, “Don’t—” he was dodging the surprisingly agile little beast.
He managed to dodge the attack and retreat in time, but the monkey then stood in the path like the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Peter stomped his foot, and the monkey held his ground.

None shall pass, indeed.

After a few seconds, the monkey found something more exciting than the standoff and swung through a tree.

We had no more trouble with monkeys for the rest of the trip. In Ranthambore National Park, famed for its tigers and 10th-Century fortress, we saw several. These ones had apparently “gone green” as they drank from the taps and conscientiously shut them off when they were finished.

Down south, in Goa’s capital city of Panaji (Panjim), I was excited to see the bright orange temple to Hanuman. While the sight was certainly impressive, it was oddly devoid of monkeys.

I got my fill of the little creatures on that trip. I still think their antics are hilarious, like watching a semi-human society acting outside all the laws of civility, but I have a new respect for them. They’re noble in their own way, and, being so genetically close to humans, I can see why so many people choose to study them.


Shunyata said...

Thanks to the pretty blog nice material.
Have a great day .. :)

Karen said...

What a delightful writer you are and the photos illustrate so well. Now I want to go there just to experience the monkeys.

You should consider writing a travel column for a newspaper of magazine if you aren't already.