With the 108-foot, very large and very orange statue of Lord Hanuman, the Hindu god of monkeys, looming over us, my 5 college buddies and I tiptoed around the mountaintop, open-air terrace compound that is Jakhoo Temple, India. There were monkeys everywhere I looked. I took out my pink selfie stick (bargained down to $3 in New Delhi), inserted my cell phone, and began recording a video of the surroundings. Watching the video now, you would see rhesus macaques waddling around begging for food through beady eyes. As I continued to spin around for the panorama view, you would see my friend, Oisin, jump up suddenly from a bench as a monkey jumped up beside him. And then, at the 1:04 mark of this video, you would notice the steady camera work abruptly jolt and you would hear gasps from nearby. Then the video would end, because at that moment I had been attacked from behind by a monkey. But let’s back up:
The Indian road trip was, in a word, insane. I was in Southeast Asia at the start of my backpack trip (which I’m kind of still on 16 months later), when I saw a Facebook post from some college friends about a trip through India. I have a large social network from college due to the house I lived in, which was called a “social house,” and was effectively a co-ed fraternity/sorority based in an on-campus dorm-style house. One of our house members was currently studying abroad in India and was welcoming all adventurous souls to come out. I was a $200 flight away. I agreed immediately. I’m glad I did.
By the time the trip was planned out, 6 members of the Tavern social house were signed on to join the trip, including myself. I agreed to fly out 10 days early to meet Devin, the current student in India. Though his university was in New Delhi, he met me in the southwest, in Kuchin, a prosperous city in the state of Kerala.
Kuchin and the entire state of Kerala produced possibly the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Like this:
From Kuchin, we took a taxi east to Munnar, where the above photo was taken. You’re looking at a tea plantation. We hired a guide to take us on a sunrise trek around the mountains in the hopes of seeing a wild elephant. We didn’t see an elephant but we did see a family of buffalo roaming the hillside. Munnar also offered me my first taste of hilarious things in English:
Which is not to discredit Indians of their English proficiency, which was very impressive throughout the country. India has the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe packed into one country, so many Indians know their native tongue (say, Hindi) as well as English and another Indian dialect or two.
The sunrise hike in Munnar was spectacular, our guide was knowledgeable, and it afforded us views like this:
The next day we took a bus to Kodaikanal for some more trekking and indulgence in Domino’s pizza. We hired a guide again and were glad we did so after hearing of the presence of large killer cats in the area.
After Kodaikanal, we zipped across the country to Pondicherry, which is a ghetto. Many of the beachside buildings were wiped out by the tsunami a few years ago, so I was told. Some scenes from Pondicherry:
From Pondicherry, my friend and I took a 24-hour train up to the capital, New Delhi. We booked 1st class sleeper tickets. My friend informed me that at $100USD/ticket these were more expensive than airfare, so the only Indians who booked these 1st class tickets were those that were afraid to fly. Never in my life have I experienced more luxury and attentive service than in those 24 hours across the barren, unpopulated heart of the Indian subcontinent. Our cabin had room service constantly offering us meals, tea, snacks, extra blankets… that’s about it. But it definitely highlighted the economic inequality of the country.
New Delhi! This was the city my friend had been studying abroad in for the past semester. Here we were joined by 4 more friends. The 6 of us hired a 10-seat van with a full-time driver and we toured northern India for the following 10 days. We of course toured the Taj Mahal in Agra, Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, where we went on a jeep safari searching for one of the local tigers. We could not find the tiger, but we tracked down a sloth bear, which apparently is more elusive. It lumbered away from us after a few minutes and disappeared into the bush.
We then U-turned and headed north for Kullu, an enchanting mountain town where we went hiking and were mysteriously followed by a dog we named Lassi. We also noticed large swaths of cannabis plants growing wild on the roadside (we smelled it first). We then visited the Dalai Lama’s compound. Just had a nice perusal through it. Checked out the courtyard. The surrounding mountains are filled with Indian military bases. The Dalai Lama is, after all, wanted dead by the Chinese government on some bullshit that I’ll just say probably has to do with religion, which is, at best, worthless.
We then ventured to the Jakhoo Temple dedicated to the monkey god, Lord Hanuman. This is where things got interesting. As I said at the beginning of this post, I was filming a video of the temple. Now, this temple is outdoors, on a mountain top, within a thick forest. It’s monkey territory. And they made that clear by giving us looks like this:
So I’m filming this video, when suddenly I feel two things at once: I am shoved in the back and slapped on the right side of my face. Both the shove and the slap were quick but forceful, as if coming from an NFL linebacker the size of a newborn baby. Startled, I turned around, but my vision was blurry. I felt for my glasses. They were gone. I looked around. All the people who had been standing in my vicinity had turned in my direction, looking at something.
At this point, I had some adrenaline going, so I don’t recall exactly how I realized that a monkey had just stolen my glasses and broke skin on my face with his clumsy slap/grab. Either one of my friends told me or I deduced it right away when I noticed the monkey hunched on the ground nearby holding my glasses. My friend Oisin would later tell me that he saw the whole thing happen. The monkey approaching me from behind, watching me absorbed in my video, and then the monkey had leapt directly from the ground onto my backpack, and in one motion he had slapped my glasses off of my face with his right hand and pushed me forward with his left hand as he leapt back to the ground.
Well, I did the only thing I could think to do. I took my phone off of my selfie stick and lunged towards the monkey with it. I was instantly embarrassed and truly wanted to viciously beat the monkey to death to save face as much as I wanted my glasses back. I don’t think I have to apologize for feeling that way. I do think it’s a good thing that I was unable to even hit the monkey, let alone murder it, while surrounded by worshippers at temple to the monkey god.
Well, each time I lunged at the monkey, it just hopped a little farther away. After chasing it around a tree I realized it was entirely possible that this monkey enjoyed toying with me. But after a few more seconds of this game, the monkey hopped the nearby fence and climbed up a tree on the other side. He clung to a branch and cocked his head at me with his shit-eating blank stare and my glasses in his hand.
I was literally halfway over the the fence and telling my friends something like, “I don’t care. I’m getting my glasses back,” when an Indian man rushed over and motioned for me to stop. He had a loaf of white bread, and he took out a slice, took aim for the monkey, and softly tossed the piece of bread up to the monkey. As the monkey caught the piece of bread, he dropped my glasses.
When a monkey steals your banana, that’s funny. But I’m not sure how I feel about being robbed and extorted by a monkey. On one hand, it’s funny, and it’s an interesting story. On the other hand, the fact that this bully takes people’s glasses is a little fucked up. And, I mean, the same thing happened to an older British man as we were leaving the temple. And again, an Indian man came over and offered the bread. So, it’s like, are these monkeys taking the piss out of us? Like, “Oh, you think you’re so big and smart, human? Well you may have invented glasses and books but we can still manipulate you into feeding us bread all day long. And you’ll continue to give us bread even though it conditions us to keep extorting you.”
I guess that’s why they sell Monkey Sticks outside the temple. As we were watching the British guy struggle to retrieve his own glasses, a monkey jumped onto my friend Carl as he was opening his backpack, and a nearby Indian man smacked the monkey with a monkey stick. The monkey quickly jumped away.
Well, that’s my India story.
It is big and beautiful and colorful. I made a few friends in India who were years younger than me but were wiser and nobler, and my college buddies and I were so glad to have gotten to know them and to have learned about India from them. However, I take pride in this blog because I tell it like it is. So I have to say this: India is also kind of the worst place on earth.
When you talk sociopolitical things like corruption, racism, classism, sexism, and, from a tourists’ perspective, a constant barrage of petty scams and sales techniques that revolve around confusing and inconveniencing you as much as possible, you realize there is some shade to be thrown.
Next post, I’ll list the shitty things about India, some well-known, others not.