Monkeying Around in India

When the wedding festivities came to a close after one bright, beautiful and curry-fueled week, Kelli and I decided to strike out on our own for a little sightseeing.

We only had a few days left together before her flight left for Chicago, so we decided to spend a night in Vrindavan – the birthplace of Lord Krishna.

We arrived via private taxi from Agra and spent that first evening temple-hopping. In Prem Mandir at dusk, we attracted so much attention that it felt like Tom Cruise in the early 90’s. I’ve never been approached so many times for a photo op in my entire life. I’m sure that swarm of Indian boys that approached as toward the end has a lot of awkward photos of us looking uncomfortable and trying to escape the mass.

Prem Mandir temple in Vrindavan...BEFORE the swarm!

Prem Mandir temple in Vrindavan…BEFORE the swarm!

The next morning in Vrindavan, we met our guide to view more temples throughout the winding alleyways. As soon as we left the car, the guide looked at both of us and said, “Please take off your glasses.”

Kelli had sunglasses on, and I had my regular seeing-eye glasses. I frowned. “Um, why?”

As we walked toward the narrow road that marked the beginning of our winding journey through Vrindavan, he pointed into the distance. A monkey scampered along the high wall of a building, and he said, “The monkeys will steal your glasses if you leave them on.”

I didn’t want to believe it – how could a monkey steal my glasses? That was absurd. But he explained that these monkeys will come from behind, snatch them from your actual face, and then wear them. In an attempt to mimic us.

And let’s be real – I didn’t buy these ugly grandpa glasses for a monkey to wear. I need these spectacles for myself. I tore them off my face and shoved them into my purse. And then zipped it for good measure.

What resulted what a very confused and blind visit through Vrindavan. Let’s be clear, India is generally chaotic. There is a usually a surplus of noise, bustle, people, motorcycles, stray cow poop and more at any given moment. Wandering through the streets with perfect vision is a task upon itself.

Doing it while blind? Totally different ballgame.

As I stumbled alongside Kelli and our guide, wondering about the distant blobs around me, I began to fear any non-descript movement above my head. Was it a monkey, coming to claim what was rightfully his? Would the monkey decide to instead latch onto my dreadlocks? (I have a lot of irrational fears about animals getting tangled in my locks, namely pigeons. And now monkeys.) Maybe it would see my shawl and try to strangle me with it? What if it leapt onto my shoulders with a battle cry and tried to involve me in one of its very vocal and public monkey fights?

What limit did these monkeys have?

I wasn’t allowed to put my glasses until we entered the temples themselves. This ended up being about 15% of the visit to Vrindavan. And even then, with my glasses on, I could see the monkeys swinging along the perimeter, eyeing us. Coveting things. Planning the steal.

Visiting a temple in many monkeys can you spot?

Visiting a temple in Vrindavan…how many monkeys can you spot?

Most of the monkeys here are fine, say the people. And I believe them. I really do.

But it just so happens that before I came to India, my father had only one piece of advice for me. When he began his warning, I figured it would be something about personal safety – you know, don’t get robbed, or watch out for shady characters, things like that.

But no.

His advice was: “Watch out for the monkeys.”

I laughed it off at the time, but his words rang loudly between my eyes as I wandered Vrindavan blind and jumpy, wondering if the monkey attack might come from behind, or if it would involve a monkey shriek and a dread pull, or if they might just abscond with my purse and shawl in an attempt to mimic my entire outfit.

Luckily, nothing was stolen, snatched, or otherwise monkey-robbed. Once we were back in the car, Kelli and I replaced our respective glasses with relief. Success.

But now, I’ve relocated to an ashram in Rishikesh, where I’ll be until early March. And on the first night of my stay here, I heard very strange squeaks and moans outside my 2nd story window.

It was only when I saw the bright red butt of a monkey pressed up against the glass did I realize my sordid affair with the primates has not yet come to an end.

Whenever I’m walking in the streets or around the ashram and I spot one of these guys, I press my fingers to my glasses and walk a little quicker – just in case.


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