Now, if you’re anything like me, you grew up thinking that monkeys were cute. I mean, what’s not to like? They’re fluffy, with long tails to swing from trees, plus they have tiny hands just like ours on their feet. They tick every box.
Then I started travelling. To be fair to monkeys, they probably are cute, deep down. The trouble is that we have invaded their space, turned their world upside down and provided a shiny new land of opportunity, free food and all the luxury items they could possibly lay their hands on.
Initially, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I mean, they can’t be THAT bad, right? Just stay away from them and they’ll leave you alone. Well, not exactly. If you don’t believe me, wander through an Indian market with food in your hand. Or maybe put your phone down on that ledge over there while you dig your camera out of your bag. Fresh samosa, expensive phone, gone before you can blink.
My worst experience of this was at the “monkey temple” (clue is in the title) in Shimla, northern India. Shimla is in the foothills of the Himalayas, and was the summer capital of the British Raj, up where the air is cool. By definition, it is hilly, and we were told about a temple to the god Hanuman which is built on top of one of the surrounding hills. Hanuman has a face like a monkey (for more, read the Ramayana, although it may take you a while). I don’t know whether this is a coincidence, but the temple is more than usually renowned for its monkeys.
“Don’t take food”, we were told, so we dutifully left the crisps at the hotel and set off in a taxi, intending to walk back. The first warning bells came when we arrived at the temple and were told by several people to take off our glasses. Now, I am very short sighted, and without my glasses I would pretty much have to sit on the temple steps and wait for the group to return, because it would be pointless visiting a temple I can’t see (not to mention dangerous). A couple of my companions were in the same boat, so we shrugged off the warnings and proceeded with caution.
Well, the temple was great. Interesting decorations, and more monkeys than you can shake a stick at (not least because they would probably just attack you if you tried). But our problems began as we left. Our group exited the temple, and immediate there was a cry from one of the men, followed by the sight of a monkey bounding away into the undergrowth waving his spectacles. A nearby local, who had obviously done this before, immediately charged after him, tackling him and retrieving the glasses, and earning himself a healthy tip in the process.
No sooner had things calmed down than the rest of our group appeared, with one lady missing the glasses she had been wearing not two minutes previously. She was also sporting a nasty scratch on her face – it later required a rabies jab, and the glasses never did reappear. By this point I was getting distinctly nervous as the only remaining speccy in the group. Not wanting to risk my glasses, but not wanting to attempt a steep downhill walk back to town with blurry vision, I swapped my glasses for my prescription sunglasses and kept a firm grip. But it quickly became clear that I was getting more attention from the monkeys than a primary school teacher with a bag of sweets.
I ended up having to remove the glasses and totter back into town down a steep slope half blind, clutching a friend’s arm for dear life and determined never to ignore a monkey warning again.