The Humanness of Monkeys: A Story from India
I’d always felt that monkeys were different from other animals. With monkeys, you can sense their intellect and complex mind. When you lock eyes with one, you know they’re getting a read on you. They’re relatable in a way that a bear or a turtle isn't.
One day in Hampi - an arid, historic land in south India rich with temples and boulders - we decided to rent a scooter and hike up to the Hanuman temple which overlooked the whole area. Lord Hanuman is ’the Monkey God’ in Hindi texts.
It wasn’t a long hike; 30 minutes to reach the temple. The path was a steep set of dusty light brown stairs, and it was hot. Sweaty stinking hot.
About ten minutes into the hike, we turned a corner into a tunneled portion. The tunnels were installed in certain parts of the hike to protect people from the sun. Anyway, we turned into this tunnel to see about 20 monkeys looking up at us and hopping around.
Here’s the thing about monkeys: we know what they’re capable of and we don’t know how to trust them. The other people walking up the trail with us seemed unfazed by the gang of monkeys. Which brings me to a lesson I’ve learned while traveling: sometimes you have to trust the way the locals move and just say ‘fuck it’. In the moment we didn’t think much about it (aside from waiting to follow a group of locals through).
On our hike back down, there was a monkey on the right side of the tunnel eating a bag of Doritos. I poked Oana and pointed at the monkey, “Check it out - this monkey’s eating Doritos!”
Before I had a second to turn back, the monkey had dropped his bag of chips and grabbed my shirt with his hand. He grabbed me the way an angry senior would grab a freshman and when he wants to shove him against a locker. Then, he looked me in the eyes and hissed. It was a quick, “Hey! What the fuck are you doing pointing at my Doritos?”
At this point all I’m thinking is, ‘Holy shit.’ I’m in the monkey tunnel on this sweaty South Indian day and one of the monkeys is getting aggressive toward me specifically. Not only that - his aggression toward me felt so human. Standing within the walls of his domain, I felt like there was nothing I could do but try to back away slowly. He’s got a legion of other monkeys there with him and this could quickly turn into chaos.
I put my hands up: “Whoa whoa we’re cool man. I don’t want any of your chips. It’s allll good buddy.”
He gave me a good stare, let my shirt go, snatched his bag of Doritos, and continued munching.
I was stunned.
Another monkey moment stands out to me from India…
In Rishikesh, there is a historic suspension bridge called Laxman Jhula that thousands of people - and cows - went across each day. It was about a cow-and-a-half wide and it was always packed. One day as we were slowly making our way across in a dense throng of people, I watched a monkey run up the suspension cable above the bridge. Then he turned around and started shitting directly onto the pedestrians. It was so deliberate and hilarious.
And thus, the monkeys in India have spunk.