Monkeys in India are unkind. In fact, as cute as they may look from afar, they are downright nasty. Monkeys don’t wander the mountains and towns back home in Florida, so I didn’t realize that it’s not fun and quirky to encounter a monkey while traveling, it can be harrowing. What would have been a challenging but meditative hike to the top of one of the hills surrounding Pushkar became an obstacle course fraught with lunging monkeys with bared teeth and booming cannons.
On my camel safari into the desert around Pushkar, I spotted a towering hill outside of town. A temple peered from the mountaintop. My curiosity was piqued and I questioned my camel guide. Local Indians (and spiritual seeking goras — white people) hike the hill to Brahma’s Temple in the late afternoon. It’s a pilgrimage for some, and a chance to watch the sun set over Pushkar. Exercise has been hard to come by these past few weeks, so my cousin and I pulled on our hiking boots, filled our water bottles, and headed out. I am an unenthusiastic hiker. I like the idea of hiking, and I generally have favorable things to say about a hike after it’s over, but during the hike my face turns an alarming shade of splotchy-red and I start wheezing as soon as the incline gets too steep.
No amount of conditioning has ever increased my stamina, so I accept the blotch-red look and just go with it. But it’s rarely an issue since I generally manage to make it to the top of whatever hill I may be hiking, and I’m in high spirits too — after all, it’s downhill at that point. But in India, everything is worth a remark. Especially a white woman heaving for her breath. My meditative hike became a parade of vicious monkeys and overly supportive Indian women with the vicious monkeys. It was a long, long way to Brahma’s Temple.
There path to the temple is straightforward — one steep path snakes up the hillside. My cousin and I started hiking later than many of the locals, which meant a parade of people descended as I huffed and wheezed my way up. My cousin’s in better shape, so she left me after I took too many “contemplative breaks” to look out at the pretty scenery. It was a nice view, and I photographed the desert while the blood slowed its pulsing and throbbing in my temples.
To be clear, this is a normal hike for me. I don’t fuss or make an issue, and I always keep one foot in front of the other. But the unofficial hiking motto of India must be something close to “just keep going. Every single Indian woman passing me as they hiked down the hill had to weigh in on my situation. Every. Single. One. As I rested, the woman would pause long enough to bodily push me into a standing position, and then propel my body higher up the hill. Few spoke English, so it was all physical with a lot of smiling and encouraging hand motions. And I am not over-exaggerating when I say that my face turned all shades of splotchy, blotted, pinky-white-red. At times, I thought I might hurl. And the closer I got to the top, the less they let me rest.
It was just one older woman who realized that — perhaps — I did, in fact, need a rest. I was panting so hard that she showed genuine concern that I was breathing ok. She couldn’t speak a lick of English, but she crouched beside me and demonstrated a Lamaze-style breathing technique I suppose was designed to help me catch my breath. It was sweet, although also unwelcome. Especially when she ended the breathing session by gripping my arm. She looked at me with a serious expression. And she had true conviction too when she chastised me with something in Hindi, and then shooed me up the hill, with waving arms and a big smile.
India is a wacky country.
The whole way up the hill I felt claustrophobic will the attention and touching. But then all I could do was laugh. Those women were bound and determined to get me to the top of the hill by sunset. Instead of letting the bubbling frustration win, I surrendered to the absurdity. Even as I huffed, I kept a steady pace on the final stretch, whispering out enthusiastic and breathless Namaste greetings to everyone making their way downhill.
But then there were the monkeys. Let’s talk about the monkeys on this stretch of mountain. Because some people bring food donations, the monkeys have learned that the steps are a prime area for pilfering food. As I climbed closer to the top of the hill, more black and white monkeys dotted the path. I am always looking for a picture opportunity, so the first time I saw a cute one I whipped out the camera and started snapping some shots. At about that moment, I heard a distinct shriek from higher up the hill. My cousin was alarmed by something. I put oomph in my step and rapidly ascended to find my cousin clutching a rock in her hand and guarding herself from an aggressive monkey that had just charged her.
Once she bent down to pick up the rock, the monkey scampered back. But that was the beginning, we could see clusters of the monkeys on the rest of the path. And you would think that the monkeys would suffice with the food offerings left in the temple, but they are smart creatures — they know that the people carry that food in the bags they carry up the hill. With so many monkeys on the path, we decided there was safety in numbers and continued the climb together. Naturally though, the whole thing couldn’t be that easy. A mother, father and baby monkey were hanging out on the steps right by the entrance to the temple. We had dropped our rocks, so we approached slowly, hoping that they would scamper off.
Wishful thinking. The father monkey charged us and we swung our purses at him to keep him from attacking us. Just as we thought all hope might be lost, one of the temple employees set off a loud fire-cracker. The sound reverberated across the hillside and echoed into the desert. The monkeys wigged out and scattered quickly.
We earned the chance to plop down in the wicker chairs to admire the view. It’s a spectacular viewpoint on Pushkar and the sacred lake. The sunset was hazy, monsoon season hasn’t arrived yet, which leaves the air think and heaving with dust that filtered the light into a faint orange glow. The temple bells ring on the hour, and my cousin and I relaxed in the lazy breeze ruffling the mountaintop.
Video from Brahma’s Temple in Pushkar, India: