Day 1 to 4: Marred by the menace of monkeys | Vrindavan, India | The Traveling Sage

In the morning, moments after I left my home to board the express train to Mathura from Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station, Delhi, my mother received a call from one of my cousin brothers who frequently visits Vrindavan and Mathura on short religious journeys. He told her to caution me about the terrorizing, verminous, and unforgiving monkeys of Vrindavan. He told her that they are skilled in taking off your spectacles as a human would do. He said, “They would come behind you, take a comfortable position, and snatch away your spectacles before you could realize what happened.” It frightened my mother and at the same moment, she called me to caution of what was about to come. We regretted that I didn’t keep my older spectacles for emergency. We also regretted that I didn’t take out enough time while at home to get a cheap copy done of my spectacles to deal with such circumstances. We couldn’t do anything other than regretting what could not be changed.

Finally, I boarded my train with just one spectacles, already terrorized by the monkeys of Vrindavan, whom I was yet to meet, personally.

In less than 2 hours, I was in Mathura, excited, alone, and looking like a videshi, a man from a different land, thanks to the huge wildcraft rucksack I was carrying on the back of my shoulders, and a laptop bag hanging in the front of my shoulders.

Mathura Railway Station was neither crowded nor littered with pan shoots, here and there. It was a clean place, with less number of people, and better management, as it appeared to me when I first set foot on it.

I came out of it, and a horde of auto drivers, cab drivers, rickshaw pullers caught me, centered me, and interrogated me about the place I had to go in Mathura. I shooed them off by pulling, “I have my own car.” argument. One of the rickshaw pullers laughed it off, and said to another rickshaw puller, “See, he is a saab (respected person).”

I walked outside, under the bright sun, and saw a different set of small autos, big autos, cabs, and rickshaws, arranged in a decipherable pattern, so that passengers can easily identify the kind of public or private transport they have to board. After inquiring to one of the auto walas, I took a shared public auto to Vrindavan which cost me only 20 bucks.

Within half an hour, I was in Vrindavan, exhilarated, and ready to start my first solo journey.

In the first few hours in Vrindavan, I didn’t remove my spectacles, unaware of the intensity of monkey menace in the town. I was mere lucky that no monkey attacked me and took them away, or took my phone away, as I was openly clicking photos out of unusual excitement of being at a tourist place.

In the evening, after taking a nap, I came out of the cheap dharamshala I chose to stay in Vrindavan. I walked through the first alley in the town, and it stimulated mixed feeling in my mind. I saw the first widow, the first destitute, and I didn’t know how to react. I kept it all inside, under the monkey terror, reining above all.

I took a long breath, when I first reached the Bankey Bihari temple without any hassles. I counted the number of monkeys visible on the higher grounds, and initially felt a little secured, only to turn more frightened as the monkeys slowly came out of their dens. I couldn’t concentrate on the temple, its architecture, or the number of worshipers already in line, waiting for the huge doors to Bankey Bihari Temple to open up, and embrace them under the insurmountable roof of the supreme lord.

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I saw a couple of monkeys, planning an attack on a woman, shopping in one of the many shops attached to the wall of the temple. I saw them jumping from one roof to another after successfully snatching the poly bag of the woman’s hands, which seemed to contain fruits. I saw another monkey, gorging on a marigold flower garland, carefully separating the seeds and the decayed part, and eating the fresh orange part. I saw another monkey perched on the top of a water tank, and drinking water from a water bottle, that someone must have either given him or he may have snatched from someone. I saw another monkey perched on the top of a makeshift flower roof in front of the main gate of the Bankey Bihari temple, eating white jasmine and barleria flowers with much delight. A man tried to shoo him away, but he didn’t move, rather showed him the big eyes, and even attempted a frontal attack to scare away the man.

A monkey gorging on a marigold garland, perched on the balcony of Bankey Bihari temple.

A monkey gorging on a marigold garland, perched on the balcony of Bankey Bihari temple.

This terrorized me, but I kept moving from one part of the white marbled floored veranda to another, I tried to click as many meaningful photographs as possible. For some time, I sat on the floor with other people, and noticed the various monkeys surrounding us. Another time, I was at the center of the veranda, sitting on a takhat, near a cute little girl who was busy serving water to people.

In my attempt to save myself of the clever monkeys, I kept an eye on all of them. As everyone was busy thumping the closed doors to the temple, and shouting slogans of Bankey Bihari, I noticed some monkeys closing in on a man peeking out of a small window standing within the protective grille covering the entire balcony, resting his folded elbows on the balustrade. He noticed one of the closer monkeys in time, but with no fear, and with a playful smile, teasingly punched the monkey on face. The monkey showed his sharp canine teeth and made some funny faces. In an attempt to copy the man, it also tried to teasingly punch him on the face. Then, it moved closer towards the man, and sat in front of him, showing the man its back. It put its hind legs on the two hands of the man, and comfortably perched there for a couple of minutes. Both the man and the monkey seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Soon, the monkey moved inside the window, and came out after a few seconds, it again teased the man on his face, as it was teased by the man, and then moved away. I was moved to see such a bonding between the two residents of Vrindavan. It calmed me, assured me that even a monkey’s heart can be won with a smile, and I was able to concentrate on other much important tasks I had in mind for the day.

A monkey showing eyes to one of the Bankey Bihari worshiper trying to woo him away.

A monkey showing eyes to one of the Bankey Bihari worshiper trying to chase him away.

Next day, when I was strolling in different alleys of Vrindavan, moving from one temple to another, a local shopkeeper, a tuk tuk driver, and the shoe caretaker in the Shahji Temple, warned me to take off my glasses or a monkey would snatch them away. I went to the Mirabai temple, and both the head priest, and his wife warned me twice to take off my glasses outside the temple while walking in the alleys. Oh, I was careful, but I couldn’t help it, I had to see the town, and I couldn’t do it without my glasses. Practically, I see only blur without my glasses. So, very carefully, I used to put on and take off my glasses assessing the number of monkeys on the roofs. Until, I was attacked from the behind a few minutes later by a treacherous monkey on the same day. It landed on my backpack, I felt a push, but couldn’t believe it to be a monkey. Somehow, I got hold of my glasses with one hand, they fell on the ground, and I bent down to pick them up. Till then, the monkey had flown away on another roof. It all happened within seconds, and I couldn’t realize what was happening until people started shouting. A baba walking behind me, came in front of me, and claimed the prize for shooing off the monkey sitting on my back, I kept walking, facing a rush of air in my lungs, and beginning to realize what went by within seconds.

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I took a deep breath, and smiled. I had my phone, wallet, and spectacles still in my pockets, safe and guarded. I gave the baba a 10 rupee note, since he was still following me, and then kept walking in the blur until I reached under the safe roof of Brijwasi Sweet House. Only then I could again see the surroundings. I washed dirt of out my neck, and face, dusted my backpack and then peacefully had my lunch.

Almost all the houses, dharamshalas, and temples in Vrindavan are covered with decorated metal grilles to stop the monkeys from entering the premises. Such is the caution people take to keep the monkeys at bay, but they are still everywhere in the city, on wide roads, in alleys, and even inside some open temples.

If you are going to spend five days, walking on foot all across the city, like I did, you will always see monkeys sitting on a roof with spectacles, or shoes, or a poly bag in their hands, and the master asking the monkey to give them back. I saw such people everywhere, outside Bankey Bihari temple, outside Nidhivan, outside Shahji temple, and even near the ISKCON temple. I saw people throwing stones at monkeys so that they may give back what they have taken. I saw people buying frooti, and a banana to exchange their spectacles or other stuff with monkeys. I saw an old lady, begging a monkey to return her husband’s leather shoes, calling him, “Hanumaji, please give it back! Hanumanji, good Hanumanji, please, give the shoe back!” But Hanumanji never returned the shoes.

A monkey coming out of his residence under the sheds of shop hoardings.

A monkey coming out of his residence under the sheds of shop hoardings.

Advisory for people traveling to Vrindavan – If you have to put on compulsory spectacles like me, keep a copy of them with you while traveling to Vrindavan. If some monkeys have taken away your valuable items like mobile phone, shoes, or spectacles, do not try to throw stones at them. Be calm, get a frooti or a banana for them, and they will easily give back your stuff.

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