In Bundi, Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
Monkeys are cute, right? They eat bananas and they swing from vines and make funny noises and everybody likes monkeys.
Monkeys are selfish, vicious beasts dripping with rabies who screech and breed recklessly and will stop at nothing to get what they want.
That’s why you should always have access to a monkey stick.
Before I go any further, I should clarify that I have never been personally harmed by a monkey, nor have I seen anyone be harmed by a monkey.
But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, particularly in India where monkeys pretty much do as they please.
Especially in Bundi, a quiet-ish town in Rajasthan that is the front-runner for my favorite place in India. (Despite the monkeys.)
We stayed at Tarah Homestay, one of the many blue buildings right at the foot of Bundi’s fantastical palace. It’s run by Jitu and his family, who were kind hosts and great cooks.
The monkeys made themselves known before I laid eyes on them. When we arrived, Jitu apologized for a temporary lack of running water.
“The monkeys,” he explained, “they pulled out the water pipes. We’ll have it fixed by the afternoon.”
Sure they did, I thought, figuring this was India so a lack of modern conveniences didn’t really surprise me.
Jitu’s house has one of the highest rooftops in the area, which made it a perfect spot for watching the twice-daily monkey migration.
That’s when I understood that he was definitely telling the truth. Monkeys teemed down from the top of the mountain, spilling over the fort, streaming down a path next to the palace walls, and springing froom rooftop to rooftop.
Hundreds of big, ugly monkeys.
Well, at least one hundred, but hundreds sounds better, doesn’t it?
All of the residents stood on the rooftops to defend their property, brandishing sticks and shouting as the red-bottomed rhesus monkeys grabbed at laundry and stray chappatis.
I felt pretty safe sipping my chai next to a litter of week-old puppies and watching the chaos below.
The next day we went to the palace and I had forgotten all about the monkeys.
The slogan for tourism India is ‘Incredible India,’ and that certainly applies to Bundi.
You can’t tell where the mountain ends and the palace begins, but I never tired of staring at it.
We bought tickets to explore both the palace and the fort.
The palace was excellent. Virtually monkey-free and a great way to spend a few quiet hours.
Once you climb to the upper levels of the palace, an path continues on to the fort.
As the fort man checked our tickets, he mentioned something about monkeys. I started to sweat a little.
We were going into their territory, without a stick.
I spotted a few big ones tussling in a courtyard, dangling from trees, and perched on the palace walls. They roamed the top of the fort and rustled the bushes, unseen.
I’m sure the view from the mountain top is breathtaking, but I’ll never know.
After about 250 meters of tensely picking my way across the gravel, sucking in my breath when I saw a monkey, I stopped.
“I can’t do this,” I told Jared. “They’re freaking me out.”
We turned around, past a pacing monkey. My policy with monkeys is to avoid eye contact with them, so I trained my eyes straight ahead and quickened my pace.
“Oh, he’s following us,” Jared said quietly. “Just keep walking. That is one f*@k-off monkey.”
Seriously? He may as well have told me that the monkey was galloping towards me, teeth bared and dripping blood.
“Is he still there?” I was trying not to sprint and alarm our stalker.
“Don’t look back. Stay calm. Keep going.”
Falling on my face was preferable to death by monkey, so I racewalked until I reached ground level and exited the palace.
Outside of the occasional hook-tailed langur on the street, my monkey encounters were restricted to viewing them from rooftops or a speeding rickshaw.
But during the migrations I always kept the stick in sight, because you just never know.