The autorickshaw turns off the busy road and in to a residential neighbourhood stopping just at the bottom of a big hill. We’ve made it. The path to one of the more famous temples in Jaipur is ahead – Galtaji, also known as the “monkey temple”. It’s a temple devoted to Hanuman, the most famous monkey in the Hindu religion. Since the early 1500’s, it was a retreat for Hindu ascetics, but the temple currently there was built in the early 1700’s
Two other tourists, Daegan, and I get out and are met by a number of people. We are offered bags of peanuts and told that there are monkeys ahead. Then we are warned. The monkeys expect food and if you don’t give it to them, they can claw and bite and it is poisonous. Another person clarifies: “Some may have rabies.” I turn them down and we start climbing the hill. Along the way several people offer to act as guides but we’re turning them down. One man, Junaid, continues to follow us anyway. After a few minutes I notice that my Hindi is better than his English, a very unusual occurance given my poor Hindi, so we continue to speak mostly in Hindi. I translate for the other three. I figure I’m understanding about 90% – my best yet. Daily practice has its benefits.
We crest the hill and our friend points to the top of a big hill in the distance and tells us: “During the day tigers live up there but they come down to the temple at night.” He repeats it in Hindi but uses the word “Bagheera” – Leopard. I’m not sure I have a preference for one versus the other if I have to try to get away from one.
The cobblestone path turns downward. Centuries of feet have worn the path smooth and every few steps one of us slides a little. “Dhire, dhire.” (Slowly, slowly…) I am advised and I say to my friends, “Maybe we should slow down a little.” Before long we can see the temple far below.
Not far from the bottom we see a small stand. Another person is selling peanuts here – this time at half the cost of the original sellers. We buy some and the seller offers us bottled water. “Jab ham vapas aaenge.” I tell him. I don’t want to carry water but if I have to walk back up that hill in the 30 degree heat I’m going to need something to drink.
Our next stop happens soon after – we’re asked if we want to take photos. One of the other travelers does, and Daegan does so we pay Rs 50 each (about $1) and go inside.
There are so many monkeys. Some are chasing one another, some lounging, others eating.
Junaid takes the peanuts and hands one to a monkey who grabs it and immediately cracks it open and eats it. Then he encourages me to give them one. I’m a bit hesitant but eventually get the hang of giving them one. It’s not that hard after all. They politely take them out of my hand.
After a while, though, we notice that they’re not all that interested. There are signs of why all around. Today is a day when many people bring offerings to the monkeys. There is fruit everywhere. Who wants peanuts when you can have that?
We continue down the stairs, feeding some of the monkeys as we go. Eventually we get to the temple itself.
It feels like the scene from an adventure movie – like Indiana Jones. Inside the temple, we are blessed by a pandit and make an offering before heading back out.
On the way out we meet a friendly dog who lives at the temple. Junaid informs me she was recently attacked by a bagheera and showed me the large scar between her shoulder blades. Life in rural India is challenging for dogs.
We head back up the hill on the way back to the car. Along the way several motorcyclists offer us rides up at Rs. 50 per person. We’re hot and tired but the walk is beautiful so we don’t rush it by fast-forwarding ourselves through it on the back of a motorcycle.
But we do go for that bottle of water.