Updated on March 3, 2012
Hanuman the monkey God was revered in ancient Indian religious culture, but whatever you do, don’t get too close to the monkeys in Darjeeling.
We thought they were cute, wandering across the path that circles the mountain top city. People passing would stop to take a picture, point to them in the trees, occasionally a brave dog would bark at one of them. We of course, stopped to take pictures…sometimes close ups.
We walked to a scenic overlook and were returning the way we came when a tiny old woman approached us. She pointed at the monkeys and said “bite, bite!” She pointed at her leg, made a face and said “monkey bite!” We thanked her for the advice and she moved on.
When we got to our first set up of the day, we asked our hosts about the monkeys. Gombu’s brother-in-law, Dorjee Lahtoo, said they’re very mean, aggressive, one of them bit Yangdu (Gombu’s daughter) a couple of years ago. “She had to go through the whole rabies series and there was nothing we could do about it because some of them are protected.”
He went on to tell us the monkeys have left the jungles because there is no food. They come to Darjeeling where people feed them. As a result, they stay and have more monkeys. He said years ago there were a couple of tribes that ate monkeys, but they became religious and now they don’t. Since they have no natural predators, they are out of control.
He said monkeys once broke in to the library at a catholic girls school here. They terrified two students who reported them to an Irish nun who runs the place. She called the authorities, who called the wildlife officials, who called the people who are supposed to boot unauthorized monkeys from school libraries. By the time they showed up the monkeys were gone and the library was trashed. An investigation was ordered, but so far there have been no results.
He says years ago they rounded up some wayward monkeys, put them in a cage and took them down the mountain to be released in the forest. But monkeys are much smarter than tourists. They quickly found their way back up the mountain to the free food.
We’ll be heading out on that path again tomorrow, but much earlier. We’re talking about how many layers of pants we can find to put on, but just in case, Mr Latoo suggests carrying a big stick. I’m not sure what the fine is for whacking a semi-religious primate into the outfield in this town. I’m hoping we won’t find out.