Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Story Two: Monkeys

Katie had read about Swayambhu, or Kathmandu's famous “Monkey Temple,” and insisted that we go there as soon as we had some free time. I happily agreed. Every now and then, you find yourself in a new place or having a new experience that feels truly … maybe not life-changing, but at least significant. Swayambhu was both such a place, and such an experience.

On September 14th, Katie and I awoke at 4:30 with the intention of making it to the top of Swayambhu by sunrise. It was about a 30-minute walk from our hotel to the temple, but as has been the case literally every morning since our arrival, sunrise wasn't that amazing – we've been in the clouds almost the whole time we've been here. The night before, when we'd decided to come to the top of Swayambhu for sunrise, I'd envisioned it being devoid of people, a peaceful refuge from the hussle and bussle of Kathmandu. Wrong. There were probably over a hundred Nepalese people at the top of the temple by the time we got there, but we were the only non-Nepalese, which I suppose was kind of cool.

The temple itself was beautiful, but I'm not going to write much about it here – look it up on Google images if you're curious what it looks like. And I'll put some pictures up somewhere, sometime. After seeing the main area of the temple, which was inhabited by a good number of “wild” monkeys, we went off to explore some of the lesser-viewed areas of the Temple grounds. And here we encountered several different groups of monkeys, including one group led by the aptly named (Katie and I named him) “King Monkey,” who really seemed to run the show at Swayambhu. When we found this first group, we simply wandered around, observing and taking way too many pictures of our evolutionary predecessors.

The activities they took part in were hilarious and amazing to observe. Baby monkeys would fight each other and then ride around on their mother's or father's backs. Monkeys of all different sizes would swing back and forth from the endless prayer flags adorning the Temple. They'd scream at each other. They'd jump from ancient stupas to moss-covered trees, pick up discarded candy-bar wrappers, and get the last crumbs out with their little monkey-hands. I didn't see any poo-flinging, but I plan on going back to Swayambhu as often as practical, and maybe poo-throwing will eventually make it onto the list of things I've seen monkeys do.

Now for three quick monkey stories, all from this single day at Swayambhu.

ONE: Katie and I were taking pictures of the monkeys, and a baby monkey wandered very close to Katie. They don't seem at all afraid of being even a few feet away from people, but Katie must have made some sudden move that frightened the baby, so it shouted and ran off towards mama, who shouted and started running away with the frightened baby on her back. King Monkey must have observed all this from nearby, because within 5 seconds of baby monkey freaking out, King Monkey was running towards Katie with a fire in his eyes. At this point, Katie was freaking out and coming towards me, when she heard the pitter-patter of monkey feet running up behind her. King Monkey screeched in anger and two-hand slapped her on the ass before Katie was able to complete her hasty retreat.

TWO: Swayambhu, being an actual, functional temple in addition to a massive tourist-draw, has resident monks. And there are child monks. My stint as an elementary-school teacher in Korea taught me that no matter where in the world you are, children will be children. So it shouldn't have been a surprise to Katie or I that the three 10 or so year-old monks we saw while at Swayambhu spent their time chasing, yelling at, and throwing rocks and sandals at the monkeys that also inhabit the Temple. It just seemed counterintuitive – aren't monks supposed to stand, above all, for peace and harmony with all living things? To see them throwing rocks at their quasi-pets was weird.

THREE: Dog-monkey war! King Monkey was hanging out on a little stupa, when an older Nepalese man, unaware of King Monkey's presence only a couple feet away from him, walked by. King Monkey got angry for some reason and swatted at the old man. There are well-fed, friendly stray dogs all over Kathmandu, and one that happened to be nearby at this moment ran to the old man's defense. This started an all-out dog/monkey war. Barks and screeches filled the air as the dogs eventually chased the King Monkey-led gang of monkeys back into their safe haven – the trees all around Swayambhu. Although the monkeys were obviously much more fun to observe than stray dogs, neither Katie nor I could help but root for the dogs, as they'd come to the helpless old man's defense. We hoped this was a sign that if we faced any further problematic monkey-business (yeah, I said monkey-business) of our own, we'd be able to count on being defended by stray dogs. If only there'd been dogs around at the time of Katie's monkey-hands molestation.

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