So as I put together my project on the mystical land of Hampi, I am reminded of my first travel to this place long ago. It’s a far better story than any I have had as of late, and it happened to me before I even knew what a blog was.
Legend holds that the Hanuman temple was the birthplace of it’s namesake the monkey god, one of the major deities of Hinduism. The temple is situated high on a hilltop overlooking the river valley that splits hampi in half.
Once you finally reach the base of the steps to the temple you can see the whitewashed path steeply rising up the hill. I was easily convinced by some vendors at the bottom that I should take some fruit as an offering to the monkeys on top, so I bought a bunch bananas (without really considering the economic incentives of the shopkeepers) and started my way up. It wasnt even five minutes of walking when a monkey eyeing my stash walked up to me and kind of squatted on the rail next to me and held his hand up and flipped it. Well schooled in primatology, I had no doubts that this sentient simian could communicate with me, so i explained to him that I wanted to save it for the monkeys on top. This seemed perfectly reasonable to me, and in my defense, I did say this quite politely. Despite my insistence on protocol, the next thing I knew the hand I was holding the bananas in was tackled, and fearing a full assault of a monkey army, I released my grip, and the bananas went flying onto the rocks.
No sooner had this happened than 40-50 monkeys appeared out of the nooks and crannies and grappled and fought over the fruit. I definitely was shaken at this point and was looking over my shoulder the rest of the way up the hill. The temple sat way atop the steep path, and in the hour it took me to get to the summit, I looked over my shoulders and kept the rest of my valuables quite close to me.
At the top stood a small white temple in which lived a sadhu and his wife, living mostly on the largess of the streams of tourists who no doubt followed the same rumors that had brought me. I spent some time sharing tea with the temple dwellers, and every half hour or so the monkeys would work up their courage for a raid and try to come through the doors of the temple to try and steal food or basically anything else they could get there hands on.
Still feeling skittish from the earlier experience, and seeing the sun start to set on the horizon, it seemed to me it was time to go home. I stood up, dusted myself off, and went out to the small point where there was a overlook to the valley. Perhaps the baba had doped me or it was just the energy of the place but as I began my way down I felt quite lightheaded.
My mind started swimming a bit and I decided that I had better be as sharp as possible and get out of there quick as the sun was setting. Now, to help you walk in my shoes for a moment, try to imagine yourself as Dorothy (Yes that Dorothy) when she was beset by the flying monkeys, and you will begin to understand the level of delusion that had creeped its way into my personal narrative. I had come to believe that the Baba was the monkey master, and his simian minions had conspired to make sure I would never get home.
After some progress down the hill, and getting my feet back underneath me, I looked up and saw the sadhu looking over the parapet of the temple clocking my progress, making me even more wary. Getting a little further down I came to a shelter in the rocks and decided to sit to regain my composure a bit. At the very least, I was out of view from anyone above, and I needed to settle down. As I sat I watched as two older seemingly docile monkeys groomed eachother. I worked hard on slowing my breath, and letting the anxiety leave me. I closed my eyes, I inhaled in and out and it was then that there was a peculiar sensation. Slowly lifting my eyelids, but not moving my head, I noticed that two younger monkeys had settled on each shoulder, like the coolest Epaulettes ever. They began to groom me, running there tiny hands through my hair, and doing what they do to other stressed monkeys, allopathic behavior in order to keep the group calm.
As I was looking through some of the pictures I took on my most recent trip to Hampi, I saw this one that had the silhouettes of both tourists and primates, and it made me think very much of the classic “March of Progress” pictograph that most of us know. More importantly though it makes me reconsider what “progress” is, and what we could learn if we looked back a little bit.