Let me introduce one of our favorite people in India: Our driver, Raju. Target India works with a service called "Deeksha Travels" to provide expats with both car and driver so our Toyota Inova and Raju were ready to go about a week after we arrived. Driving and Traffic in Bangalore deserve their own blog but suffice it to say that there are many excellent reasons for us to NOT be driving. Raju is a safe, prompt and kind driver. Grayce and Owen adore him and he's proven to be wonderful with them both. He maintains our car (washing it daily!), runs errands (paying bills, picking things up and carrying in the groceries...) and speaks pretty good English (we understand one another most of the time and he's always happy to point out interesting sights or share the history of particular places). Little did he know the fate of his day lay in a simple sandwich as we set out this past Saturday to visit the small hill station, "Nandi Hills"...
Now, Nandi Hills is famous for its monkeys. Lots and lots of Monkeys! We had been duly warned about the monkeys snatching food and planned to "picnic" in our car. On our way back to lunch we stopped and bought a couple of bags of chips to eat with our lunch and I had a small taste of what it is like to be stalked by monkeys. It was a warm day and I walked along swinging those bags by my side (one red, one green...shiny enough to catch the light.) Then, out of the corner of my eye I see a monkey...his neck snaps around, gray fur, pink face, piercing eyes suddenly and intently focused on those bags. He sits up, takes a step in my direction, then another and I am very aware that this is not a battle that I will win, should it come to that! I am considering whether I should just abandon the chips when I reach the car (Bob and the kids are already there,) blurt out, "the monkeys want my chips!" and thrust them into Raju's hands, which then quickly shove them into the car and shut the door. The monkey sits back, tilts his head at us and runs back to his "chip scouting" perch. We are further convinced that eating in the car is the right thing to do and all pile in to enjoy lunch. The monkey eventually ignores us and wanders off into the woods.
Raju has already eaten lunch and is outside, leaning casually against the front bumper. We have many delicious sandwiches. Bob hops out and offers one to Raju. All is well. All is peaceful. The day is beautiful and so are the Hills. We are all very hungry and happy.
Suddenly Raju turns...fear leaps briefly into his face. He vaults the car and we see one VERY large monkey running full speed directly for that sandwich. He's got 4 0r 5 reinforcements trailing closely behind him and they mean (monkey?) business. The door of the car is wrenched open. Thunking, metal to monkey. Raju leaps inside, the sandwich still in his hand, his breath heavy and slams the door behind him. A bevy of monkeys fall against the car in one last attempt. Raju turns to me and says, "Sorry Madame" and begins to laugh a little (he is unharmed but it feels like a close call and there is certainly nothing for him to be sorry about!) A baby monkey face hangs upside down from the roof of the car, peering so endearingly through the driver's side glass that we almost wish we could open up the window. But we don't!
Nandi Hills is small but quite lovely. The rock formations remind us of the North Shore (albeit with Palm Trees and Monkeys, of course!) We hike the trails. We visit the temple and make an offering to Nandi, the Hindu bull God. We admire the temple carvings. We recieve a blessing at a small Ganesha temple outside. We stand high on the rock and peer over the edge. Karnataka is green and lush still...the monsoon so recently ended. Warm greetings from other visitors abound. Several groups ask to take our picture. We gingerly throw the remnants of a small snack to a skin and bones street dog who stands with her face to the wind and are rewarded with vigorours tail wags. There is much too much garbage littered about but we walk in the woods mere feet from the monkeys. We watch them sleeping, climbing, playing, munching at grass. The babies wrestle on the ground, guarded by mama. It is eery how human-like they appear. They are every where, as cautious and curious as we. We watch for signs of stress or agression but there is none (lunch time "monkey mania" is a couple of hours off yet and we carry no food.)
The adventure ends after our *interesting* monkey accompanied lunch. We drive back down out of the hills through villages, stopping to admire a banana grove, buying some freshly picked green grapes, Raju points out a huge and gorgeous statue of the elephant god Ganesha. It is within the gates of a school and he stops to ask if we can enter to take some photographs (he is a devotee of Ganesha one of the most beloved Hindu deities. Ganesha is well known for blessing all journeys...the beginnings and endings and this seems a fitting conclusion.)
We end the day at a roadside stand where the top of coconuts are hacked off, a straw stuck inside, drinking coconut water. We buy one for Raju...