When I announced that I’m working on a travel series called the Himalayan Travel Diaries, one of the first persons to reach out to me was Poyani. Poyani Mehta is a former school librarian, Team Member at the Kala Ghoda Lit Fest and rescuer of injured birds. Her vivacious nature is very contagious. What I really liked about her account of her unique trip to Ranikhet was that how wonderfully she is able to put her effervescent bubbly self on paper too. Her distinct and quirky account of encountering monkeys on a trip to Ranikhet is something worth reading.
Summer vacation in schools were about to start and the mad rush to check out the latest tourist hotspots were on. A quick decision to go to a few hill stations in our favourite state of Uttarakhand was taken and Ranikhet (literal meaning Queen’s Land) was the first stop on our itinerary.
Ranikhet is a beautiful hill station and an army cantonment town (home of the Kumaoni Regiment) in Almora District of Uttarakhand. Due to its pleasant weather throughout the year, tourists visit Ranikhet any and all the time. This charming town is very peaceful, with lush green forests of pine and picturesque views of the high majestic mountains. With luck, one can get a good view of the Nanda Devi peak on a clear day.
We stayed at a lovely old time heritage resort. As it was located a little further away from the crowded market area, it was very peaceful. The lovely garden with pretty fragrant flowers and an amazing view of the valley down below made it all the more beautiful.
On the first night of our stay, we got introduced to some dear friends – deep in sleep under cosy blankets, we were suddenly awakened by loud thumping sounds on the roof. Thump!!! Thump!!!! Thump!!!! It went on for a little while, with my daughter hugging me in a tight embrace and looking a bit scared and wary. Saying a small prayer, we went back to sleep. The next morning at breakfast, the hot topic of discussion was the thumping sounds and the identity of the said culprits.
Just like the local Kumaoni people have been here for eons and have a sense of belonging, there is another species too which believe they have a right to be in Ranikhet, and that too in all might, and we humans better not complain. Any guesses on who I am talking about? Well, they too are mammals but of a different kind – The Himalayan Rhesus Monkey.
During certain times of the day, we could see a few monkeys gambolling about the resort as if they belonged there. Though Ranikhet is small in size, cars are a must for travel to the local places and tourist points. One evening we thought of visiting the famous Jhoola Devi Temple for darshan. As the temple was around 1.5 km away from our resort, we decided to go on foot rather than take the car.
At the reception desk, we were given ‘The Look’ – “Kya! Chal ke jaoge?” (What! Will you walk?)
We nodded our heads in affirmation, for the temple was so close by and walking is good for our legs.
“Thehro, yeh lakdi lijiye. Yahaan bahut bandar hain”. (Wait, take this stick. There are a lot of monkeys here).
In addition to the stick, we were given loads of instructions of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’.
So we three musketeers set off for Jhoola Devi Temple with the long stick in hand. Both sides of the road was a forested area. My husband had already warned me not to look at any monkey with friendly eyes or trying to pet any (since a few years ago I had been scratched by a baby monkey at Bushi Dam at Lonavala and I had to take tetanus and anti-rabies shots).
A little distance into the walk, we could hear rustling sounds here and there, and then some chatter. Suddenly, we saw a monkey or two peeking out of a bush, staring at us. Till this moment, we were enjoying our walk in a carefree manner and this sudden change of circumstances put us immediately on guard. The stick was banged on the ground once in a while to warn the monkeys that we weren’t scared of them. With hands by our sides and eyes looking straight ahead, we walked along the road.
The well-known saying of ‘Monkey see, Monkey do’ had also been reminded to us before our departure from the resort and we were told not to carry anything with us since it could be snatched away. I had put my camera in my pocket, and I secretly used it to click a video. What a sight it was! A busy troupe of over 30+ monkeys walking all around and along with us. It was truly a sight to behold and it felt like a protective cavalry of sorts, as if the monkeys knew we were going to the temple to pray.
As we reached close to the temple, the monkeys suddenly disappeared in a jiffy. A few dogs were sitting on guard and some languidly lying around. Maybe the monkeys were scared and went away into safer zones… or maybe their duty of escorting us to the temple was over. Whatever the reasons, it was a scary but unique experience all the same.