Monday, January 12, 2015

Mumbai Magic - The one with the Monkeys

On one of our days in Mumbai, we decided to take a one-hour ferry ride to the famed Elephanta Caves. I was quite eager to visit the caves, having read so much about them in my art and history classes and their being a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. Interestingly, friends and family in Delhi had discouraged me from wasting an entire day at the caves since they were just "broken stone statues and ruins, nothing of much interest". I guess appreciation of art isn't as commonly found in people as one would think it ought to be.

The ferry ride was delightful, with the endless Arabian Sea all around and seagulls racing with our boat as we headed to our destination. On reaching Elephanta island, a toy train transported us to the foot of the caves. From thereon up the hill, all I could see on both sides were endless troops of monkeys. Older monkeys, little infant monkeys, adolescent monkeys - it was a total riot. During the uphill climb it was a scary prospect for me to go anywhere near them, as my little experience with these primates in Delhi said one must not get too close to them or, heaven forbid, ever brandish one's camera in their faces. They'll lunge at it and before you know it, you'll be left camera-less and probably scratched at many places. So I kept my camera tightly clutched to my side and left the monkeys alone.

About half an hour into my exploration of the caves, however, I had a moment of enlightenment. These hapless inhabitants of Elephanta island were in fact totally harmless. They were too bored to even care to jump at you or try to scare you off of their young ones. They were all really calm and self-absorbed, the older ones single-mindedly picking lice off of each other and the little ones frolicking around. I went up close and clicked as many pictures as I liked without so much as a sideways glance from a single monkey. Needless to say I was surprised, but pleasantly so.

Mumma monkey feeding her child with corny treats.
This particular mother-child duo was taking turns at nibbling on an ear of corn. The way the mother monkey was so intently feeding her child was heartwarming and I stood there smiling at them for quite some time. Until, out of nowhere, a larger monkey jumps into view and starts staring hungrily at a guy who had just bought a roasted corn cob from a local seller and unfortunately hadn't had the good sense to walk away quickly with his corn still intact. The big bad monkey, clever as he was, snarls at him once, and the poor guy realizes his game is up and gives up on any hope of having his meal. The beast, knowing too well that he has succeeded in his intent, calmly walks over to the boy and snatches the corn from his hands. Left with nothing else to do, the guy looks at us with an embarrassed smile even as the clever monkey struts off into the woods to enjoy his spoils in peace. This was such a hilarious scene that I won't forget it for a long time to come.

Notice that look of utter satisfaction on the cunning ape's face?
Elephanta was definitely a great experience in its entirety, with the awe-inspiring sculptures, rock-cut architecture and sheer grandeur, but the most fun I had on that journey was in observing and clicking these cute primates rolling about all over the place. Their antics made for an enchanting sight and some wonderful photographic moments as well. I couldn't choose any one picture to accompany this blog post, so here are three of my favourites. Keep coming back for some more Mumbai Magic.

To catch all the posts in the series in one place, visit here.

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