Monkey Business in Varanasi

VARANASI, India — Setting foot back on the ghats after a predawn boat ride on the Ganges, I saw some familiar monkeys roaming their turf.

Monkey on the lookout.

Wily and silent, the monkeys descended the stone steps to claim a piece of roti that had been left unattended. Maybe the monkey was returning to bread it had set down while it attended to business. Or it could’ve been discarded.

No one seemed to be keeping an eye on them. Unlike in Bali, there were no guides ready to ward off monkey-human entanglements: Guards at Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary carried slingshots as insurance against simian naughtiness, and on my visit to the Sangeh Monkey Forest, they helped retrieve my stolen eyeglasses.

As it’s always a good idea to give wildlife a wide berth, I kept my distance. The Varanasi monkeys didn’t seem as relatively docile as their counterparts in Bali, and I didn’t see any banana vendors catering to tourists looking to feed them. Here, they fended for themselves.

Had one of the monkey decided to rummage through my backpack or my pockets, I wouldn’t have had any recourse. I just watched, and let them be.


A man watches monkeys descend the steps of Ahilyabai Ghat in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. At top, a monkey feasts on roti. (Photos by Bruno J. Navarro)

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