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A Monkey, Some Holy Men, and One Foolish Tourist

By Diana McLeod

      Kathmandu is home to a large group of Sadhus. These men are followers of Shiva, the Hindu God of destruction and regeneration. Some of them are genuine Hindu mystics. They wear simple robes, they grow their hair into long dreadlocks, they paint their faces with the “trisul” - a pronged forked trident that symbolizes lightning - and they go barefoot, no matter how cold the weather is. They leave their homes and families behind, and they live at the temples, sometimes making pilgrimages from holy site to holy site. They spend their days begging for food, preaching, or deep in meditation

      A few of them practice very extreme asceticism. They wear only a loincloth, and they smear themselves with the ashes from human cremations, using them as a stark reminder of the transitory nature of human existence. I remember staring into the eyes of one of these men in Varanasi. He was young, but he was so immersed in his ascetic practice that his eyes looked barely human. He saw me, but to him, I was alien. It was like staring into the eyes of a wild animal.

      Sadhus do have a funny side. They are legally allowed to partake of ganja (pot) as a sacrament of their religion, and many of them indulge this habit regularly. This "sacrament" supposedly helps them meditate. It also occasionally gives them a bad case of "the giggles." I remember one hilarious scene involving a group of Sadhus, which took place during my visit to the Pashupatinath temple. (Pashupatinath is the main Hindu temple of Kathmandu).

      I had brought an orange with me, and I was determined to have it for lunch. I sat down to enjoy it outdoors on the temple terrace. Unfortunately, a large male monkey was equally determined to take it away from me. This monkey was very big - almost two feet tall - and very aggressive. Normally, I would have simply given up, and tossed him the orange. On this day, for some reason, I was not in the mood for that. The orange was my only lunch. Besides, it was time that somebody stood up to the temple monkeys, who steal from everybody all the time. (This was really incredibly stupid on my part. A monkey bite might have earned me a whole series of painful rabies shots as well as stitches and scars) I took off my shoe, to use it as a weapon, and I prepared to do battle.

      The monkey advanced, and I retreated. Then I advanced, jumping, yelling, hissing, waving my arms, baring my teeth monkey-style, and brandishing the shoe. He fearfully backed up. Then he charged again. I backed up. Back and forth we went. The fight went on for several minutes. It must have looked ridiculous -– the monkey and the middle-aged foreign woman, squaring off. In the end, I won. My instincts were correct- the monkey was willing to bluff, but he was not really prepared to take me on. He ran away, and I claimed victory.

      As soon as I won the fight, I became aware of a lot of noise coming from a nearby stone wall. The Sadhus of Pashupatinath had come to watch me fight the monkey. Half of them were clapping and cheering. The rest of them were so convulsed with laughter that they were falling over, holding their stomachs, and crying like babies. I was the funniest thing they had apparently ever seen. I gave them an annoyed look, and they all flew into new fits of hysterical giggles. The guffaws continued, while I attempted to regain my dignity and enjoy my lunch. Every time I glanced over at them, they simply started all over again.

      The Sadhus of Pashupatinath are a legendary group. Foreign tourists come from all over the world to see them and to photograph them. But, to the Sadhus themselves, I am sure that I will become the legend; a story to pass down from generation to generation of young Sadhus. I only wish I could be there to watch them “"ape”" me.

      Thanks for reading! Diana

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