I watched as a group of 5 young Indian males entered the tall, phallic shaped, Victory monument within the walls of the Chittor fort. Standing over 9 stories tall you can climb to the top of the monument, up an internal series of narrow and winding stairs. After waiting a few minutes, to give the group in front of me a chance to do their thing away from me I took off my shoes, showed my ticket to the guard and with an admonishment to "mind my head" I entered and climbed.
The monument itself is exquisite. All the walls are filled with carvings and statues. Presumably it was built to commemorate some battle or something. I have no idea. There was a plaque but I forget the details. I also have no idea what any of the carvings meant. I knew they looked pretty, as I looked at them with my head stooped over, glancing, while walking, my eyes darting to the ground in front to the wall on the side. And using the same criteria I use when I am in art museum, I knew I could never produce something similar so was impressed.
It's a tight squeeze as you make your way up. The stairs were not designed for tour groups and it all gets a bit claustrophobic at times. But it is atmospheric. The only light is what comes through the scattered windows. I had a feeling that this what what it must have been like to climb the Washington Monument when that was allowed. Minus the hindu inscriptions, of course.
A few minutes in, and only a few stories high, I came across the group of 5 males on a staircase. They were bounding down it, leaping the last few steps with a nervous laughter. Something had spooked them. Noting this and figuring they were afraid of the dark or just playing with each other I pushed past and made my way up the stairs to the next level.
With the low ceiling and the dark passage I climbed the stairs ladder style. Hands on the step in front of me and my feet tentatively looking for purchase below me. Ever cautious about rolling an ankle or falling down the stairs I moved slowly, hunched, so that when I came to the next landing I wasn't in the best position. As the ceiling grew I started to stand up, facing a large window, with some loosely spaced bars, only a feet from where I was. There in the window stood a giant macaque monkey.
It glared at me. It's barred teeth daring me to attempt to pass by him. I did some math in my head and quickly came to the conclusion that the bars in the window would be insufficient to keep it from grasping me. Looking both ways down the corridor I realized there was no way I could continue with out passing very close to the monkey.
There are thoughts that run through your head at a moment like this, ranging from pride to practicalism. A part of you thinks this is ridiculous, you are the dominate primate. No way should you allow a silly little monkey to affect your plans. But then you start to think about bites, and the availability of clean water to clear out the wound for 15 minutes. And then you wonder what the medical options are in this quaint, small, town you are visiting. And do you really want to work a rabies vaccination cycle into your itinerary. And so as those thoughts rage in your head you find yourself downgrading your expectations. You tell yourself, "maybe you don't need to walk all the way to the top of the monument, maybe half way is fine. Besides it's just a view up there. You have seen views before".
While I make these mental calculations, carrying the remainders, adding in decimals, wondering which direction to round, the monkey, which has shown no sign of moving, stares at me one more time and shows it's teeth. It's big, white teeth. In my head they are glistening, a mixture of saliva and tourist blood dripping off them. I do the only sensible thing and retreat down the steps to the previous level.
The 5 Indians are there when I get down. One of them looks at me and with a questioning smile asks "Monkey?". And I swallow my pride, look him in the eye mumble something about big teeth and push past. I linger for a bit, admiring the carvings, wondering what I am missing on the higher levels. Wondering if the monkey is still there.
The Indians saunter over to me and ask if I will pose for pictures with them. One by one they all sidle up next to me as their friends snap the pictures. We don't talk about the monkey. I wonder, briefly, if when they show these pictures to friends and family if it will start with "and this is the foreigner who was scared of a monkey". I wonder if the retelling will also include their large group bounding down the stairs, equally afraid of the monkey.
After pictures there is an awkward moment as we all stand around. You can tell we are all lingering to see if the monkey will leave. You can tell we are all waiting for the other person to check it out. Eventually we run out of carvings and one of the Indians cautiously goes up the steps. He returns a few seconds later with good news "No monkey"
We all moved up. A hollow victory.