On my arrival to Rishikesh I didn’t even have a chance to sigh in relief at being in more serene conditions due to the suffocating volume of monkeys roadside. I wound my taxi window up frantically & looked terrified much to my Swiss taxi companion’s amusement. I was a fool to think escaping Hampi would equate to escaping monkeys. It was a 20 minute taxi ride to Rishikesh passing many monkeys who had ventured to the outskirts of the jungle. There were many signs for drivers to beware of elephants crossing – similar to those we have for cattle & deer back in Ireland. Unfortunately we didn’t see any elephants but maybe that was a good thing because I heard 8 people per month are killed in Rishikesh by ‘angry elephants’. I’m not sure why the elephants are so angry or how they murder their victims…. In my head they are a peaceful & placid creature.
I spent the entire taxi ride trying to keep my shit together & fretting about what side of the bridge the driver would drop me off. Surely enough he ditched me on the opposite side of the bridge to my hostel. I wandered towards the shops looking for a bridge & quickly found it, along with picking up a Dutch backpacker. This poor guy was my rock for the next ten minutes!
As we approached the bridge I immediately told him about my paralysing fear of monkeys & unburdened all my angst about crossing the monkey bridge. His face was a mix of empathy & vague dismay at stumbling upon such a vulnerable & somewhat ungrounded fellow backpacker. As we descended the steps to the bridge my internal organs strangled at the sight of several monkeys jumping & grabbing at people from the bridge railings. I looked desperately for another way across the river. I was out of luck. This was the only way to my hostel. My Dutch companion watched as I lost all my composure & stepped reluctantly towards the busy bustling bridge of fear.
Inside I was screaming as I took the first few steps towards the monkeys. The bridge was overcrowded with people walking slowly, taking pictures of the Ganges & taking pictures with the monkeys. Motorbikes were haphazardly speeding through the crowd & the bridge was narrow enough to touch both sides with my arms stretched out. After passing the first set of monkeys I felt my confidence & carefree adventure crumble. I was now trapped on all sides by monkeys & my only viable escape would be to throw myself off the bridge & tumble into the Ganges. This option was looking more appealing by the second.
I tightened my backpack & clutched my rucksack tightly, put my head down & powered through the slow messy slew of people. Monkeys jumped on the ground in front of me & dashed along the railings carrying their babies. A man popped out at me with one on his shoulder asking if I wanted a picture with it. I recoiled & prayed for this nightmare to end. I was halfway across the bridge pausing reluctantly for motorbikes to pass & shouting ‘excuse me’ to the lackadaisical tourists enjoying the scenery. My heart was beating out of my chest & my palms were sweaty. I was never so happy in my life to see the end of a bridge!
6 monkeys were gathered at the end of the bridge & I could see others on the roofs & power lines on the other side. I knew my monkey ordeal would not be over once I made it to land again. I wallowed in horror as the incessant screaming in my head fizzled out & I forced my legs to complete their task. I passed the last pack of monkeys without incident & scurried away from the bridge as fast as my backpack carrying body could go. Luckily my hostel, Bunk Stay, was easy to find & I was quickly at the bottom of the set of steep stairs to reach it. The crowd on the other side of the bridge was a blur as I was recovering from my traumatic ordeal & still on edge of fear of more monkeys. My Dutch friend reassured me & I felt my anxiety not subside, but not escalate further in his company.
At the top of the steps, breathless & emotionally exhausted we checked into the hostel & I went for a much needed lie down. How am I going to cope in Rishikesh??? My anxiety is palpable.