The Monsoon Mountains Tea Company

The Monsoon Mountains Tea Company
Tea at World's End

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Polonnaruwa Macaques

The lake shimmers lively in the morning sun, and the water's surface oscillates from the frisking winds and it is indeed refreshing, soulfully satisfying, to gulp in the air in long smooth breaths deep into the belly, the aromas of wet stone wet earth-sweet surface of the waters carried by breezes across the ruins and into the trees. The ruins. Edifices and temples, palaces and places of worship. 

Polonnaruwa is an ancient city; encircled by six kilometers of walls in its younger livelier days, when people lived here by hundreds. And, the 'lake' itself, a man made reservior at least 13 kilometers long, a source of water for the inhabitants of that city, host to a number of pipes irrigating the nearby rice paddies and feeding other systems as far afield as Trincomalee, in its heyday. Rippling in mid morning light, shorelines festooned with reeds and lilies, it lies as a sanctuary to bird and beast alike, teeming with wetland wildlife - kingfishers, egrets, bee eaters, lizards, snakes, and monkeys.

She has been following the the flowers.These fascinating small pinkish pompom blossoms nestled in the grassy stubble has led her away from the track gingerly she picks her way across and through the trees, always looking down, always aware of these delicate plants growing like creepers so close to the ground, compound leaves radiating from the centre, looking much like mimosa, but highly sensitive to the touch. These compound tendrils close to the touch, like a domino effect from tip to stem, she notices how they lie open as wide flat 'V' shapes shutting quickly one after the other, into rows of 'I' . Hands coming together in prayer. Closing to form an Ayubowan.

In this quiet, tranquil place she makes her way, sometimes bending low to touch these fascinating flowers, just to watch them but feels it wrong in a way, to tease them so. They are everywhere, these little leaves and delicate firework flowers, and she finds it difficult to avoid not stepping on them.  and she avoids stepping on them as best she can. She trips along this quiet sacred grove always looking down until she can go no further. She is stopped by the back wall of a temple, low wall, among the many trees, and the wall is dancing. The carved animals stand still in bas relief -  a captive audience to these monkeys that suddenly burst forth about the trees and rocks, branches and stone, arriving and thundering alive in defensive chorus over the sleeping earth. 
They dance, they chatter, they squawk like crows in chorus they scream.  They leap about shaking the branches, shivering the delicate pink flowers, or sit still growling baring sharp yellow teeth. They bandy about back and forth across the temples and the trees, creating. Rude, offensive noises with their voices and bristling hair on their bodies their toques doubling in size, screeching and crying they seem to shake the sky in their ire of invasion. She stands stock still, watching. And as she watches, their screams become louder and more deafening, or so it seems.  They can feel her astonishment, read her fear.

She did not expect the monkeys. Perhaps, if she had expected them she might have been more assertive. But still, they looked such a contradiction with their funny toques giving rise to a comic appearance despite their anger at her intrusion. Of course they are harmless. They have interacted with humans over centuries, especially here.  But she doesn't really know this and is unsure. She could laugh at them. She could laugh. But then, you never know, they might just do something - well nasty. No not really, not really nasty. Perhaps just being loud to give the impression that they might leap upon her from above - after all, they had the advantage. Just to frighten her. Shout loud to frighten her because they know it works. They've done it before.  They look ready to spring upon her. Mothers with their young with fear and anger in their eyes. Shouting. Babies clinging cringing and afraid of the shouting, afraid of that thing down there looking up at them wide eyed maybe amused. Maybe, maybe if mummy shouts loud enough, that thing will go away. 

'Okay. Okay.' She looks around at them still shouting. 'I'm leaving. Just settle down. I'm not going to hurt you.' 

And knowing it to be a very trusting gesture, she turns back towards the path she ventured from, about face, with her back to them, walking away.  
Their noise dies down. Her companion comes out of nowhere.
'What was all that about?' 
'Oh.' She sighs, smiling, 'Just monkeys.' 

They walk to the shores of the shining lake glinting like hammered silver in the sun from rippling breezes.  It's so huge, this lake, like a sea. A freshwater sea. And the water looks so inviting that she just wants to slip quietly down these ancient stone steps, and become one with the waves.

 Greetings from a very rainy Carrbridge, Helena Fergus Strathmore.

N.B. Unfortunately, I never took any photos of the mimosa pudica. I thank Wikipedia for the use of the image, as well as the toque macaque and it's young. The picture of the other monkeys on the ground is my own, and was taken at Polonnaruwa, but not where they were shouting at the temple.