If you come to visit us at our Ashram in India, you will meet a lot of animals. Not pets, no – wild ones. It is like a huge zoo!
That’s what we sometimes joke around with! You sit in our garden and can of course watch birds and butterflies but also monkeys and cute chipmunks. You go out to town and walk by street dogs, wild pigs, cows and goats, everything roaming around completely free. You get to see horses, donkeys and the occasional camel as well – but these are usually pulling carts or carrying material in bags on their back. You practically cannot walk through our town without having to sidestep for a cow at least once, as they are just walking around everywhere! That’s a sight you don’t get to see every day, right?
Even if you just sit in your room, you may see an animal you are not used to seeing at home! Once, a guest at the Ashram came down to us, very excited on her first day here. She was out of breath from running down the stairs and had to catch it first before she could tell us, breathing heavy in between words: ‘There is a baby crocodile in my room!’ Oh, we were shocked as well! We walked upstairs with her, carefully opened the door to look up where she pointed towards the ceiling and – see a lizard sitting there peacefully! Well, if you have never seen a gecko, you may take it for a baby reptile of the bigger kind!
While you definitely don’t need to be afraid of the lizards, you may want to be more careful with the monkeys! They are naughty thieves and in the center of our town they have developed a rather annoying habit: they steal glasses from people’s noses! With these in the hands, they hop onto the next wall. In order to help you get your glasses back, someone throws a biscuit or juice packet at the monkey. The animal drops the glasses to catch the offered food – and you are normally happy enough to give your helper a generous sum for getting your glasses back as well! A win-win situation!
With the monkeys out here at the Ashram we usually don’t need to take such good care of our glasses but rather of our garden, as they use it as their playground, swinging on branches until they break. They are however quite cute to look at – and you are normally fine if you just leave them alone, then they won’t care about you either.
Recently, we had a lady at the Ashram who loved animals above everything and seeing the street dogs outside, she wanted to help them. It was not easy but finally she found a shop that sold dog food. Proudly, she left the shop, the big bag in her hands. She stopped at the next place where several dogs were walking around, opened her bag and put some on the floor for them to eat. This was the day that we found out: Vrindavan’s street dogs don’t like dog food! It was the monkeys and the pigs who ate it in the end!
Finally, I remember a guest who was in one way unique until this day: she was afraid of the chipmunks in our garden! They are the shyest of animals and they are super cute! They are used to picking up the remainders of people’s food, the crumbs that fall down. They pick them up in their tiny paws and nibble on them. Now this woman was sitting in the courtyard with a plate and one of the chipmunks was approaching, expecting a few crumbs to fall down. The lady shooed it away with a move of her leg. Easily scared, the chipmunk ran in a circle around her. Our guest heard a noise behind her and must have thought the chipmunk had sneaked around her to attack her from behind! She jumped up, shrieked and ran in! Obviously, our staff immediately came running, thinking they would have to fend off a big monkey – but looking at the tiny and definitely scared chipmunk staring at them from behind the tree, we all had to laugh! Even our guest!
So if you feel like going to an exotic zoo and having a hands-on experience, our Ashram may be just the right place for you!