Instant Karma: My Beer Run by the Ganges

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Drinking Beer by the Ganges? Think Again.

How do I keep ending up in these holy towns with no meat or beer? The lack of meat I can deal with, but it’s been two weeks since I had a beer and it’s driving me crazy.

I was sitting at a coffee shop overlooking the sacred Ganges in Rishikesh, watching the monkeys torment the tourists. Unlike Pushkar, there are few of the graceful, quiet langurs here — these are stocky, aggressive macaques and they delight in stealing food or bags from unsuspecting pedestrians. And once they have your goods in their grubby little hands, you’re not getting them back without the aid of a well-seasoned local or a two-by-four.

I’m not sure what the Indians call them but we tourists usually just refer to them as “those little red-faced bastards”.

Drinking Beer by the Ganges? Think Again.All in all, Rishikesh is an interesting scene — a long suspension bridge crosses the blue-green Ganga sixty feet below and hotels, cafes, meditation centers and ashrams line the steep hills on both sides. The crowd is a mix of young backpackers, older Western travelers carrying rolled yoga mats and Indian families here to visit temples and bathe in the river. It’s quiet and peaceful, for India, and I should have been perfectly content. But I wasn’t.

I’d become obsessed with the thought of propping my feet up and enjoying a cold beer. I’m not sure why — was it simply because I’d been told that I couldn’t? Was it just that secret thrill I got from doing something forbidden? Occam’s Razor might suggest that I’m just an alcoholic. Regardless, I had the thought in my head and wouldn’t be satisfied until I had at least a token drink.

Everywhere I asked, I got the same response: “Some places sell it under the table, but I don’t know where.” Wandering up the hill, I walked past the tourist-oriented Delmar Restaurant and noticed that they had a patio with a nice view and a pool table. More importantly, the staff was made up entirely of men in their early twenties — these guys would know the scene.

Drinking Beer by the Ganges? Think Again.While ordering a coffee and a bowl of soup, I quietly asked the server, Anu, if he knew where I could buy a beer. He looked over his shoulder before whispering “I know someone who can buy it for you. He drives to Kaudilaya everyday and can buy beer there in the market.”

Kaudilaya was 38 kilometers away and his friend ran a risk of being searched by the police, he said, thus the price was pretty high: 200 rupees per beer. That’s $5 US. To put that number in perspective, the cost of just two beers would buy you a night at a decent hotel and a fancy dinner. It’s an outrageous price –beer from a wine shop is usually 80 rupees for a foreigner and probably less for a local. But I didn’t care — I was having a beer tonight and to Hell with the budget.

The timing was right — his friend was already on the road and could deliver the goods here to the restaurant in just an hour or so. Anu frowned a bit when I ordered just one, asking for a single Kingfisher or –even better– a Kingfisher Strong. If I’m paying a ridiculous amount for a drink, I reasoned, I may as well get something with a kick. The call was made.

After an hour and a half, Anu scurried over to my table and whispered “The beer is here. Open your bag and I’ll drop it off.” I did as instructed and moments later he approached with a black plastic bag in his hand, dropping it in my backpack as he passed by. It felt like I was buying a black-market nuke and I found myself wishing I’d been given a secret password or a code-name. I wasn’t buying a beer, I was buying an experience.

Only after the beer was in my possession did he mention that the shop was out of Kingfisher and they’d had to substitute “something else.” I had no idea what “something else” might be but I’d already bought my ticket and figured I may as well enjoy the ride.

Drinking Beer by the Ganges? Think Again.Hurrying back to my room, I tore open the bag like a kid on Christmas morning. Inside, wrapped in two layers of newspaper sat a green half-liter can of Carlsburg, imported from Denmark. My disappointment was profound.

Now, I have a lot of respect for the Danes — don’t get me wrong. They do a lot of things really well, but beer isn’t one of them. Along the bottom of the can was their motto: “Possibly the Best Beer in the World”. I guess there wasn’t room to include “But It’s Pretty Damned Unlikely”.

Regardless, I stuffed the beer in my bag and climbed up to the rooftop terrace to watch the river flow by and enjoy my victory. The sun was glowing red above the horizon and the breeze was still warm as I plopped myself into a chair, propped my feet up and cracked open The Most Expensive Beer in India, feeling quite pleased with myself.

I kept the can out of sight — it wouldn’t do to be seen drinking alcohol so close to the Ganga– but I’d been up here several times and always had the place to myself. The taste was about what I had expected, like what I imagine vinegar tastes like after being strained through a skunk carcass. It was disgusting but I didn’t care — I had my forbidden beer and I was on top of the world.

Drinking Beer by the Ganges? Think Again.Taking my time, I had just a sip every now and then, attempting to savor –as much as possible– my hard-won prize. The sun was lower now, casting a warm glow on the buildings across the river and I spent several happy minutes snapping photos and watching the crowds crossing the bridge. Then I heard a clatter behind me and felt a flush of panic — someone had crept up behind me.

I quickly turned and looked. To my relief, I found just a monkey — a large male– shuffling along the patio floor about ten feet away. That sense of relief lasted just a split-second before turning to horror, as I spotted the shining green can in his filthy little hands.

I chased after him, shouting “You little bastard!”, but I had no chance of catching him — he had a head start on me and… well… he was a monkey. Before I’d taken two steps, he’d hopped over the railing, dropped to the roof below and scampered out of sight, leaving behind nothing but a watery trail of beer and foam and my broken dreams.

Not only had he stolen my beer, he had denied me the opportunity to watch an honest-to-God drunken monkey in action and for that, I could never forgive him.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael December 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Ha! I had a run in with an oversexed male macaque on the stairs leading up to Mt Popa, apparently made the mistake of making the wrong sound while he was getting down with one of his concubines; cheeky bastard grabbed my hat outta my hands and threw it with intense loathing down the stairs, was finally run off with a slingshot by the temple poop cleaner, who I promptly and thankfully made a donation to. All the rest of the temple monkeys showed proper Buddhist decorum and were very well-behaved, there was just this one rogue male…

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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Ha ha! There’s one in every crowd (troop?). And getting busy in a temple? Shameful.

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Akila December 23, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Aaah . . . India and its monkeys. When we were kids, we went to Elephanta Cave (which I very very highly recommend, by the way) if you’re going back to Mumbai and my aunt was my feeding my baby cousin with a bottle and the darn monkey grabbed the bottle. Not as funny as stealing a beer but much more irritating (or maybe not, considering all that you did to get that beer). Great post, Wes! Hilarious.
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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Thanks a bunch! Stealing a baby’s bottle is even lower than stealing a beer. Have they no shame?

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Annie December 23, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I seriously was laughing out loud this whole post, from the Carlsberg bashing to the monkeys! I have yet to encounter a monkey but look forward to it!

I’m glad you got your beer, no matter how nasty it may have been!
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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Monkeys are evil, so keep your distance :)

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Andi December 24, 2010 at 4:48 am

C’mon, there is no way this happened!!!!! Are you serious? I want to kick that monkey for you! What a cheeky bastard!
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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Yup, quite serious :/ Why do these things always happen to me?

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Dave December 24, 2010 at 8:44 am

The funny thing is I can so visualise this in my mind – and not just because I’ve shared many a beer with you (although thank god, not $5 Carlsberg).

Great story mate.

I’m off for a cold one.
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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Thanks, brother! Oh, how I miss those beery nights in Saigon :)

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suzanne December 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm

No beer in Rishikesh!? Dammit, I was planning on spending 3 weeks there. Guess I’ll have to detox

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wes December 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Or bring your own :)

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Melu December 24, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Aaaah Wes, reading your posts has become the highlight of my working week, thanks for another great one, I feel like I was there with you swearing at the monkey! Merry Christmas!

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wes December 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

Thanks so much. Merry Christmas!

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Christa Johnston December 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Aaaah Wes, reading your posts has become the highlight of my working week, thanks for another great one, I feel like I was there with you swearing at the monkey! Merry Christmas!

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wes December 31, 2010 at 10:36 am

Awww, thanks! Happy New Year!

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Nomadic Matt December 24, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Monkeys are no good. One stole my food in Thailand once.

Hid your beer!
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wes December 26, 2010 at 11:28 am

Indeed. So far, I’m down a pack of cookies, a beer and two socks :/

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ayngelina December 25, 2010 at 3:30 am

Two whole weeks without a beer? I would go insane!
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Lily December 25, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Bad monkey! Dry states are a challenge indeed.. I kept a cheap plastic water bottle in my rucksack which contained not water but duty free vodka. I hadnt known what a life saver this was to prove until I had spent a night as the only guest in a large hotel near Jaisalmer during a horrendous thunder storm. Vodka and Mirinda is a fine beverage for a stupidly scared tourist!

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wes December 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

Ooh, that’s good planning :)

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Chris - The Aussie Nomad December 27, 2010 at 4:51 am

You do know Carslberg comes from Copenhagen right… and that’s in Denmark. They have a brewery there to prove it.
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wes December 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

Heh, that hit me last night but there was no internet available to fix it. Could have sworn I’d read Amsterdam on the label. But, then, I didn’t have the beer long enough to really get all the details…

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Ashok December 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Must be difficult traveling as an Alcoholic, or did I read this post incorrectly? Two weeks is nothing and it is “Driving you Crazy”, figure of speech possibly? Maybe you should give three months a try and see what happens if you feel I am wrong by using the terminology “Alcoholic”.

Travel budget kind of increases if your dependent on alcohol wouldn’t say?

Kind of wondering why there are so many alcoholics in the west that need to alter their mind?

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Dave December 27, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Ahh, always good to see someone jump in with a judgemental comment or two based on … well, nothing. A personal favourite, in fact.
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wes December 27, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Well, it wouldn’t have made much of a story if I said I didn’t want a beer, now would it? Personally, I enjoy a cold beer from time to time — too much and too often is indeed a big drag on the budget, as you say. If that bothers you, there are plenty of other places on the interwebs for you to spend your time and pass judgment.

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Ashok December 29, 2010 at 1:58 pm

So just a story? Hypothetical or and accurate perception of your travels?

No Judgment intended, but here in India many western travelers seem like they have a difficult time going without altering their mind, just my observation.

So what is your experience?

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wes December 31, 2010 at 10:31 am

Well, I think India is more the exception than the rule: most Westerners like to drink as do people in SE Asia in my experience. In India, some do –especially the younger, urban crowd– but not nearly as much as much of the rest of the world. That’s one of the reasons I like to travel — to learn and experience how different cultures operate. And if I can have a cold beer from time to time, all the better :)

Christina December 28, 2010 at 1:32 am

*Great* story. Though your should thank, rather than curse, the money for saving you from having to choke down the rest of the Carlsberg.
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wes December 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Ha! Good point ya got there ;)

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Theodora December 28, 2010 at 3:27 am

Dearie me… In dry parts of Indonesia, the beverage of choice is captikus, a type of distilled palm wine that tastes and smells very much as you describe your Carlsberg tasting… And, yes, it has to be scored in a similar fashion to beer. Did the monkey drink the beer in the end?
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wes December 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I don’t know if he actually drank it. He spilled half of it getting away, then ducked out of sight. If I’d been able to watch him drink it and get drunk, I wouldn’t have minded so much ;)

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Anthony December 28, 2010 at 9:42 am

So if you would have bought two beers you just might have had the chance to drink with a monkey? That’s the lesson learned. Would have been the story of the year.

Ashok can suck it.

And the first post ends with “Rogue Male”. Hell yeah. Crazy Motorcycle. Keep up the good work.

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wes December 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Heh — I thought of you when I saw the ‘rogue male’ reference. Rock on!

And drinking with the monkey woulda been a *great* story, but something tells me he’s a mean drunk.

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Neale December 31, 2010 at 9:13 am

I’m pretty sure he would not have been satisfied with just drinking his own :-)
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wes December 31, 2010 at 10:27 am

Agreed. Good thing I didn’t buy a 6-pack…

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Raji January 4, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Interesting indeed.
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Wade | VagabondJourney.com January 7, 2011 at 10:14 am

Good one! Seriously, those Indian monkeys are the most agile and successful thieves that I have ever had to face. I would not hesitate for a second before getting in a fist fight with one other than the fact that I’m sure it would win.

I saw one of those monkeys fighting with a school kid for his backpack in a train station once. Seriously funny stuff.

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wes January 7, 2011 at 11:03 am

They’re amazing. I saw one swing down from a tree and steal a woman’s groceries. Took just a split second and he was gone.

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Abbey Hesser January 10, 2011 at 5:24 am

I don’t know why. But I LOOOOOVE this story. I love everything about it. I’m not normally a “oh I wish I could do that” kinda girl. But Jesus. I wish I could do that. It sounds right out of a book. Or someone really interesting’s life. Regardless. It rocks. And Carlsburg isn’t that bad. You could have done a lot worse for $5. If I attempted to recreate this, I would get arrested. And molested by the monkey, likely. Something terrible would happen, I just know. So for the first time in my life, I’m just going to say, here here. Wes. I just lived vicariously through you.
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wes January 10, 2011 at 9:12 am

Awww… thanks, Abbey. That’s my job: I do the stupid stuff so you don’t have to.

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Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures May 6, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I’m certainly glad that I’m not the only one around here that thinks monkeys are pure evil! They’re coniving little bastards who will unleash horrors to get their way! Just ask that Chinese tour guide I met at Emei Shan who was missing 3 fingers thanks to them!

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wes May 11, 2011 at 9:57 am

Pure. Evil.

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neeraj bhardwaj January 11, 2012 at 2:18 am

hi
johny wegabond,
How are you?
I read your blog. I like all and know about you. How you crazy for beer. But you say pink faced bastard to the monkeys. Please change your thought. Monkeys are also part of nature. And for indian hindus they are sign of lord hanuman our god. Plz read about that. Be happy always nd take care care.

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wes January 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Thank you Neeraj. I’m (mostly) joking :)

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Joey July 24, 2012 at 7:46 pm

You make us beer drinkers proud, to go to such extremes just to have one.

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