Saturday, 28 March 2009

Le Grand singe (Monkey!)

Our trip to Shimla seems to have come and gone in a flash. Like most of the places we have been in India it is a city of contradictions. On one hand it is mostly clean, beautiful and has a leisurely pace of living. On the other the denizens seem happy to clear their throats with a hearty hacking noise and then spit on the streets and the urban sprawl can seem chaotic. Additionally many of the buildings seem dilapidated and in dire need of some tlc. Overall though it is beautiful city and a welcome retreat from the claustrophobia and hubbub of places like Amritsar.
Our first day in Shimla was spent getting familiar with the town. We took in the Mall, the Ridge and then sauntered at the most leisurely of paces to the Viceroy’s Lodge, the very grand home to the British Government for the summer months. The Lodge is now the Institute of Advanced Studies. After a (brief) tour of the lodge we made our way back to Scandal Point, the central part of the mall which is allegedly the place to go for a bit of rumour mongering in the best tradition of all small towns. We splashed out for supper (£3.00 per head) at Alfa in the evening, then early the following morning Alfa splashed out of us. The following evening was a better bet which was spent in Fascination with Nipun’s Mum, Aunt and Uncle (or Masi and Masarji for those who are a little more clued up on their Hindi).

One of the highlights of Shimla was the trek up the hill to the monkey temple, or Jakhu Temple as it is properly known. Jakhu Temple is at the top of a steep hill and takes about half an hour to get up to. The walk, to be frank, is knackering. The gradient is steep and patrolled by cheeky monkeys (no, not of the cute variety) who are more than willing to fake you by darting forward with bared teeth. Fortunately to be forewarned is to be forearmed, literally in this case. At the beginning of the walk we hired out a fresh and springy cane to which was wielded with much alacrity and brandished at any cheeky critter that came too close, of which there were a few. I am led to believe that my brother in law Paul fled down the hill hollering frantically at one point in his trip up to the temple, and whilst I smirked at the time I can understand his apprehension now. These are not cute little vervet monkeys on the scrounge. Hell no. These are descendants of the monkey army that helped Rama in his struggle against Ravana, and as you would expect of an army they can be pretty intimidating.
After several pauses along the way (or more appropriately stops to gasp for air) we arrived at the temple which was beautiful. Monkeys abound, after all it is their temple, and the temple itself has a lot of vibrancy and character. The colours are bright and the sculptures and paintings add to the seductive charm of the place. It was here that we met an elderly French couple on their fourth tour of India. They were lovely. We chewed the fat for a bit and talked about where we came from. “Zimbabwe?” An incredulous look. “Mugabe?” A look of contempt. And then a chortle. “Il est le grand monkee!” Now I abhor social Darwinism, or any variation thereof. But I have to say the man had a point. And in my ever humble opinion this is not Social Darwinism in any way, because George W could comfortably take up residence along side our man anytime. And Bliar as he is affectionately known in Zimbabwe. They are all semi-simian buffoons. Two of the three are admittedly pretty eloquent, sorry George, not you. Come to think of it, it is almost like a temple dedicated to politicians. Ahh, but now I drag the real monkeys into disrepute.
The walk back into town was uneventful. We were faked by some fairly aggressive vermin along the way and I cannot help but think that the 5 rupee cane was the best money we have spent in India thus far. A pity they were not politicians as that would have made for a bit more fun.

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