The Big Trip


Shimla – A Vertical Barrel of Monkeys

Shimla, the hill station capital of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, was established in 1864 as the summer seat of the British ruling power. The details and signing of Partition took place here in a magnificent building that now houses The India Institute of Advanced Study where scholars do research on the humanities and Social Sciences.
India Institute of Advanced Studies

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Shimla is the most vertical city either of us has ever seen. David announced it was a grade even steeper than Darjeeling where one misstep meant you wouldn’t have to worry about what was for lunch ever again. This city’s fire department has a few non-traditional pieces of equipment that can navigate narrow lanes and steep inclines:

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Row upon row of buildings perch on terraced hillsides one above the other. The climb from bottom to top is so steep that there is actually a series of elevators that deliver you halfway up. These pictures don’t begin to do it justice. You’ll have to use your imagination as well.

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This is a place where rhododendrons grow into 30 foot trees, and monkeys are everywhere. These are animals that demand their personal space (approaching them or staring them in the eye is asking for trouble), but are happy to invade yours if you have something they want. Particularly something shiny.

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While you can see them everywhere in town, the most outstanding place to see them is at The Monkey Temple which is perched on the very top of the highest peak in town. The road up is narrow and rocky and barely one car wide. Gurjeet, our trusty driver grew up in this town and handled the incredibly steep drive up with his usual patience and skill. I tried not to look out the window to see how close to the edge of the precipice we were, or how close to the car going the opposite way. If you think you’ve seen hairpin turns and haven’t been to Shimla, then you actually haven’t seen hairpin turns.

Arriving at the top of the peak Gurjeet cautioned us to leave our glasses in the car and to rent two stout sticks for protection.

We had spotted the monkey statue from down in town. It dominates the peak and its neon orange color is a little hard to miss. Up close, however, it is mind blowingly gigantic.

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As it was a Sunday afternoon crowds of people had gathered at the temple for the free lunch that is served to anyone who would like to join the communal meal. We stood outside the hall where people were eating, and watched the monkeys trying to sneak in, then running off to play when it was clear there wouldn’t be any handouts.

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This particular monkey had grabbed a woman’s shawl, attracted, I guess buy the edging of sequins.

He held onto it, stroking the fabric, like a baby does with a favorite stuffed animal. In time a young man threw a packet of peanuts at the monkey who briefly dropped the shawl in favor of food. As soon as the young man grabbed the shawl and started to run the monkey forgot the peanuts and gave chace. This is where those rented sticks come in handy.

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I have to admit, some of those monkeys are adorable, especially when they are still babies. I’ve hardly even seen anyone have quite as much fun. Click this link to see true monkey business:
Monkeys at play

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But they are downright nasty, and more, when threatened – particularly by someone taking photos.

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Tomorrow (Monday) morning we leave for Chandigahr for a day in India’s most modern city, and then on Tuesday we fly to Mumbai to catch our flight home through London.
David says he knows he’s ready to go home because he’s lost the desire to do research on the places we are visiting. I think I’m just about ready to stop being a tourist. More on that later.

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