Monkeys of Shimla

Shimla is located in the north-west of India in the foothills of the Himalayas, and in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It was discovered by the British in 1819 and soon became the summer capital of the British Raj, and a major base for them.

Getting up here by road is crazy. There are vertical drops by the roadside and no barriers at all. The roads wind up the mountains and are often occupied by large trucks – so imagine going around a corner, and in the opposite direction a truck is speeding right towards you.. it was honestly like being on a roller-coaster. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the journey.

Finally we made it to Shimla – but even then the roads are so narrow that we got stuck several times with other vehicles. I’d have no patience if I lived in a place like this – it was so frustrating!

View from the hotel

We went to Kufri which is located 19kms from the centre of Shimla. It was once part of the kingdom of Nepal before the British “found” it in 1819 – until then it remained mostly undiscovered.

Kufri is one of the highest points in the surrounding areas of Shimla, at a height of almost 9,000ft, and the only way to get there is by foot or on horseback.

We had a young boy accompany us on the way up – in fact, most of the workers here seemed to be young. He said he’d been doing this for 2 years.

It was quite an unsteady ride up. The horses would walk really close to the edge of the path and as I’ve never ridden a horse before, it was quite a first experience! Often horses would randomly be running down from the opposite direction making it all the more scary.

At the top

I sat on a yak! (Yes, I’m not sure what’s with the pose either)

There was the opportunity to dress in traditional gear and take photos, so we thought why not!

It wasn’t the most flattering of outfits – it made me look pregnant for starters.

The photographer suggested I pose with the yak. Hmm..!

The poses were ridiculously tacky, as you can see, and they got worse – somehow I think I’ll omit the rest.

There was a temple nearby. You can’t see it very clearly but if you full-view the shot, the photograph in the bottom right shows how the temple looks in January – basically covered in snow.

It’s a good job we visited Shimla in November. The climate is quite diverse due to the high altitude, and by December the entire area is covered with snow and many places are inaccessible. It was around 17C during the day in November when we were there, and at night it dipped to around 7C, so nothing too extreme.

The man in the temple handed us scarves to tie outside.

This woman was really friendly – and she made the best tea and tiki (a kind of fried, flat potato snack with herbs and spices).

You can see that she’s Nepalese, and there were many of them around due to the close proximity with Nepal, and the fact that Kufri itself was once a part of Nepal.

There was a telescope station with telescope operators who pointed out various landmarks as well as the snow-covered Himalayas.

I can’t remember what the locations were, but for 25 rupees (30p) the operator offered to take pictures of them using my little compact digital, pointed through the telescope.

As you can see, the quality isn’t so great!

On the way back down we had this friendly horseman

After Kufri we went to Jakhu Temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman. I didn’t think there would be so many monkeys there

I fed them

They were so cute

A donkey came out of nowhere (literally), confusing both me and the monkeys

This sign was there for a reason..

Earlier, a woman had left the temple telling us to be careful of our belongings because a monkey had snatched her glasses. Oh dear..

I was all too wary myself – after getting out of the car, before I’d even spotted any monkeys, one of them suddenly came up behind me and grabbed my bag. I literally had to fight with it to make it let go! That’s right – I fought a monkey and WON. Go me.

Important advice if you ever happen to come across monkeys – keep your belongings strapped onto you as they will grab anything!

Inside the temple, a man was reading out someone’s horoscope.

He asked me if I wanted mine done – all he needed was the place and date of my birth. I refused; I don’t really believe in that kind of stuff, and in any case, I didn’t really fancy hearing him tell me something negative!


More monkey feeding

In the evening we went to Shimla’s one and only shopping mall. To get there, you can either walk (think steep, uneven steps), or take 2 lifts for 5 rupees. The lazy Westerner in me thinks the latter is the better option!

Even getting around the mall itself was a mission

The streets were narrow and really steep, and nothing was on one, flat level. I felt dizzy walking around! It made me wonder why this city was developed and built up to begin with. Surely it’s too much effort to build houses and shops here? I saw old people trying to walk around – one woman grabbed onto me as I was walking down the stairs. She was clearly struggling. This really isn’t an ideal city for the elderly! Even medical centres were in awkward alleys.

This stall owner had a novel way of keeping his glasses on

Shimla is not only different to the other places I’ve visited in India in terms of its climate, land and architecture, but also its people and culture. Locals elsewhere seem more talkative and social, whereas here local people mostly kept to themselves and were far more conservative.

For example, in Mumbai, as soon as you walk into a shop people come to your assistance right away, and their enthusiasm and eagerness is almost overbearing. However, here in Shimla, that doesn’t really happen. People aren’t as keen to help or provide information if needed.

These people were extremely helpful, though.

By far, the nicest people we met in Shimla. They owned a tailoring shop, and were very hospitable and sweet.

The hotel we stayed at was pretty much run by one guy. It was rather ridiculous – the same guy was at reception, answered room service calls, and was also the cook (an excellent one at that I have to point out). So he basically slept when he could but was on call 24/7! He was quite dopey but that’s not really surprising considering he probably gets little rest..

Anyway, this is him.

‘Hotel Grace’ is a rather ironic name really! Still, this guy is a legend!

Shimla is known for its narrow gauge railway which features in the Guinness Book of World Records for offering the steepest rise in altitude in the space of 96 kms.

The trains here are known as toy trains.

I wonder who erected this sign, and I also wonder how many people agree with it. I know I do.

There was some kind of rally going on at the station to do with the upcoming elections

The toilet in the train was one of these

I didn’t use it

The toy train was definitely worth travelling on. We headed out of Shimla on it, and then hit the road again.

In India there are always temples and places of religious significance on roadsides. This man spends his time at a segregated temple an hour or so away from Shimla.

The one thing I couldn’t get used to in India are the toilets. You have to carry toilet paper around with you – I still don’t know how a bucket and water is going to do any good – what do you dry yourself with?! When I went to wash my hands in one toilet I was impressed at it having a soap dispenser. It turns out the dispenser was full of urine, not soap! I know that’s meant to have anti-bacterial properties, but really now..

Anyway, I took this shot of a grubby mirror in the toilets of a roadside restaurant. Yes, the toilet was outside.

We were still at a high altitude at this point as you can see. I enjoyed Shimla very much – it has a distinct character which is removed from the other places in India that I’ve visited. It’s far cleaner and I didn’t see a single beggar. Prices are more expensive and the influence of the British in this area is apparent. Shopkeepers also speak very good English and they seem fairly well-to-do.

However, I couldn’t wait to get back to flat land!

Next stop – Chandigarh, then Amritsar.

Hope you all had a good Christmas

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