Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Robbed, attacked, micturated

Nobody warned us that monkeys are aggressive vermin. We took the paved tourist hike up out of Shimla to the Jakhu Temple this morning. This is where Hanuman, the monkey god, apparently stopped for a rest in the middle of some mythic undertaking a long time ago. Since then the latter-day monkeys seem to have taken over running the show. We should have been more alert - the signs were there for us to see, the shops hiring “monkey sticks” for use on the trail. Now, what could a monkey stick possibly be for? No, not for keeping time with a marching monkey band of sashed up little orange monkeys, but for beating the ground so that the noise clears them from your path.

The climb was steep, and as we neared the top, the numbers of monkeys increased. Ever the unwary, I tried hissing at one who was staring hard at me, only to be met with a much fiercer show of teeth and angry eyes. I moved on smartly. King of the swingers I’m not, apparently. At the temple it was another round of photos with the blond-haired child-god of uncertain gender. “You’ll be on Facebook”, one Sikh family cheerily called back to us as they left, pleased with their trophy snaps. If Facebook India has facial recognition installed Oisin is going to end up being delisted as spam, the number of times he’ll be posted in the coming weeks.

We took our sandals off and edged into the temple. Lots of bells were being enthusiastically struck amid a thick smoke of incense. Pati and Oisin got the orange paint on their third eyes, and we went back outside. As I stood to take a picture of the ancient Indian symbol, precursor to the swastika, that was carved on the entrance arch of the temple, I heard my name called. I turned in time to see a large male monkey loll up to Pati and reach a hand directly into her lap as Oisin screamed in blind panic. I’m not quite sure what drove the monkey away, but it wasn’t me waving a feeble piece of pine branch at him.

Once we’d recovered our calm, we sat down at the food stall to try our luck with the fried delicacies. Three rounds of pakoras later, we were thinking of moving on when some water dripped down onto my leg. Pati looked up and pointed to the guttering, which had started to leak directly down onto us. As we moved our chairs further back, the urinating monkey perched on top of the railings above the guttering was revealed to us. The stall owner came running with a stone, which sent the monkey scurrying, but by this time we’d all had enough. We may never watch Jungle Book again.