The Simians of Shimla

Nobody can miss them. They are all over the place, an integral part of the urban eco-system.

Little infants clinging to their mothers’ underbelly, tight rope walking on slender telephone cables strung across streets; juveniles mischievously scurrying about and swinging on anything that hangs or is horizontal; adults scavenging incessantly for food in and out of rusted, geometric municipal waste bins and the older ones getting their ticks picked and eaten by each other or those of the younger lot they manage to entice.

When the sun comes out in Shimla (which is not often circa 2012 AD), troupes of monkeys sprawl on the town’s corrugated roofs, lazing or sleeping or generally fooling around, much like the Burra sahibs of the erstwhile Raj.

Shimla monkey attempting to catch the monkey in the mirror

Occasionally a short fight breaks out among troupe members or a dominant male gets into a frenzy jumping on pillars or poles and violently shaking them as if to vent pent up frustration; something the more politically inclined amongst us ought to be doing.

However, unlike the prudish Sahibs of yore, the monkeys of Shimla are more open (minded?) and uninhibited about their primary primate inclinations. They do it openly and annoyingly frequently.

Mercifully their Act is short and swift; much like the allegorical wham-bam T Y ma’am stuff. It does seem to work though, given the addition of scores of infants every June / July to the already high monkey population and straining Shimla’s civic amenities.

On top of it we are informed that the women of our prurient macaques are wantonly polyandrous. I am sure the gentlemen macaques couldn’t help but being of quite a parallel polygamous disposition.

This no holds barred strategy to “go forth and multiply” ensures a growing next generation and a recurring nightmare for the Government’s much vaunted monkey sterilization programme. Mercifully, unlike the more evolved humans, simians are not insane about having sons!

Being primates, the Rhesus macaques are of similar intelligence as other species in their Order that importantly includes the pompous Homo sapiens.

The monkeys of Shimla, descendents of forebears who lived through the Raj and having been urbanised long ago, are certainly better educated and a lot more street smart than ordinary, wild macaques or baboons that live a more hidden life in the deodar forests.

They can make out the approach of the dreaded Monkey Sterilization Van from the sound of its engine and promptly disappear into the hills.

No amount of bananas and peanuts will lure them into the cages set up by a desperate Forest Department chasing steep sterilization targets.

Shimla monkeys are also more urbane and trendy than their cousins in lesser towns for, like our younger generation they eat a lot of junk(ed) food.

For one, our simians know when and whom to strike. Ladies first! So much like their human counterparts, I would say. And do it when she’s alone; or at the most with her little children.

Raid the vegetable vendor when the fellow has gone to relieve himself; school children who carelessly carry snacks or lunch boxes openly; the grocer when he is frantically calling on the phone.

Avoid cops and clerks especially when they are returning from work and are eager to make up for lack of action in the office.

Shimla monkeys, perhaps because of their shared ancestry with humans, have a definite streak of naughtiness bordering on the wicked.

At several points, especially those frequented by snack gobbling tourists, our simians have perfected the craft of blackmail by taking away bags or cameras and even spectacles of unsuspecting visitors with the skill of Mumbai pickpocket!

Where warranted they will simply growl and pretend to spring at the more timid looking and as the “victims” are in terrified retreat, the simians coolly walk away with their eatables. But these thieves have an ethic; they will return your valuables once adequately compensated.

Like their ilk elsewhere, monkeys flock around temples. It is here that this oft persecuted lot gets some attention and respect; even from vendors whose business is linked to simian abundance and opportunistic gluttony.

What with constant feeding by the devout and the doubtful and sometimes by the sanctimonious temple priests; the near absence of humans losing their cool and chasing the monkeys back to the roof tops, cussing and cursing and throwing stones at them.

Especially in Hanuman temples like the Jakhu hilltop one where now a gigantic statue of the Monkey god stands installed.

Here the simians of Shimla are the lords whom people from far and near come to worship, to feed and to hope that the mighty Hanuman will help them in their very own battles of life.

Photos by Amit

Nodnat - is a pen name that the writer with deep knowledge of Himalayan flora and fauna and a keen environmentalist has adopted. He hails from Kotgarh, in Shimla Hills and retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forests from Himachal Pradesh forest department.

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  1. says: chutki

    the snap shots of the monkey on the scooter were brilliant!

    I’ve often heard that the difference between humans and the apes (well, not monkeys, but then close enough) is that apes don’t pass on learned knowledge to their young. Reading about how the urban macaques are smarter than their wild counter parts gave me something to think about.

    1. says: nodnat

      From what I know all or nearly all animals pass on learned information / knowledge to their young. In the process of evolution this then gets coded in the genes. That is why a Tigress will teach its cubs how to hunt and kill or a pheasant its chicks how to forage.

  2. says: Raja

    It is so funny that every time there is discussion on monkey menace, we talk of culling and sterilization as possible options. Rising monkey problem is due to human feeding, garbage mismanagement in urban areas and shrinking forest areas. The department officials try to take very simplistic myopic view. Reviving the habitat is critical and the department which currently focuses on trees (plantation of fuelwood, fooder and conifer species) needs to provide adequate attention to wild life management including plantation of wild fruit trees and shrubs. The jumping jack strategy should be abandoned, one can only catch attention but not the prey.

    Villagers affected by monkey menace are unwilling to undertake any action that might offend the monkey GOD. Spill over of Jhaku temple sena can be only be dealt when people stop feeding monkeys. Effective garbage management will not only take care of monkeys but also stray dogs. The ex and current officials suggestion of starting the e discussion is understandable. Its same old monkey trick.

    1. says: nodnat

      To cull or not to cull, that is the question.
      At the most we stand to lose just an election?
      Even that highest price we are willing to bear,
      If simians would stay away; not stab us in the rear,
      Clear garbage, plant fruity trees or cull by selection?

      Try as we might, unable to do all three, nor make choices,
      What options do we have but listen to stakeholders’ voices
      Angry farmers shout & swear, why should our land we till?
      Rabi or Kharif or whatever grows, monkeys have their fill.
      Maybe, someday, a way unfolds amid the cacophony of noises!

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