Shimla - Hooray For Bollywood

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Mar 04, 2006

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Flag of India  ,
Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The scheduled 6.30pm Deluxe bus from Manali to Chandigarh was full, but thankfully a second Deluxe bus was organised due to the demand of disappointed skiers wanting to get out of Manali. By 7pm the second Deluxe bus was on its way with one main difference to the other Deluxe buses I'd been on - this one was actually deluxe, as in not filthy dirty. Still there was one man near to us who needed a good dose of deoderant so not everything is rosey.

The driver slaloms the bus around like a madman, but somehow a couple of hours sleep is captured in the early evening. The internals of the bus may be deluxe, but the externals aren't as we receive a flat tyre in downtown Mandi. Barry Manilow's song "Oh Mandy" was originally about this town, however after realizing that song's about flat bus tyres don't sell albums, he changed tactics.

At around 11.30pm Goatgirl and I stood out by the road watching proceedings....

Non-Goatboy - "This is a great town. I'm standing in the cold in the midlle of the night watching a handful of Indian men stand around a greasy mechanic as he fixes a puncture on a bus tyre, while cows wander past, with the smell of cow dung in the air, other buses and trucks flying past spewing fumes, and I've just taken a piss beside the road while standing on a pile of garbage."
Goatgirl - "Mmmm, good times...."

After the tyre was fixed, we stopped minutes down the road for Chapati's and Dal at midnight. Full of tandoored doughy goodness and curried lentils we headed off down the winding road. Fangio's crazy driving continued all the way. If you've ever tried to sleep on a rollercoaster and succeeded, then try a 10 hour Indian deluxe bus from Manali to Chandigarh as another challenge.

I was wide awake well before the tyre exploded at around 5am, with a loud bang like a shotgun. A second flat tyre in one trip. Deluxe.

The replacement bus arrived a little after 6am and we eventually arrived in Chandigarh. Faced with the decision of staying here, or continuing onwards. We chose the latter, jumping on the public bus for one hour in order to catch the 'Toy Train' from Kalka to Shimla.

The unhelpful staff at Kalka Station initially won't even take my quiet offer of "I don't mind paying extra" and say that there are no reserved seats, and thus we are stuck for four hours waiting for the 12.40pm open-slather rush of the lowest class train. It appears that sometimes a little extra cash can sometimes make them find a spare seat on full trains, but they really mustn't like me.

An hour later I tried again - with success. An extra 20 Rupees goes a long way, as we were upgraded to reserved seats on the 12.10 train provided we paid the difference on the tickets, and we did so happily.

The 'Toy Train' is an old narrow gauge diesel that winds its way through tunnels and curves for 5 hours all the way upwards to Shimla. Its a very interesting view - if only I'd been able to keep my eyes open for more of the journey. We were heading towards the end of a 24 hour trip and the gradual rocking of the train was sending me to dozey land, much to the delight of two boys sitting opposite me. They giggled every time my eyes drifted off as I almost fell forward on to them.

Shimla is perched at 2000 metres and looks a very likely candidate for a landslide, as all of the buildings sit on an angle on the mountains. Its a relatively big town, verging on city size, with many uphill and downhill streets. One of its endearing qualities is its lack of cars, and cows, and cow pats. Strangely you catch a passenger lift up from the main highway below (with your luggage) to 'The Mall' above, to most of the guesthouses. The town is an interesting mix of shops, markets and older colonial buildings that look like they were imported from Germany.

After a wander round town Goatgirl and I decided to do something very weird - make our own lunch. Its a strange thing not making a meal for yourself on a regular basis. It had been almost two months since I had scrambled together some supermarket bits and pieces for a meal in China. Given we were attempting to sneak away from the regulation Indian delicacies (ie. no bloody Chapatis or Dal), fresh food was on the agenda. (see the separate Recipe entry for handy tips on travelling food preparation).

You are warned prior to heading to the Jakhu Temple in Shimla that the monkeys who make the temple their home, are aggresive. Jakhu is a temple that worships the monkey gods of Hinduism. On the way to the Temple wandering up the hill, Monkey Stick-sellers are abundant. Apparently the monkeys are so aggressive that it is handy to have a stick on hand to whack them. Its an interesting conundrem - worhsip them on one hand and beat them off with the other.

I felt reassured by the beautifully crafted, sanded, contoured and lacquered Monkey-whacker in my hand, that if I needed to whack the monkey, I had the correct equipment to do so. All for 10 Rupees.

The Temple itself looks like it was decored by a home furnisher obsessed by the 70's... orange roof, aqua blue trim, and grey bricks with the mortar painted white. There were also strange statues with five heads (monkey, human, sheep, cow and lion), and others that were half human and half monkey.

I didn't have to use the Monkey-whacker in the end, but did see one jump at a woman carrying fod and rip it from her hands, and a child terrorised as one scampered through her family. The saddest part was watching the family laugh at the poor girl, who was crying and screaming. She got into trouble for being frightened by a rabies carrying creature - I can see her point.

The highlight however was the highly aroused monkey, who decided to spank-the-monkey, right before our eyes. I've seen Monkeys feed, mate, snarl, jump, climb, pee and ride small bicycles on high wires on television, but never had I seen a Monkey spank-the-monkey before. I'm not sure if he was looking at me or Goatgirl. It was over in seconds so I'm guessing it was me.

'Bunty & Bubli' is the hottest movie in India at the moment. There are Bollywood posters everywhere around town. Given Shimla's Ritz cinema is seconds away from the door of the YMCA, we decied to catch the 7pm session. This was despite the recent bombings of two cinemas in Delhi. Given that was in relation to a religious film, and 'Bunty & Bubli' looked like a light and fluffy comedy, we took the risk and invested $1.80 on prime seating in the balcony.

Given 99% of the dialogue was in Hindi, some of it was hard to decipher. But we did manage to follow most of it.

It was your typical Bollywood story - big Bollywood musical number with color and dancing to start, boy leaves home to pursue dream (professional Cricketer from the look of it), girl leaves home to pursue dream of being a model (Miss India contest), boy gets rejected, girl gets rejected, boy meets girl at train station, boy and girl decide to generate cash by going on a massive fraud campaign across India, including selling the Taj Mahal to Westerners, big Bollywood musical number with color and dancing, boy and girl fall in love but don't have sex on screen, instead as they start kissing a big Bollywood musical number with color and dancing commences with the boy and girl in snow capped mountains in Northern India, bad guy comes into play to catch them, intermission!, bad guy meets them, big Bollywood musical number with color and dancing, bad guy decides to let them off because they are married and have a child.

There were some strange moments in the three hour film to say the least....

The acting can be incredibly over the top at times - the girl character spent most of the first half wailing like a banshee. The musical numbers are huge, taking on the proportions of a Britney Spears video, with dancers and spaceships and costume changes and leather hot pants galore - and that is on the guys. The best one was when the bad guy got involved. He was your Robert DeNiro style - smoking, strong, silent type with a permanent three day growth and sunglasses. Next thing you know he's singing and dancing along like a Cabaret performer like the rest of them.

Intermission is very old school, but given its a film that runs for 180 minutes, its a welcome relief and opportunity to stock up on popcorn.

It also seemed like they were running short of cash towards the end of the film. The elaborate sets disappeared to very simple screens with bad props and fake scenery. You can't stand outside on the back of an allegedly moving train without your hair moving a millimetre. No matter how many times you through dust up in front of them, it looks false. There was no happy ending, as every seemed all teary although the appeared to be getting out of their crimes. And there was no big musical number to close the show.

But the highlight to me was when former Australian TV presenter Tanya Zaetta 'acts' in the film. Those of you who remember the gameshow 'Who Dares Wins' might recall she was the chick co-hosting with former cricketer Mike Whitney. She's now a hot actor in Bollywood apparently, and played the lone western female character in the film. I recognised her immediately - she was bloody terrible.

After the film, a family walked up to us to ask us if we understood what was going on. We were honest and said no. I did point that there was some irony for me given an Australian was in the cast. The Mum of the family said "oh yes, Tanya Zaetta, she is a big star!"

India is a very strange country.
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