My route took me to the Zoo. Signs were around reminding visitors that “There are less of us than you. Please don’t tease us animals in the zoo” ~ or words to that effect. A noble sentiment yet ignobly ignored by the zoo management. The venerated lion was comatose in a cage smaller than my hotel room, and that’s just about got room for my bed!
There’s no escaping the gawking gesticulating tourists who quickly pass by, maybe offering a peanut, but generally only transitorily amused. “Quick, our bus tour only allows us one hour. We’ve got to see the place, museum and monument before the day’s over.” For 50 rupees you expect to see all the sights, and I mean all.
Whether every tourism attraction is geared to the needs of the tourist or whether tourists come because anything apart from their daily lives is a welcome distraction is a moot point. Every exhibit is set up to titillate and fleetingly amuse and therefore remains unappreciated. This is an old French clock. This is a lion from Africa, It’s all the same.
What I saw was free. In the African elephants enclosure – they’re the one’s with big ears – I saw an eagle, with roundels under each wing like an RAF fighter plane in WWII. kamikaze dive and snatch a rodent or bird. I saw carrion crows besiege and seize part of a picnicking family’s tiffin. I saw two macaques rutting on a footpath. I* saw dozens of squirrels playing like chipmunks. And I saw a myriad butterflies, some almost 3″ (7.5cms) from wing tip to wing tip flitting among the nectar laden foliage at my feet.
I saw a maze, a topiary splendour, half-heartedly explored by just three children in half an hour. Most family groups and bussing crocodiles just read the sign – A Maze. Use any entrance and try to reach the centre – and passed by. Perhaps they thought it was another exhibit: Do Not Touch, Do Not Feed.
One sign exhorts visitors to not feed the animals cigarettes. Eh? Has the management released a batch of chain-smoking rabbits from a medical lab? Perhaps the salamanders are nicotine addicts. Or do they keep camels? I haven’t seen any of these species, and the ones I have seen are mainly indigenous to India. I’ve seen yaks wandering the high pastures of Ladakh, and there’s a great variety of bird life which can be viewed at the bird sanctuary just 3km up the road, the next stop on our bus tour, where migratory flocks rest awhile.
The Museum of Natural Science had little life. The aquarium was arranged like a showroom.with three walls of double stacked fish tanks, each no bigger than a 20″ TV set, containing a pair of goldfish, sword fish (so named because of their fins rather than their proboscises), and a few other varieties, all no longer than an inch. They were desultorily hanging around the stream of bubbles ascending from the aerators and were possibly as bemused as I was by their companions. A snow white cherub pissed out a steady stream of the water it was almost totally immersed in while a plastic frog would periodically gape a burp upwards in front of twirling moiré patterns emanating from striped plastic discs.
Like everybody else, I fleetingly passed through this arcade, and the rest of the museum: two rooms of stuffed and mounted bird and animal death, unlabelled, roped off and, in many cases, mummified – although not in display cases.
They made a great backcloth for more photographic portraits of the telegraph pole variety. It really doesn’t matter what is in the background: the Taj Mahal, the Maharajah’s Palace, a sacred temple, a rose bush or a telegraph pole seemingly sprouting from the top of my head.
As long as I can say, “Hey, that’s me. I’ve been somewhere and here’s the proof. Culture? What’s that? What do you mean, what did I see? What did I learn today?
“I paid 50 rupees for the day’s bus tour, and I really got my money’s worth. Been to a dozen places, forget the names, and there was a great video on the bus with full sound effects. Yep, great value.”
I think I wasted two rupees in paying the entrance fee, but on reflection the monkeys, butterflies, eagle and maze were probably worth it.
(It appears that the zoo has changed its management and focus since my visit. This is the zoo’s inventory of August 2014, and it lists several protected species.)