Shimla

The crowd was moving fairly fast, motivated mostly by a couple of drops of rain. The path was ever so slightly steep, and it was through the famous Lakkar Bazaar, and we soaked in the shapes, the shops and the sharply dressed shoppers. There was a fair number of tourists. We gleefully added to the number. I guess what separated us from the others was our sense of urgency, we had only one evening and we needed to gather as much possible of the fabled town called Shimla.

Of course, we would come back to this lovely town. But with a world full of wonderful places, it is not always possible to come back to the same space. And this was the end of the not so enjoyable Himachal trip, we were eager to escape the clutches of Himachal Pradesh Helpline Tourism (the only establishment I was happy to see go out of business in recent times); and our driver with a car that was mechanically challenged had successfully added to our woes. Going back to Chandigarh, to our now customary dinner (with a glass of Chivas) at the City Cabana, seemed rather welcome.

Lakkar Bazaar ends a bit suddenly and you find yourself next to the small but beautiful Christ Church. Of course, for me, the State library gives the Church stiff competition as far as aesthetic gratification is concerned.

The Ridge, brilliantly lit in the early evening darkness, seemed amazing to our much travelled eyes. The Town Hall, Gaiety Theatre and the iconic Ashiana Restaurant told us what Shimla was all about.

I made an instant plan to bring my parents the next possible instance. My parents, with all their travels all around the world, had never visited Shimla. My father was unwell, but the cancer was still allowing him to have some mobility. Little did I know that life would change drastically within a very short span of time! 

No one could imagine how the pandemic will wreck havoc all over the world!

The next time we found ourselves in Shimla was a few years later. Life had changed drastically. The pandemic – the trauma of which we are trying erase from memory rather desperately – had shaken our entire way of life. My parents I could not save, four other family members were taken, and I lost three more men who were father figures to me. I was no longer the ‘I’ from before.

The 2021 Himachal trip (you already have glimpses in earlier posts on Keylong, the journey through the cold desert, Kaza, the Spiti Valley journey, Kalpa and Sarahan) was meant to be therapeutic, and Shimla at the end was designed to be relaxing. We wanted something other than the usual foray into foreign lands, someplace that would not force us to see the sights desperately, and Shimla was just the medicine. Shimla was the culmination of the entire experience, and Shimla offered luxurious indulgence. 

This time we stayed in The Peterhof, one of the most premiere properties of HPTDC. The Royal Oak (where we stayed the first time) was also good and very conveniently located, but The Peterhof, though slightly far away from the Ridge, is a true heritage property.

It is a historic building – it was once the Vice-regal house (housing seven Viceroys) and apparently had housed Nathuram Godse’s trial. The building is unique and our allotted room was cosy while speaking of a royal past.

Our room was located in a corner that allowed the morning sun and the evening mists to have equal presences. The lovely restaurant with an old world charm catered well to the ambience and our continental cravings. There is a very shaky, focusless and amateurish video on YouTube of our section of the hotel. If you are very fond of such videos, you may take a look by clicking here.

The only blot was a wedding party that created a series of minor sonic booms, but pleasantly ended in regulation time. The decorations were brilliant, though afterwards the whole lawn became a paradise for foraging monkeys. Littering, as well as loitering, should be known as our national pastime.

Our visits to the Ridge were somewhat tainted as Ashiana constantly reminded me of my project to bring Baba and Ma. But onward is the only way to move. We sauntered with agreeable aimlessness – which was rather pleasant as the preceding days had taken us on itineried spaces and places, always with time and its winged chariot (sometimes in the form of Kishoreji’s Innova) hovering around.

In Shimla the only worry was queuing for the lift to the Mall. The lift was interesting, showing how tourists can be rightly catered to. We did go through the steep Lakkar Bazar route once, which is on the other side of the Ridge, just for the sake of nostalgia. The Mall Road, as well as the Ridge, at night is as resplendent as ever. If you can brave the crowd, then it becomes quite an experience. 

However, for us this trip to Shimla would become a significant memory for a very curious reason. We had to fly back and Indigo had sternly warned us that we must have either a double vaccination certificate or a RT-PCR report announcing freedom from the disease. I had the double V certificate. But Jaya still had her single status as far as Covishield was concerned. Therefore we found ourselves in an eight a.m. queue in Shimla Medical College. After an hour the test was done. The report would follow next morning. Kishoreji, as helpful as ever, volunteered to bring the report. As early queues demand early departures, breakfast wasn’t in us. So we drove to the early morning Mall and found The Hideout Cafe open.

We had already tasted their apple pie (and it was one of the best I’ve had, and I’ve had apple pies in a number of places in Europe, as I keep bragging). The Cafe welcomed us and a very young and polite girl made us sandwiches and coffee that were quite brilliant. 

While we were having coffee we noticed that a small number of people were queuing in front of the Town Hall. And we could see, through a window, they were registering their names and then going further inside. We conjectured this must be some job related drive. But the Bengali “need to know” impulse (a.k.a. catlike curiosity) woke up. After finishing breakfast we went to that door. A banner announced that a special vaccination drive was happening. We discussed a bit and ventured in. We were assured that vaccines are available for any and all, for free, provided they have proper documentation. Jaya’s phone had proper documentation. So Jaya registered and went in. I waited in the waiting room.

The actual vaccination was done quite quickly. Jaya tried to leave before the customary half hour, but was immediately stopped by a gentle but firm lady. When they learnt her husband was waiting outside, they invited me inside. Therefore, allowing me to see the lovely wooden rooms in the early morning light. It was an experience worth remembering. 

The certificate was also issued immediately and The Peterhof gave us the necessary printout. One should mention here that neither Chandigarh Airport nor New Delhi asked to see any documentation. The test also announced that Jaya wasn’t infected, so we boarded the plane with complete assurance. 

Shimla is a lovely town, the friendliness of the people, the courtesy seen all around, made this a memorable trip. And Jaya’s vaccination, being a life event, would always give this trip a special status. The distant snowpeaks, the lush lawns of the Peterhof, the crowded Ridge, the shops lining the Mall Roads, the night lights of an erstwhile colonial centre – all came together to create a magic that is rarely found elsewhere. We hate crowds, we love lonely locations, but Shimla, quite paradoxically, will always remain a place of fondness.

Earlier Posts:

1. Old Lucknow   2. Colonial Lucknow   3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam
4. Going to Garhwal  5. The Walkers  6. Palamau  7. Rishikesh
8. Kolkata Kolkata  9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 
10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey  11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath
12. Old Times  13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri
14. Once There was a Heaven  15. Serenity  
16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 
19. Nothing Important  20. Manu's Alaya - Manali  21. Santiniketan  
22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala  23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi  
24. Tunganath  25. Transitory Blues  26. Gurudongmar  27. The Beginning  
28. Yumesamdong  29. Bangali in Bangkok  30. Mukutmanipur  
31. Rasvanti  32. The Old Town and the Sea   33. Budapest 
34. The Last Post of 2019 35. Travel Travails 36. Cluj-Napoça 
37. Presenting the Past  38. Far From the Urban Crowd
39. Silent Night Sleepless Night 40. Norwich 41. Photo Essay - The Road
42. Photo Story - The Days of the Goddess 43. Badrinath 44. Monumental Mistakes
45. Odyssey Now 46. To the Mountains 47. Keylong 48. Where Moon River is Born 49. Kaza 50. Through the Valley of Spiti 51. Kalpa 52. Sarahan
53. Un-happy Journey (Meghalaya)