Remember when we were all stuck to our television screens watching in horror the news of the Australian wildfires and the unfortunate passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash? Seems like ages ago. So much has changed since. So many new terms added to our daily vocabulary – lockdowns & shutdowns, curfews & fines, masks & sanitizers, fear & negativity, pandemic & endemic, and whatnot. Life seemed so much simpler and different then. If someone asks me what is the one thing I am happy about that happened before the pandemic hit India, I would immediately answer – Himachal, my first and last trip of 2020.
Himachal trip was an impromptu, out of the blue, sudden decision. It’s like one of those days when you and your friends think of doing something absolutely reckless and not care about a thing in the world. So a trip to Himachal it was! Oh and was it not one of my best decisions in life! For those of you unaware, Himachal is a North-Indian state in the Indian sub-continent situated in the Himalayan foothills. Shimla is the capital and largest city of Himachal Pradesh, which was our first destination in this trip. We had only one day to spend at this whimsical place and wanted to make the best of every minute here.
I think of Shimla and the memories of the clear blue skies, the clement weather and the thick greenery come rushing back as if I was there just yesterday. How it was the perfect example of beautiful, crisp wintry days. How we were unable to keep our eyes open in the bright sunny brilliance and yet the solemn January winds were so brisk and invigorating. Being from a coastal town from the eastern end of the country, l had always been familiar with the scorching heat and humid stickiness of muggy weather. Shimla’s weather was a pleasant surprise to me and definitely one of the highlights of this trip.
While we wandered about appreciating the picturesque mountains and surrounding forests, the faint aroma of freshly brewed tea lingered across the street from a twee little breakfast spot. We experienced the most amazing onion and aloo parathas there. They say, “Nothing can beat the combination of delicious food and good weather” and I couldn’t agree more. I have no regret in declaring that our short stint at Shimla was made all the more special gobbling down on carbs and sugar throughout the day.
A trip without street food is like life without adventure – colourless and bland. So off we went to the famous Mall Road, the so called “Life of Shimla”. You can find everything at this pedestrian-only walkway – clothes, toys, memento shops, woodworks, woollens, Tibetan goods and whatnot. But our olfactory senses pulled us towards the quaint little stalls of the most delectable edibles lining the streets.
Lo and behold! Before we knew it, we were devouring the heavenly momos and scrumptious chole buns. But nothing beats Shimla’s flavoursome chole kulche. Our palates will relish the rich piquancy of Shimla’s street foods for years to come.
Mall road is an epitome of calm and chaos. It is the major hangout spot and shopping center for tourists and locals alike. Seated in the lap of nature, with the beauty of mountains and forests for as far as the eye can see, it brings certain tranquility to souls. Somehow the hurly-burly of the streets accompanied by the occassional baritone of a random hawker selling goods by the road made it even more fascinating. Walking up the street, just watching people going about their daily lives was a different experience in itself.
One of the most visited tourist places in Shimla happen to be at “The Ridge” that the Mall Road eventually leads to. It is a large open area at the centre of Shimla overlooking the greenery of Himachal. Most of the cultural and exhibit activities happen here. The Ridge is famous for a spot called “Scandal Point” , which is basically the point where the Mall Road and The Ridge converge. The naming of the spot is still a mystery but rumours have it that a Maharaja (ruler) of Patiala had eloped with the daughter of a British Viceroy in the 1800s through the same intersection, thus making it the “Scandal Point”. Isn’t that quite the story! But the relevance of the story is yet to be confirmed.
The Ridge is also home to one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shimla – the Christ Church. Built in 1857, the Church is one of the prominent landmarks and legacy of the British Raj. The aura, the ambience and the atmosphere gave off a certain positivity. Something inexplicable, yet so powerful. We bought candles from a small shop at the far end of the Church and lighting them emanated a mysteriously strong sense of hope and peace within us all. These experiences are what make such moments unforgettable.
Dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Hanuman, the Jakhoo Temple is another famous tourist destination in Shimla. It is perched atop the Jakhoo hill, hence the name. Temple accessibility is via road or through ropeway from the Ridge. We chose the later, of course. The ropeway ride was smooth and hardly 5 minutes long, but I was ecstatic to be on one after ages! Being an adult makes you forget the excitement and happiness in enjoying the little things. I would forever be grateful to this trip for making me aware of my childish self. The weather was a bit more chilly at the temple, maybe because we removed our shoes while entering inside (as is customary in any Hindu religious place). The tiny temple was welcoming as ever. There is something about religious places that make you feel a certain calm, a sense of positivity and exuberance which makes it all the more notable. As our bodies grew accustomed to the cold, we went exploring around the temple area. Right next to the temple, was the towering idol of Lord Hanuman, spanning 108 feet. Although the temple is said to be ancient, the huge idol next to it was built in the year 2010. As per the Hindu religious scripture, Ramayana, Lord Hanuman stopped to rest at this location on his hunt to find the Sanjeevani booti.
By the time we were back at the Ridge on the return ropeway ride, it was already evening and getting dark fast. The temperature had dropped a few degrees and the crowd had started thinning. Since all of us were peckish from the day’s explorations, we decided to have something on the way from Mall Road. There was a small cabin restaurant (whose name I have forgotten unfortunately) along the street with the most deletable Chilli Paneer and Butter Naan. That was definitely successful in satiating the hunger in us ravenous beasts.
Once we were well-fed and watered, we slowly walked down the slopes of Mall Road, tired but with a sense of childlike spirit and enthusiasm. Day#1 of the trip had been checked off the list as a huge success. As we reached our stay for the night, and as we slowly lingered into slumber, the only thought I remember having was – “Shimla, you beauty!”