Shimla, you beauty !

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!”

…hope

It’s admirable how thoughts and mindsets can change over time. Second by second, day by day, year by year, the minuscule changes in our surroundings bring about what we call “evolution” – not only in our physical being, but also in our thoughts, our understanding, empathy and our mindsets.

It took hundreds of years for “Women belong in the kitchen” to change into “Women belong wherever the heck they want to belong“. Isn’t that a milestone marked in human history? Women taking charge and succeeding every step of their way. How beautiful is it that women across the world could finally lift the veil of weakness and submission and put on their Cape of Hope and Equality, that demands the world to respect them for who they are – strong and independent individuals.

This makes it seem like such an achievement, a great deed done for the world. But is it really? Anyone active enough on any social media platform today would know the sad state of affairs in Afghanistan. How, after years of extremist rule, Afghans were finally able to lead a “normal” life. How it took them years to build their lives, to educate their kids, to drive out fear of execution and torture, to finally see a future and work towards building it, only to be back at square one with nothing but fear to give company.

After nearly 20 years of having tasted freedom, Afghanistan was pulled back into the rubble of extremist faith ideals and vision. Amid the ruckus of Covid across the world, who knew there could be anything more upsetting and disorientating.

It is difficult to decide what is more disturbing – the Afghan President fleeing from the capital or, watching the residents cowering under their sheets in their homes or, watching people hide in the airport fearing their life. The hopelessness and terror has consumed Afghanistan so much so that people have been desperately trying to flee their own country one way or another. The options are minimal – either take the roads and hope to cross the border before the Taliban bullet tears across your heart, or tie yourself to the wings and tires of the next outbound plane. The risk of falling to their death is a better option than staying in their own country under Taliban rule. Most of them, unable to flee, just pray and hope they are alive to see another day.

The stories of Taliban and their “justice” have been heard far and wide. Their implementation of Sharia law not only deprived women of education and a career, but also the basic rights of human existence. Women couldn’t talk loudly, put makeup, step out alone, choose a life partner, take up a job or have any opinion. And these are just a few of the huge list of unfair laws and oppression. Anyone stupid enough to question their ways or break the rules would be punished – execution, beheading, public stoning, public whipping, raping and physical abuse were common. People have no choice. They don’t have any other option. They have to live by extremist laws and rules. The question is, what could anyone in their place possibly do, other than bowing their head and tolerating the torture?

Oh the irony! While we celebrate womanhood and equality at one corner of the world, we see basic human rights being crushed under discriminatory ideals at the other end. Humanity is slipping away like sand through our fingers and all we can do is sit and watch and hope and pray. Girls in Afghanistan now only see shards of broken dreams and aspirations. One who wanted to be a lawyer, is now hiding her certificates and degrees for fear of being executed for being over-educated. One who had a passion for makeup is throwing away her products. One who wanted to be a fashion designer, is stitching burqas and hijabs for herself and her sisters. One who had a lover, is being sent off to marry the Taliban soldiers. Life in Afghanistan as we knew it, has ceased to exist.

My heart weeps for Afghanistan, but my heart more so sank for the women there. The hopelessness is paramount and so is the desperation. But even with all the negativity around, it is overwhelming how much the world is affected by Afghanistan’s grief. Everyone has been pouring words of comfort and praying hard for a miracle. It is wonderful to see that with all our differences and opinions, we stand together and tall for our brothers and sisters and friends in need. Maybe all’s not lost in the world yet. Maybe there is still some humanity left in the world.

Square One

I often wondered how people around the world get the motivation and inspiration to start something new. My social media is full of people living their passions and interests, yet here I am, with a year old WordPress account, still awaiting the appropriate amount of motivation to surge through me to atleast write my first post.

It was mostly the fear of failing. I haven’t ever written anything (not even for my school magazine) that would even mildly measure my talent for writing. I still don’t know and the fear still resides somewhere in the darkest corners of my heart and brain. But you might ask, what changed my mind ? Or what brought in the slightest sliver of determination to write this post? And I would answer without a thought – “the pandemic”.

Life since 2020 has been so different. The waves of emotions we have all been encapsulated with across the globe has been arduous. India has faced two widespread Covid waves, and now bracing for a third one. If there’s one thing I learnt from the past 1.5 years of being stuck at home with rare chances of stepping outside, it’s that not everything goes as planned. With such uncertainty around, my fears of failing at writing, sound so trivial and unimportant. So here I am, writing my first blog post and starting a journey which I hope is going to be the best decision of my life. Here I am, taking a leap of faith and trying something that would make me proud of myself. Here I am, trying to overcome my fear of failures. And here I am, an amateur writer, hoping hard that the WordPress community can help me improve and hone my skills.

This post my friends, is my square one, my fresh start and my revival.