Hills have had a special fascination for me for a number of reasons. They were the preferred holiday destination and part of my growing years were in a school in the hills more specifically Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. Therefore hills in and around Shimla are like home. Coming after many years there was a strange anticipation as our plane docked at the new Chandigarh airport. It was a sudden flood of memories and the curiousity to see if things had changed in the many years that I had not come.
We took a cab from Chandigarh which along with its two twin cities Mohali and Panchkula still remains as one of the best planned cities in India. It’s wide roads, large roundabouts, plazas and big houses are a pleasure though they are more crowded now than before. With new highways we did not have to go through the main town and were near Pinjore, a township which houses the heritage palace and grounds from Mughal times, in good time.The place is now run by Punjab tourism and remains a great tourist spot. The first stop was for lunch ,a little further up,at Timber Trail, a beautiful resort on the highway with also a development on the hill across connected with a rope way. Lunch on the terrace with view of the valley and the mountains and bright sunshine was the ideal balm after part of the journey and preparation with what is ahead. The place has only gotten better with time.
As you take the turn from Shoghi ,the last stop before Shimla, you get the first glimpse of Shimla sitting majestically like a saddle straddling across two hills. Magnificent view which has not changed over the years. From being the summer capital of British to being the people’s capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh, it’s been a change! It’s happened gradually but the vestiges of the heritage remain strong. We did not stay in the city but a little away at Mashobra and then Naldera.
Clean air, blue skies, strong sun though reasonably cold is what we experienced the next morning. With towering pines, flat walking road and snow clad mountains as a backdrop it was heavenly to walk. Far away from habitation you have only you and the mountains for your thoughts. Brought back memories of another time when one would sit facing the Tara hill from school on a bench on many days alone looking out to the tiny specs of habitation on the opposite hill wondering how the people on the other side lived! While alone, there was always a calm and stillness and a realisation as to how tiny you are to the enormity of the whole existence. I am still fascinated!!
Shimla as a town has not changed much. The Mall Road, the ridge with Christ Church, the Gaiety theatre, Scandal Point are the life pulse of the town. Crowded, fashionable and forever buzzing. Shops may have changed some but some of the old names are still there like Gainda Mull, Dewan Chand & Sons though with one name which has closed – Baljees. Many fond memories of Baljees with its happening restaurant ‘ Fascination’. Many a afternoon spent listening to the latest English music at that place.Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run and George McRae come to mind. Davico’s the dinner and dance bar has also closed down though India Coffee House is going strong as ever. Finally the house on the corner of Scandal Point was always occupied by the Grindlays bank and then Standard Chartered Bank and now it is the ICICI bank. Times do change maybe sometimes for the better. What was good to see was the rush of tourists as well as locals on the weekend which has not changed.
Some romances never die down or finish. Mine is the one with the hills and Shimla!