Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Weekend Trip Shimla

It took me nearly a week to write about last week’s trip to Shimla. 

The Viceregal Lodge

Shimla is a place of significance in the modern history of India. Certain crucial decisions that shaped India’s destiny were taken here---particularly in the Viceregal Lodge, now called Rashtrapati Niwas, which is located on top of the Observatory Hill--- that we can now repent in leisure. But i am not going to discuss how history was shaped here, where, now, researchers, mostly expats, come and get to stay, silently do advance research and feel glad about it. One thing for sure, this lodge that is palatial in size, is a standing monument of colonial era and its exploitative ways. They should maintain it better or else it will soon become, also, a significant monument of government apathy.

I have had fun stay here in the past with friends. This time, I visit Shimla with Paavo Yliluoma, my eighth flatmate. I still can’t pronounce his name correctly. He is helping me do that. I am, too, trying hard. 

On our way to Shimla we stayed overnight at Chandigarh with a friend Vijendra Trighatia. He is a brilliant photographer, great cook and a very generous host. He served us mutton curry for dinner. It was so good and plenty that I kept hogging the food till the point my stomach threatened to explode. That whole night I felt like pregnant.  

The drive from Chandigarh to Shimla is beautiful. We halted at a couple of places to have tea and coffee. This particularly good coffee shop, don’t remember the name exactly but i think was called ‘coffee beans’, is some 60 kilometres from Shimla. We sat outside on an open terrace that was overhanging high above a lush green valley. The sun was warm and the breeze cool. I could see the narrow-gauge tracks of the toy train that connects Shimla to Kalka criss-crossing through the thick vegetation like a snake. Staring at the green hills was disengaging. 

I was warned to warn Paavo about thriving population of monkeys in Shimla. It is a crowded city with people walking and monkeys stalking.

Playful monkeys. Photo: Paavo

Paavo loved them. On sighting a monkey, he would jump like one. He has a theory, though didn’t reveal the basis of that theory, that one day they, soon, the monkeys will rule the world, so we better be nice to them, now. He was nice to them because monkeys were generally nice to him as nothing tormenting happened when he and the monkeys were in close proximity. 

Paavo loved monkeys and on sighting a monkey he would jump like one.

Also, this trip was special to me in terms of understanding our d i s t a n t ancestors better. Thanks to Paavo and this interesting experience. My room had a glass window. On the sill a monkey-couple were intimately indulgent: she literally ass-licked him. I now know they do that. They might not indulge in sex only for procreation, like humans, but their togetherness seemed very pleasurable, about love and bonding. I saw his erect penis that reminded me of an anther of flower. And then they took turns to pick ticks, fleas, and lice from each other’s furry coat. I peeked at their intimate moments with the joy of a paparazzi. 
Some private moments. Photo: Paavo

My friend Bidhu and his wife Sheena made our stay memorable. Both of them hold senior positions in the government. I had three meals with them in two days of stay. I practically knocked the door of their dream-come-true-house whenever it was time to eat. They live in a 170 years old lodge that has a huge balcony overlooking the city of Shimla. Sheena fed us with some international delicacies; Bidhu treated us with the choicest single malt available. We were obliged to get drunk. It was just fantastic.

Bidhu arranged for our stay in Spars Lodge--a homely place that serves good home cooked food.

I didn’t drive in Shimla at all, just walked, some 20 kilometres in two days. One morning, i went for a jog, my lungs struggled, was gaping for more oxygen in the rarefied clean air of Shimla. Perhaps, i am so used to Delhi’s smog. A hundred years ago, tuberculosis patients were prescribed a two months stay in Shimla as part of the treatment. Or was this the only treatment available at that time? 
I like the tardy pace of the place. In the evening people come out of their houses and walk the Mall. Old men, looked like retired colonel of the army, can be seen walking briskly with an air of aristocracy. Paavo observed that people here are generally well dressed.
We started to drive back on Sunday morning to Delhi. It was a long journey. We had tandoori paratha at the famous Gyani Dhaba in Dharampura. It is described by some as the most overrated places to eat in the whole of Himachal Pradesh. I would rate it as good. 
Driving fast for hours was thrilling. Delhi greeted us with grey evening sky, a thick blanket of smoke hung low on the horizon. Life is back to usual.


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