The British era summer capital is a living testimony of the bygone times. The cool climes, the whispering pines, the floating clouds, clear blue sky, warm sunshine and woody fresh air makes it the most visited hill station in the northern region. In the half a decade of my humble existence, I have visited Shimla so many times that I know the hackneyed, crowded as well as the unexplored like the back of my hand. From early childhood to my recent trip, the hill’s allure and sheen is as captivating and rejuvenating as ever.
As we leave the plains of Haryana, the giddy, spiraling paths of Himachal greet us. The winding paths take you up and across the majestic Shivalik range. The journey is a unique experience as you wobble from left to right in your seat as your vehicle maneuvers the treacherous terrain. Tall pine tree clad hills on one side and a steep valley on the other with a little brook babbling here and there. As you move uphill you can see vehicles moving above on the next hill, your target path and when you look down, a stream of vehicles follow you: it is a fascinating sight indeed. At certain strategic bends, you find a little parking space offering breath taking panoramic view.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel in almost all the modes of conveyance in different phases of my life – ordinary roadways bus in childhood, trip mode in school/college tour, luxury air conditioner bus as a honeymooner and by own car form basic to automatic. I would recommend hoping on to the Himalayan Queen as the UNESCO heritage toy train chugs through 103 tunnels, across impressive multiple tier gallery bridges offering breath-taking panoramic scenery and you are transported back to the colonial time. Sipping steaming hot tea and digging into piping hot cutlets at Barog station is a lifetime experience. The quaint bygone era lives on.
The Ridge, the notorious sojourn of the British, the aristocrats and the bureaucrats have maintained its cult status. A visit to Shimla is incomplete sans the customary jostling in the teeming crowd across Mall Road to the Scandal Point. From branded to customised, from clothes to footwear to accessories – you can shop till you drop. For every fashionista it is ‘The place’. Loiter around, bask in the warm sunshine, slurp softy or munch ‘chana jor’. While the kids enjoy the horse ride or blow bubbles or toss balloons, you could hunt for souvenirs from Lakkar Bazaar.
However, my recent trip was a little disturbing. The vicious tentacles of urbanization and commercialization are clawing and marring the natural beauty. The increasing traffic is causing pollution. Shimla had no fans previously but air conditioners are belching hot air across now. The deafening drone of drilling machine, bulldozers razing the hills, cement mixers and gigantic heavy machinery – a bane of modernization greet you along the journey. Massive concrete pillars bearing flyovers, huge commercial billboards and hoardings are an absolute eyesore. As a child I would crane my neck to spot the Church from miles, this time it was more of locating in the maze of concrete jungle and depleting green cover.
Shimla is my favourite holiday destination. Wisened by experience, I suggest staying at a nearby place like Kandaghat or Mashobra, far from the madding crowd, waking up early and taking a trek. Enjoying the culinary delight of authentic Himachali Dhaam. Marveling at the mystery of nature as the hot yellow majestic sun turns to molten orange and to luxurious tangerine and languidly slips down the horizon, and hides behind the hills spreading a pallet of red purple as twinkling stars fill the night sky. While the plains shiver and struggle in the fog, bask in warm sunshine clear azure with misty, fluffy clouds floating around the hills.