The Mumbai heat was terrible. The heat in Ahmedabad and Kolkata was, if anything, worse. “Get out of town,” friends advised. “Head for the hills,” guides told us. Our doctor, an old romantic who’s lived all his long life surrounded by old Bollywood stars, directors, writers, singers, etc. was more specific: “Go to Shimla.” Not that my wife and I saw ourselves as Joy Mukherjee and Sadhana (God forbid!); but the advice seemed sound, so we took it.
Thus it came about that we spent five wholesome days in Shimla, doing nothing but walk about the place. We stayed at the western end of the Mall, near the Accountant General’s office, and we did our regular 5 to 6 hours of walking every day. We’d start our early morning saunter at about 7; at 11 we’d do our elevenses, and at 6 pm we’d hit the road for our evening pre-prandial 3-hour constitutional. Nothing could be more healthful.
Indeed, it was so healthful that my stomach starting to shape shift to a more concave outline; now that I’m back home, I’m swiftly correcting this matter through a diet of chilled beer.
We stayed in a small, cute, heritage hotel, which was built around 1890 or thereabouts. The present owners have kept the place in very good condition, preserving its old architecture, layout, etc. Besides its olde worlde charm, its roof was the preferred playground of a large local family of rhesus macaques. The hours which an average householder devotes to his or her afternoon nap were spent by the more youthful members of the monkey troop romping about on the roof, with some considerable accompanying sound-effects.
We’d enjoy our first cup of green tea of the day looking out over a magnificent view of the valley just below us, including the helipad at Annadale.
The beautiful old buildings have been very well preserved and really looked after, and they are still in use by various Government offices, the Army, the State Bank of India and other such institutions. Obviously, the city and state administrations and the citizens of Shimla are very proud of their lovely city, and justifiably so.
Our longest journey was a walk past the accountant General’s office, past the Vidhan Sabha, up a stiff winding road, encouraged by locals saying “just round the corner” – a statement that was patently false – to the Himachal State Museum. Beautifully perched on the top of a hill, it commanded a grand view of the valleys surrounding Shimla. The exhibits are very interesting and gives an ignorant person like me a wonderful picture of the rich cultural heritage of the people of Himachal Pradesh.
The walk down the steep road was even more difficult, so it was with a really glad heart that we saw the Oberoi Cecil just as we completed our walk. This beautiful structure was in some ways the starting point of the huge Oberoi Hotel chain. Fully restored, it is a great place to sit and feel ensconced in luxurious peace.
Of this, more later.