Sidhave sheikh Ka’abe ko, hum to Englishtan jayenge;
Wo dekhe ghar khuda ka, hum khuda ki shaan dekhenge.
(Let the devout sheikh go to Ka’aba, I will go to England;
Let him watch God’s home, I will watch God’s glory.)
This couplet from Akbar Ilahabadi pretty much sums up the mood of three friends on a hot friday night in Kurukhetra when they decided that the next weekend was going to be spend in Shimla- the summer capital of the British while they were in India. Although I had already visited many more far off places in Himachal, Shimla, the most accesible one somehow always seemed to evade me. It was not going to be that way anymore. I, Aadhaar and Soumyaroop set out on the next friday night to a magical trip to the place.
The route was uneventful; just the way I like it. The view after we reached Shimla was literally heaven on earth- as if the stars had come down to the earth to greet us.
We reached the Shimla Bus Stand at 5 a.m in the morning. The Modern Bus Stand in Shimla is nothing short of a work of art. To account for the lack of space in the hilly region for a bus stand, it was built on multiple levels. Built to accomodate a large number of buses, the oval-shaped bus stop was busy as a bee and very efficient too. It lacked a good cafeteria though; we had to settle for a cup of coffee each served of-course on a paper glass. (Coffee is not coffee if not served in a cup.)
Then we asked around to find out how we could reach the heart of the city. Apparently, we had two options:
- Take a cab.
- Take the more adventurous route by climbing the steps that went through the forest.
You must have already guessed the path we took. It was pitch dark and the steps were pretty creepy. It seemed we were the only ones on the path. A dog was barking continuously, but the environment made it a wolf. The scarier parts were not the stairs, it was those small parts where the path was horizontal, because we could no longer concentrate on putting our feet on the steps and the consciousness of the environment was greater. It gradually became lesser and lesser dark. There was a small hut-like resting place with a few benches up ahead and we immediately pounced on the opportunity. The view from there was nothing short of magical. It was twilight and the sight of the trees and the scattered houses on the other hill was just awesome. But we had to move on. We got on the main road and the long walk uphill started.
After an hour-long walk, we finally reached ‘The Mall’.
A cool morning breeze was blowing and we were already feeling a bit chilly. We were immediately hounded by ‘Dalals’ who promised us good hotels and a cheap ride to Kufri. We ignored them and moved on. All the shops were closed. We kept walking through the closed shops and came across what was seemingly the city’s administrative building. It was a huge building made entirely of stone and looked very old. The city firestation was exactly opposite to it. A couple of firetrucks stood proudly in front of it; as if promising to kill every fire that might try to even touch this piece of heaven. Further walking too us to an intersection popularly known as Scandal Point.
We could already appreciate the beauty of the place from this point. The small figure of a yellow church was visible. The signboard said the path towards the church was called “The Ridge”. We walked towards it and came across a huge space where children were playing football. A few seconds of watching their game made it pretty clear that they were good players.
Suddenly, we realized we had a problem. It was 8 am. If we immediately checked into a hotel, we might be charged for two days because the checkout time is 12 noon. So we decided to pass some time by reading newspapers. One of the most wonderful things about Shimla is the abundancy of public chairs to sit on. We found a comfortable spot and started reading. We were done in less than half an hour and decided to take a walk around the place. It was schooltime in Shimla and the sight of little children running to school brought back sweet memories of my school days. A girl was shouting to her friends “Mere toh ZERO aaenge!”(I will get a zero). Exams!
While we were wandering, we were again confronted by the same dalaal who we had met before. We told him about our predicament and he assured us that we would have to pay only for a day’s stay if we moved in now. The “Ridge View Hotel” didn’t look very impressive from the outside. The manager showed us a stinky room with no windows. We didn’t like it. Then he took us upstairs to another room. This one was huge with a large bed and huge windows. In fact, it was the “Honeymoon Suite”. We liked and finalized it immediately, not knowing there were a few surprises to come.
Rest of the story in the next post.