Thursday 28 August 2014

Days 134-136: Shimla - Summer Capital of the Raj

The "toy train" winds it's way up to Shimla
The toy train from Kalka to Shimla is scenic and cramped in almost equal measure, but the scenery just about wins the day.  We spent five hours huddled amongst our bags, sometimes with three people to a seat, staring out of the windows at wooded hillsides.

Winding round and round the pine-clad slopes, the train climbed gradually into a welcome world of cooler air rolling down from the Himalayas until we reached Shimla at 2,000m above sea level.

We could happily stay for a while in Shimla - and we aren't the first Britons to have that thought.  It was the capital of British India for six months of the year, when the British officials decided to remove their sweating bodies from Calcutta and, later, Delhi to this hill station to avoid the monsoonal heat of the plains.

Meanwhile it's full-sized counterpart has reached
the end of the line at Kalka.
It seems odd to think of such a quaint little town, accessed by a toy railway, presiding over thousands of miles of the subcontinent - but perhaps no odder than little Britain lording it (sometimes brutally) over India in the first place.

We visited the Viceregal Lodge - a beautiful building that now serves as a thinktank and centre of post-doctoral research in the humanities - but once hosted the Shimla conference, a last-ditch attempt to keep India undivided on the brink of independence.  The conference failed and the Lodge became the summer home of India's Prime Ministers until it was converted into the Centre for Advanced Studies.  Inside, you can still visit the conference room and see photographs of the conference delegates amongst wood-panelled rooms.

The former Viceregal Lodge,
scene of the Shimla Conference
After an interesting morning, we decided it was time to revert to colonial habits and take tea - or mocktails and beer, in our case.  We chose Rudyard Kipling's hang-out at The Cedars, which was a beautiful place for a drink but otherwise well above my place in life!

The last stop of the day was the ... temple and Hanuman statue on the hillside above Shimla.  By the time we arrived, the hillsides had wrapped themselves in mist and become a strange other-worldly place.  Even Hanuman was considering burying his head in the cloud, but even on a clear day we would not have seen his face in detail; he is so tall that Guy barely reaches above his ankles.

Susan dwarfed by Hanuman
Yet Hanuman did not have the greatest presence in the glade.  The show was stolen by a bunch of cheeky monkeys who either do not know, or do not care, about the commandment "thou shalt not covet they neighbour's goods".

One held a pair of spectacles in its hand.  Another pair fought over a red scarf that they'd grabbed from an unsuspecting visitor.  A third presided over a solitary shoe.

We were handed sticks to ward them off and we took it in turns to take photos so that there was always one person on monkey watch.  Concentrating on anything amidst their antics would have been difficult, but a few of the faithful managed it inside the small Hindu temple, where we played a brief visit.  Then it was time to return to the colonial buildings along the mall and dine on curry - not for the last time!

Bording the Himalayan Queen at Kalka
The train starts to wind its way upwards
Shimla by night
The view from Hotel White: worth the money for a room with a valley view!

No comments:

Post a Comment