I had settled the ORH charges yesterday evening knowing that the cold will keep people under the quilt than usual. The promised bed tea also did not arrive. Regardless, I started at 7 am since there was no hint of fog. Chandigarh is one city from where I did not have to seek directions to exit it. The major destinations are prominently signposted and I could beat my path towards Shimla as I had already noted the major intersections en route. When I passed Pinjore and the Yadavindra Gardens my mind went back to the good soul in the Tourism Info Counter at the Chandigarh railway station who wanted me to visit it late evening to appreciate the ‘lightning’. The traffic on the road did not indicate peak season. This was confirmed by Ravi, the owner of the wayside eatery called ‘Shimla View’ (one can get a distant view of the Hill Station from here and which is further up from Solan), where I had a wholesome breakfast of Aaloo Paratha with mixed pickle and Omlette. Ravi said that business is dull this year as it has been bright and sunny in Shimla. Even the weathermen have been unequivocal in proclaiming good weather in the Hill Station. Forget the forecast of snow, even overcast conditions bring Delhiites in droves to Shimla, so I was told!
Instead of taking the direct route to Shimla I took the route via Chail. At 7500 feet it boasts of the highest cricket ground in the world. It is actually a school playground and entry was not permitted when I visited. A couple of other cricket aficionados also returned disappointed at being denied entry into the ground. Chail was set up by the Maharaja of Patiala as his summer capital and the Palace was built in 1891. It was purchased by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department from the royalty in 1972 and converted into a Premium Heritage Hotel. Unless you are a resident of the Hotel you have to shell out Rs. 100 for a round of the premises. The heritage furniture in the Hotel is lovely. A clear day can mean very good views of the KInner Kailash Peak and the Dhauladhar Range from the Palace Hotel.
The route from Chail to Shimla passes through Khufri. If and when it snows Khufri is the place to be in to enjoy the snow and pony rides. Despite the absence of snow Khufri was filled to the gills with tourists. There were countless ponies and horses with cushioned seats and even Yaks to take pictures on. In one corner a couple did brisk business dressing up people in traditional attire for photographs. Tourism spawns innovative entrepreneurship. The road from Khufri is a bit dodgy for some distance. Road widening work is going on. While the direct route from Chandigarh to Shimla is only about 110 kms, the detour via Chail and Khufri is another 60 kms.
Shimla is nearly 200 years old. It was retained by the British as a military outpost and sanatorium after the Gorkha Wars in 1815-16. In 1864 the erstwhile nondescript village became the summer capital of the British – a distinction that continued till 1947. Shimla was also the capital of Punjab, after partition till 1966 when it became the capital of Himachal Pradesh. Shimla has been the epicenter of momentous political decisions, prime among them being the decision on the partition of India in 1947 and the historic ‘Simla Agreement’ with Pakistan in 1972. The colonial era is best represented by the iconic buildings in the city. Among the many heritage buildings what stands out in Shimla is one which is even today known as the ‘Railway Board Building’. This magnificent structure at four levels was built in 1896-97 and is a subject matter of study by budding architects and other technical institutions. The building now houses government institutions like the CPWD, the SP CBI, etc. The other interesting building is the AG’s Office, an imposing Gothic structure.
Even though it was conceived in 1841 the Kalka-Shimla railway line could be completed only in 1903. The centenary of the section and the building was commemorated as can be seen from the plaque at the station. One of the major handicaps at the station is the limited circulating area as it is bang in the town with no scope for expansion. However, the best has been done of the limited space and the upkeep of the station is excellent. The Heritage ORH was built in 1921 and offers super views of the station and the township. The rooms are colonial with modern facilities within.
The 108 feet statue of Hanuman, on Jakhoo Hill, overlooks the Mall Road. A lazy stroll on the Mall Road to soak in the glory of a colonial era and appreciate the changes that have come over it in the recent past was my aim as I laboriously carted my bulk over the steep roads. After visiting the CNI Church, which is one of the most popular destinations for film shooting, I walked further ahead and came across the Regal theatre. I have been longing to see a movie in a cinema hall over the past three months that I have been travelling. Today was the day. I was right in time for the 5 o’clock show of the new Akhsay Kumar-Katrina Kaif release ‘Tees Maar Khan’. To say that I was disappointed is to put it mildly, and I was not the only one to leave the cinema hall with such feelings.
Winter is when you feel awfully hungry. At least that is how I justify my huge, regular intakes. I had a Steak Burger and Pizza for dinner in one of the shops on the Mall. When I was ingesting the calories I forgot the distance I had to walk to the ORH. 30 minutes after the meal I was hungry all over again, with some of the calories burnt up during the walk back to the ORH and a major portion of it ‘stored for a rainy day’ within the self!