I could not have chosen a better place to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus. The effect of the rising sun on the sky and the clouds and its ever changing hues made for a magical morning. The numbing cold did not deter me from capturing some of the transient moods on camera. Watching the changing moods I understood another reason why we address Nature as ‘Mother’. It is probably because of the changes that she rings around her in such a short while.
When I was leaving the ORH for the Ridge and the Mall I met the Station Superintendent, Mr Rajput, and another resident of the ORH, who had been to Shimla several times before. They waxed eloquent about the superior administration of the State and the goodness of the people of Himachal. The SS even mentioned that one could find the Chief Minister moving around the Mall Road mixing freely with the people. I took this with a pinch of salt. But I saw this with my own eyes and a ‘Doubting Joseph’ was converted.
After handing over clothes for dry cleaning (express wash to be delivered in the evening) I went to the Christ Church for the Xmas service. Even though the church was full of believers the service itself was disappointing. I could not stay the whole mass, which was celebrated in Hindi – I could not fight the conflict in me for I had stayed on till the end of the flop show ‘Tees Maar Khan’ yesterday (was it because I had paid for the entrance?) – and left when the sermon started. As I came out of the Church I found a few women police constables, smartly turned out, looking over the Ridge on to the Mall Road, as were many tourists. With nothing in particular to do I joined the crowd to ‘gape’. That’s when I saw Mr. PK Dhumal, the CM of Himachal Pradesh. He had arrived on the Mall Road to inaugurate a blood donation camp to commemorate the birthday of Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee. Vehicles are not permitted on the Mall Road and the Ridge, unless it is an emergency. Honoring this, the CM was walking around without any police ‘bandobast’ and the normal tamasha attached to CM’s visits was missing. Nearly 25 ambulances with crew were parked in an orderly manner in the Ridge and I anticipated some function to inaugurate the Emergency Services. I was wandering around the Ridge and appreciating the cleanliness in the Ridge despite a sea of tourists when photographers burst into the small overhang over the Ridge, where I was at the time. I overheard that the CM was expected there. In a short while he walked in to the area where I was standing and spend some time greeting people who had gathered in the Ridge. He later flagged off the ambulances which will provide succor to the needy and save many lives in the future. It is a joint venture of the State Government with GVK and EMIR. To mark this occasion there were no speeches or banners or political flags and posters. Here was a simple ceremony to dedicate services for the benefit of the citizens and not an occasion for political one-upmanship. The CM was among the people for almost two hours and some of the time I was following him around without any security frisking and such like. Such experiences convince you that there is space for good governance in our polity and that citizens appreciate it.
The Gaiety Theatre is an age old institution in Shimla. The Amateur Dramatic Club has been in existence since 1837. The renovated complex had three programs running – an art gallery and show, a Christian Renewal program and a theatre performance, entrance being free to all the three. The Mall Road is where all the shopping happens and the Ridge is where people hang out. On the Ridge photographers entice you with some of their works and I was suckered. I zeroed in on a photographer to frame me in a traditional costume. It took some time for the poor chap to find one that would fit me. He was genuinely thankful when I finally returned the costume to him, as at one stage it looked almost not possible. He delivered the ‘product’ in the promised half hour. While in the midst of the photography session I heard sounds of heavy blowing. I traced the source of the sounds and reached a demonstration of the Korean Energy Treatment. The demonstrators seemed to be blowing some kind of energy into the person receiving the treatment. The treatment is supposed to address Diabetes, Fatigue, Migrane, Sleep disorder, Poor digestion, Hormone imbalance, BP, Stroke, Stress, Back, Hip and Joint Pains, Anxiety and Depression, etc. They claim to heal without operation and chemicals and purely by the use of ‘Universal Energy’. I volunteered, but to be fair, the session was too short for one to feel any difference. They can be reached at 0177-2629479 and 09218719479.
I moved to the Mall Road to scout for suitable eating joints for a luncheon repast. The Mall Road was overflowing with tourists, young and old. While window shopping in one of the shops I stepped on the toes of a youngster standing quite close to me. I apologized and he said, “No problem, Uncle”. I was tempted to step on his toes one more time just to find out how he would address me the next time. I walked into the ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ restaurant for lunch when I saw ‘satisfied’ customers walking out. The Chicken curry and rotis I had there was mouth watering. I had made the right choice. I recommend this place to anyone who wants a good meal in Shimla. I did see a couple of customers walking out after seeing the menu and the tariff against the items. Its good value if you are in a group of four.
The rest of the evening I spent enjoying the colonial buildings; some of them are run down and one was being demolished. Most of the old buildings now house government offices and taking photographs of them is prohibited. The Simla Kali Bari temple was established in 1823 and pilgrims throng here. When I was coming back to the ORH I overheard a tourist make the comment looking hopelessly at the steep road ahead of him: “Yeh bahut tedi jagah hai. Main to mar jaoonga” (This is a difficult place. I will die here). So I was not the only one huffing and puffing in Shimla. Many families rent strollers to push their kids around the Ridge and the Mall. I was tempted to hire one to transport my belly in and relieve stress on the rest of the body
I got back to the ORH after collecting the dry cleaned clothes and am spending time with my travelling companion of the past few days – Old Monk. Cheers and Merry Xmas.