Friday, August 19, 2011

Shimla 15th/16th August.

Happy Independence Day India.

Quite a good place to be to see these celebrations, lots of marching police, army, cadets and brass bands and speeches about how India has changed and developed in the 64 years since the Brits left. It was in Hindi, but Hassan said it was positive and no anx against the British.

It was a cold and wet day, which has been the way of things here - even had to get a fleece from Batty. As everything was pretty shut up, it gave time to plan the Himalayas and Kashmir some more, and finish reading the adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What a great book, that I had missed so far in life. I have a load of 'classics' lined up in the e-book library. Not only is this trip a perfect opportunity to read more than ever before, but between Kindle and iBooks a lot of classics are free to read.
Went to a film showing of a locally made film in the town hall. It was about this very remote Himalayan village called Malana. It is famed for it's own form of democracy that has worked for centries, and which now has been ruined by the government forcing them to vote in general elections etc. The villagers have become divided between the two main political parties, which in turn has divided the community.
It is also famed for growing some of the best hashish in the world. 20 years ago I would have been up there in a flash for a forgotten week or 10. Now I get very paranoid if I smoke any, a result of an over indulgent decade 20 years ago.

16th Shimla

Went on a good long walk today with Hassan. We took a local bus about 5 miles to the foot of a hill and took the path to the top.
For some reason I had to have a photo of a bus driver. On the road they are the kings and humble bikers are very respectful.

At the Temple (name to be advised..) sporting a new tee shirt with logo, by the very kind hand of my pal Chele, who makes such things at

Not a very revealing or flattering pic of the temple complex

There was a Hindu temple there and I was ushered in to have a form of blessing, a red dot on my forehead (a tikka), and a spoonful of holy rice to eat. After this we were invited to eat with everyone there. This involved sitting along a strip of carpet in a hall. There were probably about 30 ish of us there and I, the only westerner. Paper plates were handed out and then these young guys, I suppose they were trainee monks, almost ran up and down the line dolloping out rice and 5 other curries  and dhals. It was delicious and is a free for anyone and everyone there. It is such a sound social way of helping those who need it in an entirely equitable environment. Those who wished to could place a contribution in a discreet box.

Shimla, 12 Aug

Shimla is a lovely hilltop town that cascades down the very steep hill on all sides and kept almost as if the Brits had moved out only yesterday, rather than 60+ years ago. It is also kept very clean, with litter almost nonexistent, unlike elsewhere in India that I have been to.
Staying in a v tired large hotel Gulmarg for a couple of nights, rather weird in that the beds are round and mirrors adorn the ceilings. If it is meant to be a temple of love, I fear it falls sort,  by my measure at least.
I have a new pal called Hassan, who started chatting to me in a non-toutish way,  he does, however, have an interest in a hotel with a far better view and a less 'big' hotel formality I am assurred. So I guess I will move there. The only trouble is that to move less than a mile it will involve a 30 min journey going around the cordoned off from traffic hill top centre. This is really a blessing that makes the place special and a delight to visit. A legacy from Empire apparently.  For over a 100 years this small town housed the British Raj government from April to October when Calcutta or latterly Delhi was too hot. In effect this meant 1/5 of the then world's population was controlled from a place the size of a small country English town.
View from the Gulmarg window, I was rained on most days and it was fog bound a good deal of the time, mores the pitty.

Jakhu Temple, A very steep 30 minute walk up from the centre.

The Centre, known as the Mall

The town flowing down the hill

A very English Church, full of memorials plaques of Brits in Imperial days 

It is Independence Day on the 15th Aug and the town has completely filled up up for the weekend for the holiday. Lovely to witness the Indians at play and I believe there will be processions and much celebration. The trouble for budget conscious travelers is that the room prices has rocketed. After nearly  a day of searching for a reasonable room, the Mayur hotel eventually gave me one at double my budget. It was a shocker in terms of the bed being damp, because of monsoon rather than anything else, I hasten to add, no view and generally horridly run down. I had meant to stay at Hassan's place but Batty could not get up the hills on the approach.
I caught up with Hassan later that day and he had re-sold the room for that night but said I could move in the next night. I did what I hoped I would not have to do, which is to leave Batty a mile or so down the hill in a manned car park. With  fingers crossed, I put the newly acquired bike cover on and padlocked it closed, chained her to a steel girder and put the alarmed disk lock on and hoped all would be well.

Hassan took me for a 10 k trek around, up and down local beauty spots that was fun and fit making. We finished by going to the Viceregal Lodge. Just like a Scottish lodge and the place of historical discussions, like Independence and Partition.


The Viceregal Lodge

One of my many cousins in Shimla

Looking down on the Mall area