Our journey to the summer capital of British India was in Cars since the Bullets were sent back to Delhi. Shimla nicknamed "Queen of Hills" is at an average height of 7800ft above MSL. While approaching this beautiful hill station I spotted a gigantic Red figure at a distance and the driver explained that it is Jhaku’s temple and the 108ft tall Hanuman statue construction at a cost of Rs.1.5 Crores & 3 year duration was sponsored by Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter Shweta Nanda’s Father in Law.
I had been to Shimla almost 10 years back and some places looked familiar to me. While walking on the Mall road I was reminded of my wait at the ATM counter to withdraw cash along with my elder son Jerry & nephew Lloyd on that visit. The erstwhile Viceroys official residence - the Vice Regal lodge currently houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. We decided to visit the Army museum which is next to the famous Annadale ground. We clicked a lot of pictures at the historical museum. Some of them team members posed for photos in front of the statues of former British Army officers.
The next day morning while at the Breakfast table Faisal said that he could not sleep properly the night before and I wanted to know why? He said that he had a dream in which the Army officers met him and persuaded him to join the Army. He was apparently terrified when he saw some dead officers sitting on his bed and talking to him. And after that dream he could not sleep any further it seems. All of us had a good laugh hearing that and teased him for a while.
The reality that Shimla is also turning in to a Concrete jungle was really painful to me. Unfortunately the mindless exploitation of commercial interests and apparent lack of effective rules/Govt control to stop the ill planned constructions are the real bane of major tourist spots in India.
After 2 days of relaxing in Shimla we proceeded to the Railway station at 5pm to board the famous Toy Train. Shimla – Kalka is a narrow gauge line. The train had just 5 bogies and each one of them had 21 seats. This Train is regarded as one of the finest examples of British engineering. This historical Toy Train is part of the World Heritage list of UNESCO. Beautiful Hills, magnificent Valleys & Picturesque Villages make this journey a truly memorable one. The 96km line to Kalka has numerous stations en route with low platforms. The small but clean & beautifully maintained stations were a testimony of the colonial British architecture which married elegance to practicality. We crossed many long & short tunnels – in fact 103 of them and the bridges came in all sizes, shapes & colours – A whopping 864 of them. And finally when we reached Kalka after the dream journey our next train to Delhi was already there. We quickly changed trains and occupied our respective berths and by daybreak we were back to the Rajadhani of India – Delhi.
We got down at the station and quickly reached the hotel and freshened up. After Breakfast it was an emotional moment were we bid goodbye to each other with a hope that we would meet some other time/day. The shortest & stoutest member of our group – Albert said to me – Seena, next time I will come with my Wife to meet you & enjoy your beautiful place. I was glad to extend a hearty welcome to him and told him to get his grandchildren too. We cracked some jokes and everyone had a good laugh together one last time. After shaking hands with all the group members I boarded a Taxi to the Airport. And while I was in the 1.55pm Indigo Cochin flight I thanked the almighty lord for blessing me with such an opportunity for the last few days.
Few thoughts & faces just flooded my mind – The brotherly people of Uttarakhand, My loving Hindu brothers – Bhim & Akash, The Muslim Captain Faisal who used to lovingly wave his hands to show his love for the innocent school children on the roads and the foreigners who cared for human values. This journey with them where I could share my thoughts & opinions like childhood friends had been the great God’s gift for me. And the confidence & safety that the group gave me is truly beyond words.
The places that I saw were a treat to the Eyes. But I just thanked the God’s love which is higher than the tallest mountains or the Sky which is much higher. Thanking him I closed my eyes and slowly slipped in to a deep slumber. The flight was scheduled to land at 5pm but it got slightly delayed due to heavy rain. At the Airport my Husband & my 2 sons – Jerry & Mark were waiting for me. I just told myself that during the Garhwal trip in October I will go back to Dehradun and will stay for a night at my dad’s house.
And the saying goes thus – Man proposes but God disposes. Beyond my decision the nature vented out its fury. Countless lives were lost and many lost everything they had including our company driver Sonu who lost his house. He too lost his dear Uncle in the flash floods. The places we went, the roads we drove and those places, the beauty of which we could not see enough of it all got washed away. My heartfelt commiserations to all who lost their lives there and for those who lost their near & dear ones let me join in your grief.
Uttarakhand is as dear to me like my home state Kerala. Bible says - The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. The journey through the beautiful mountains of Uttarakhand reminded me of this every day and the universal truth that we are always dependent on his protective shadow.
Seena, the honestly in your writing comes straight from the heart. It is heartening to know that you could connect back to your roots. It is more than a travelogue to me where you've shared the experiences of your life. I can only imagine the elation you must have felt when you met your extended family. Your experiences are so beautifully written that it transmits the reader to the place and moves them along with the narration. I am from Uttarakhand too and have thoroughly enjoyed your observations and intricate details about the place and its people. Simple, yet mesmerizing writing. Thanks for sharing!