Walking Among the Greens

For old timers, Shimla generates the image of roads free from the hassles of vehicular traffic where one can take long walks peacefully without being disturbed by the honking of the traffic. When I think of Shimla, I think of the Ridge with its green coloured benches where people would be lazing through in the sun, after having walked the roads in and around Shimla that were in aplenty giving a wider choice and a more peaceful ambience to those who enjoyed walking.

Driving a vehicle through the roads of the Mall was considered to be an unpardonable sin. The only time that I remember to have seen a caravan of vehicles plying on the Mall was the famous Bhutto’s trip during the signing of the Shimla agreement. And I remember that many diehards for the beauty of Shimla were less against the signing of the agreement and more hurt for the damage it had done to the a long established tradition of Shimla!

This was a time when even the high officials and dignitaries valued non-plying of vehicles on the Mall and it was a sanctity more that a rule! The Private vehicles were a rarity during my days and no vehicle except the fire brigade vehicle, the ambulance and the post carrier of the post office was ever allowed to ply on the Mall. Yes, official functions were an exception. We all loved walking. And recently when one of my old time friends in Shimla offered to drive me through all those roads that were prohibited for private vehicles in my time, I felt offended rather than privileged.  She flaunted her official status and my heart cried to see what Shimla had come to be. Getting special license has become a status symbol that old timers would never would have thought of. We loved Shimla for its pristine beauty and queer ways of regulating this beauty.

Walking through roads surrounded by lush green forests on both sides was the reason why we would walk all the way from Chhota Shimla to Sanjauli–my college! local buses were very rare those days and even if they suited us, we would rather walk and meet each other at the Ridge and then would walk to our college. The walk from Chotta Shimla to Sanjauli via Lakkar bazaar and then back to Chotta Shimla was a daily affair, twice a day, that we really enjoyed. The whole of our group would meet under the tree on the Ridge near Goofa restaurant. We were never tired of walking, rather enjoyed it. There was no vehicular traffic at all on this road, occasionally we would have an ambulance and would cross our fingers seeing it which we would uncross only when we saw a black dog. Oh! Sometimes it would take such a long time to see a dog as Shimla could  boast of having a number of pet dogs but stray dogs were again a rarity like the vehicles on the roads. And crossing the fingers when one saw an Ambulance was considered to fulfill one’s wish!

The road to Sanjauli had another rare sight on it—the bicycles! This was the only road in Shimla where cycling was possible. I regret never having tried learning cycling. But I was afraid of balancing my weight on two slim wheels when there were deep gorges one could fall into, if slightly careless. There were two cycle stands—one at the Lakkar Bazaar and the other at Sanjauli and one could hire a bicycle at one end and hand it over at the other end. And believe me people riding cycles looked so brave to me! One of my friends, Jassi, who had come from Chandigarh would ride a bicycle occasionally and we all would be awestruck by her feat!

But it was always walking for us that we loved! It never made us tired rather invigorated us to walk more. And it was real fun. Looking back, I am really surprised at the quota of strength that we possessed as many a times we would go to the Mall in the evening as well! Must have walked miles and miles in and around Shimla. This habit of walking has stood me in good stead–and I walk a lot even today–and that too at a pace that may put many youngsters to shame. Thank you Shimla for many things

It is walking through the “roads less traveled by” that I am reminded of right now! It was 1972 or 73 perhaps when the road between Lakkar Bazaar and the Ridge started sinking and was declared dangerous. So much so that it was blocked and all the buildings in that area were vacated as a precautionary measure. The Regal building, DAV school and all those other shops closed business. The stairs leading to the DAV Boys’ school had sunk deep and had to be supported from down below. The road was actually closed and one of my friends whose family used to live in the Regal Building had to vacate the house and shift to a portion in “The Embassy”, the bar and restaurant, that they owned!

We, as college goers had to walk through ways, earlier unheard of and we really enjoyed the newfound freedom in un-exploring new ways and pathways leading to our destination. It was wonderful indeed. We would ascend up to somewhat near to the KV Jakhoo and would descend down and reach the Ridge at the Public library building. Not only we learnt about the new pathways of Shimla but we learnt new things about Shimla as well. It was at this time that we came to know about an adage about Shimla—Beware of three W’s of Shimla—weather, women and ways—all unpredictable! With malice towards none, especially the not-so-fair sex, we coined another adage–Beware of three M’s of Shimla—Mall, men and monkeys!

It was really bad at that time. But we enjoyed the new found freedom in exploring the new ways in Shimla as we really were ignorant about the gravity of the situation. We just loved walking and covering more unexplored pathways of Shimla.

It was this initiation in walking along the unfamiliar areas that we planned to walk to Chotta Shimla through the road leading from below the  Ritz through “Three Benches” and it was at this point of time when we came to know that the road is known as “Lovers’ Lane” and was frequently hunted by the lovelorn couples, that we stopped the process!

But during my recent visit to Shimla my heart bled to see a number of vehicles parked near the Telegraph office and at the other end of the Mall road as. People with power and influence would do anything to get license to drive through the roads which were the virgin roads of Shimla. I remember old people who would rather walk to hospital than to call for an ambulance as it hurt them more than the sickness! The number of vehicles with red lights atop them has become such a common sight that people don’t even notice. In our days it was a memorable sight to see a vehicle with red light to ply on the roads of Shimla.

And still worst is the apathy of the people of Shimla towards what I consider the rape of the pristine walks of Shimla surrounded on both sides by lush green trees!


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