Vaishnodevi Yatra: Ardh kumari to Sanjhi Chhat

May be it was the tea that invigorated us to walk with gusto or it was the good feeling of having covered half the distance that we resumed our walk. Or Perhaps it was watching very old and feeble men and women walking with a zeal that put us to shame for counting the hardships istead of counting the blessings.

We started the trek with added vigor and strength.After Ardh kumari the hill is very steep upwards to move for about two and half kilometres. Its shape is like the head of an elephant due to which it is known by the name of Hathi Matha. it was indeed very steep ascent.

Looking down the small town of Katra seemed like a distant hamlet. There were a number of horses and ponies waiting in a shed. That was the only time when I saw them taking some rest as otherwise I had seen them on a continuous move. I wondered at the trained ponies and horses who would gallop at a speed which would put my heart to tremble. Though I  was walking on foot my heart would tremble for the pilgrim astride the horse. But they seemed to enjoy the horse ride. I, very ruefully and selfishly, thought that after some time all that they would remember of this pilgrimage would be the horse ride and nothing else. The ascent was very steep and the poor horses walked with a great weight on their backs!

My husband, a trained vet, felt so sorry for the horses as they seemed to have no rest at all. The only saving grace for a horse was if he was lucky to have a light weight pilgrim atop it though in most cases I could see quite heavyweight pilgrims atop the horses. And these pilgrims as they didn’t have to do anything else than watch the fellow pilgrims treading around, would shout at the top of their voice, ” Jor se bole Jai Mata di”!

And we, the poor walkers, would not have enough energy to shout back! 🙂 I realized that why people in power generally are most vocal in giving advice and directions, it is because they have nothing else to do and have to use their surplus energy in some activity.

Vaishnodevi Ma had opened many vistas for me. I was learning a lot. My belief in theory of Karma resurfaced and I thought if the theory has any grain of truth in it then these horses, once upon a time, must have a human form in some previous birth  and  must have bled to work some others. They are repaying that Karma in this birth by carrying pilgrims without any rest and pause. I shuddered at the thought of what might happen to all those gleaming and smiling pilgrims sitting proudly on horse back and chanting Jai Mata Di. No God or Goddess would come to redeem you of your bad karma even if you go hundreds times to pay homage to a far flung and  inaccessible temple of a Goddess! It was with great difficulty that I got myself out of these thoughts and once again focused on the pilgrimage!

Suddenly at this place the sound of helicopter caught my attention and I watched a helicopter in the sky moving towards Sanjhi Chhat which has a small helipad. it costs only Rs 700/ per passenger in the helicopter and some pilgrims avail this service to reach Vaishnodevi temple. They alight at Saanjhi Chhat and from there take up horses to go further.

Sanjhi Chhat is levelled and declining ahead. From this place the temple of Mata can be seen which increases the enthusiasm of the devotees. It  was around 7-30 p.m. and I could see the bright lights of the temple. The steps of all the pilgrims automatically gained  momentum and the devotees started chanting her name with more profound faith and devotion.

Now we had to descend a little to reach the Bhawan. I was wonder struck at workmanship of carving a way in the rocky mountains. I wondered how difficult it must have been to get this pathway constructed. I was more than surprised to find a board claiming to be a middle school at Saanjhi Chhat. I could not see a village around but if there was a Middle school there surely would have been some population around. I wondered whether our Hon’ble Minister Kapil Sibal could ever understand the problems of these students studying in school in such areas? Could these students be ever equal to any other child studying in a Metropolitan city? Would it be equality of  opportunity for a child studying in this school when he competes for admission to IIT or NIT with some other child from an urban area?

Or would the blessings of Mata Vaishnodevi alone would be sufficient to bestow some special boon to children studying in this school? Or worse still would some children styding in this school would end up mending horses on the way to Vaishnodevi Bhawan for rich and elite pilgrims?

I shook my head of this nonsense thoughts and tried to concentrate on Mata Vaishnodevi  whose Bhawan glittered in lights before my eyes!

… be continued


Vaishnodevi Yatra: Charan Paduka to Ardkumari

As we had taken to stairs when we started from Charan Paduka so I had failed to notice how difficult it was to walk on the path meant for pilgrims. But the stairs were quite steep. But the real reason behind taking up the stairs and leaving the path was to save ourselves from the ponies, mules and horses of all sizes and colors that very proudly had the lion’s share on the pathway meant for us mortals! 🙂

To save ourselves from being trampled under the sturdy foot of an equestrian it was better to pant and huff on the stairs! Though the precautionary warning was written at the start of the stairs along with the number of stairs, fools as we were, we opted to take stairs. Midway we could feel our hearts pumping with extra effort to make us going!

Perhaps it was the expression on our face that some pilgrims going down taking pity on us handed us the sticks which had no use for them now. I was so thankful to them. We were waiting to reach Ardh Kumari, which could be pronounced as Ardh  Kwari in Dogri or Pahari. As this is the point where half the ascent to the Bhawan is completed, I thought that the word “kwari” could be “kwali” which in Pahari means ascent! Ardh Kwali would mean half the ascent! Some thoughts to keep my mind occupied!

After Charan Paduka comes the temple of Ardh kumari. After running away from Bhairav, Mata hid herself in a cave at this place, which is known by the name of Garbhjoon, and rested. She stayed here for nine months. This cave is very narrow in structure but even fat people came out of it easily and sometimes even thinner people get stuck in it. It is said that the people coming to this place with faith and devotion do not have to take rebirth. The people have to get receipt to enter at this place and may have to wait for a long time for his number to come and enter at at this place.

Honestly speaking, I din’t know that there was any temple here at Ardh Kumari. All I could see was a surge of humanity! I was more eager to have a cup of tea than anything else.

A word of advice to all those would-be fellow pilgrims if they, too, would have an urge to have a cup of tea from the Vaishnodevi shrine Bhojnalayas that are situated at strategic points. Buy a token for whatever you have to buy and then stand in a long queue. Looking back it seems that all that I remember of the Vaishnodevi pilgrimage are the queues, long and meandering, everywhere en route till the very Bhawan!

But the scene at Ardh Kumari was different for a change. There were no queues on the open space but huge mass of humanity sitting and standing and roaming around in the most haphazard way it is humanly possible! 🙂

Vaishnodevi Yatra: Katra to Banganga

We were so focused on the greater heights that beckoned us that we literally forgot to take some very essential and erudite steps which are a must for any pilgrim taking up the Yatra. You have to register yourself at a counter specially designated for this purpose at Katra Bus stand by  Mata Vaishno Devi shrine board. Registration is free of charge but one has to queue up for getting registered. There can be maximum of nine members in a group or family that can be registered in one slip. We were a total of seven persons and as one of us had used his contact at Katra to register us before we reached Katra, we saved time in standing in a ling queue. But one has to get registered maximum of six hours before reaching Katra otherwise the slip is cancelled. It being a weekend the average number of yatris had increased manifold.

We were happy at having crossed one hurdle effortlessly. I felt momentarily ashamed of having used a contact to get ourselves registered. I believe a pilgrimage is taken to get oneself rid of all those false notions that make us think superior to others. A pilgrimage is a great leveler as we all fellow-pilgrims tread together forgetting all distinction. But here we were taking/using services that many others could not. But we are humans after all and corrupt, in our own small ways,  basically!

The Katra market road that leads to Banganga was full of all those items that a yatri might need. There were sticks, rough and crude, in large number outside every shop. I could not shame myself by buying a stick. I thought critically like a proud pahari woman who could jump and run on hilly terrains like a wild goat. These are not for us, I rued. There were canvass shoes as well which people were taking on rent. Some were taking shaded caps to ward off the golden rays of the evening Sun! We passed through these shops without buying any such item.

We reached the first checking post for the Yatris. All through I was feeling guilty for not standing myself in a long queue to get the registration slip but all my guilt feeling vanished when I looked at the long queue that awaited us as Banganga entrance where these slips were being checked. There was red color dominating everything else. I could see red ribbons, countless in number, tied to the sides of the road. It seemed as if all possible vacant space was used to tie red ribbons on which was written in golden color–Jai Mata di! My reflections on red ribbons were cut short by security persons asking all pilgrims, men and women, to queue up separately. We stood in queues waiting for our turn. We were frisked by the staff and let go off!

Walking a little more steps we reached Banganga, our first stop. A mere 1.5 Kms from Katra it was not a place that the pilgrims would want to stop at. But religious fervor makes some other decision for the pilgrims.

We had reached Banganga!


1 Take a stick.

2 Leave anything unessential at Katra.

3 Take your medicine kit with you.

4 Don’t carry water bottles and eatables, you’ll get en route in many shops.

…to be continued

Vaishnodevi Yatra: Reaching Katra

Whichever part of country you may come from, you have to reach Katra to start for Vaishno Devi temple. We had started from Hamirpur so we passed through Kangra, Nurpur, Pathankot and finally when we crossed the Chakki bridge, the driver of our vehicle informed us that now we were in Jammu and Kashmir! The place was Lakhanpur. It was the toll tax  barrier for all vehicles entering Jammu and Kashmir. I looked around, nothing had changed much. The topography was quite same as it was few miles before but the place had a different label. There were so many vendors selling Dahi-Bhalle.  The driver stopped the vehicle at a side. “Enjoy some Dahi Bhalle, it will take some time fro me to get my papers checked.” He said  and went to show his papers to two gentlemen who were sitting very comfortably at the other side of the road. There were many other vehicles stranded on our side of the road and the drivers of those vehicles were on the other side showing files containing relevant papers of the vehicle.

I saw a driver getting a slip of paper, and then I saw the driver of our vehicle handing over some money to one of the gentlemen but no paper was returned back to him. Raju, the driver, came back, sat in the driver’s seat and instantly pulled off the cassette player from the vehicle. On making inquiry we were told that since all his papers were alright, and he was in uniform with his name prominently displayed on a badge, the gentlemen police could find no fault to challan him. Whar Raju told was interesting. “Do you have cassette recorder?” asked one of the law enforcer. “Yes.” said Raju as he knew that the next step would be to physically verify its presence. and added, “But we are not playing it.” “1000/” said the other gentleman. Raju being a street-smart person and the one who makes several trips to Katra carrying pilgrims,  silently handed a 100/ Rs note in the hand of the gentleman and returned back. “But the other driver was giver a slip.” I asked incredulously. “The fool that he is, he preferred to be challaned for not wearing the uniform instead of paying some easy money.” Raju lamented. A smart answer from a person who is a regularly plies taxis on this road! I made a rough calculation. Taking into consideration that over one lac vehicles pass through this barrier in a month, the everyday number would be more than 3000 and if half of them pay Rs 100/ as easy money the amount thus collected would be staggering! Mind bowling indeed.

Jai Mata di, I sure was learning some lessons for being a successful person. Raju had taken the task of being a guide to us, “Check your mobiles.” he asked all of us. “There won’t be any signal.” We fumbled in our bags and pockets for our mobiles and found NO SIGNAL! Only one of us had signal as his mobile had postpaid plan. Not knowing what other lessons awaited us in Jammu and Kashmir we started the journey towards Katra.

It seemed as if all vehicles on the road were plying towards Katra. There was so much of rush. Katra, a  town, was bursting at its seams because of the incoming traffic. Raju took us to the parking near the Bus stand. We got down. The temperature was quite high, it was hot, very hot!

It was 2-50 p.m. and we decided to start the trek. As it would have been very difficult to contact Raju the next day when we were supposed to come back to Katra from Vaishno Devi temple, we fixed the time and the place where Raju was to wait for us–the same taxi stand next day, the Sunday at 8 a,m.!

The lessons for the pilgrims:

1 The driver of your vehicle must be properly uniformed, have all papers of the vehicle. All taxes must have been paid. For every vehicle that enters Jammu and Kashmir daily tax at the rate of 270/ per day has to be deposited. No cassette recorder in your vehicle is allowed. If you have one, remove it before entering Jammu.

2 Except for post paid mobile services, all other mobile services are jammed so you must carry some mobiles with postpaid services.

3 Temperature during May and June goes up to 40* Celsius in Katra so you be prepared for the hot afternoons!

Jai Mata di!

…to be continued.

Vaishno Devi Pilgrimage: Excursion, Enlightenment and Effectuation

Ever since my childhood the word Vaishno Mata would mean a lot to us kids. Anyone in the neighborhood who would accomplish this great yatra would have stories to relate about the most arduous journey of his/her life. While the elders would be envious of the fortunate ones and pray to Mata to grant them a chance to visit the Bhawan and pay homage, we the kids would wait for the Parsadi which would definitely include colorful strings of cheap stones and bangles in various hues and shades.

Being a girl would be greatly envied by all the boys of the neighborhood as it would be the sheer privilege and right of us, the girls, who would be worshiped by the faithfuls after accomplishment of Vaishno Mata Yatra. I could never understand how and why would my mother on one hand worship us, the two daughters she had, as Kanyas and on the other seek blessings of Mata to grant her a son! 🙂

I grew up listening to stories about the cave, rather the too narrow a cave entry where a pilgrim had to crawl on his stomach to get inside the main cave, the temple of the Mata. Someone would surely add  mystically, while describing the darshana that only the faithfuls have access to the mata and they alone can successfully crawl to the main goofa! I would be so afraid as it would be a public disgrace for a person to be declared a sinner and unfaithful if he failed to crawl inside the goofa. Not to be one to take everything lying down,  I would butt in my nose in the elderly discussion by asking some uncomfortable questions. I would name a few who I thought to be evil and if they could get inside the cave why can’t others. My Amma would hush me to keep quiet but my doubts always remained unanswered.

Even when I was on my own, which according to my Amma was to get married and go wherever I pleased, I could never muster enough courage to plan a visit to Vaishno Mata although whenever someone would come with Prasaad to our home, my desire to accomplish this Yatra would resurface with an added vigor.

But taking shelter behind the famous adage that you can go only when Mata sends for you, would comfort me! And finally I had “Mata ka Bulava” and on Saturday, 26 May, 2012 we started from our home in Hamirpur to Katra, the base from where one starts the pilgrimage to Vaishno Mata Bhawan.

I was still having my childhood fears about the cave entry which does not allow a sinner to pass through it and I would ask for forgiveness for all sins that I might have had committed in 55 years of my life span. With a prayer in heart and a smile on face, we started for the pilgrimage!

….to be continued.

Simla Sustainers: Khans, Chaudharis and Coolies

Amma would send us on errands at all odd hours of the day and why she would not as Simla of my days would be such a place where whole of the Lower Bazaar seemed like an extended neighbourhood to us all.

I would love to tread away to anywhere at mere wish of my Amma , her wish would be a command to me, but when she would ask me to go to Pandit Ji’s home, I would be a little hesitant. Pandit Gangasagar lived in the middle bazaar just below the stairs near Beekays adjacent to the Scandal Point on the Mall. Whenever Amma would have any query regarding whether it would be Ekadashi or Sankrati the next day, she would say, “go and ask Pandit JI.” Though I loved to go  to Pandit Ji’s home at any time of the day as he would always fish out from hid big Jhola some sweet for me so it was the greed that led me to his home jumping and running but going to his home during late evenings would give a shiver to my little heart. The reason was that I had to cross two alleys to reach his home and just near to the stairs leading to his home from the Lower Bazaar side, there was a dahra (accommodation) for the Khans. As Amma had instilled a fear in my heart that the Khan would pack me inside his big Pheran, I was so afraid of coming across a Khan during late evening hours.

I would be in a dilemma. On one hand the eateries that awaited me at Pandit JI’s home would be a great temptation and on the other hand the similar big pheran of a Khan would be a great detrimental! But greedy as I was, I my salivary glands would win over my adrenaline secretions and chanting Om Namah Shivah vigorously I would rush past the dahra of the Khans. I never treated them close enough to talk to them. Neither did any of the Khans living in a nearby neighbourhood made any attempt to befriend anyone. They were different. I would watch many of them lying in a room that was their night shelter. Many would be sitting outside to have some fresh air as the number of Khans that lived in that small room would not leave any space even for some air!  Some enterprising among them would have a transistor and listen to filmy songs on Vividh Bharti. Some would be washing their utensils after having taken their meals. The utensils would be a big copper plate and a big copper bowl. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of very big Chapatis cooked on firewood chulha and some liquid curry in the bowl. I would wonder how many chapatis would a khan eat. The number would be exaggerated all the time when we discussed the same at school.

I would wonder who cooks the food for them when all of them go during the day for the labor work. Pandit JI, the nearest neighbor to the Khans would be our source of information. It would be a wonderful sight to see Pandit Ji in his Dhoti and Janeu, complete with a tilak on forehead,  standing at his door and talking intimately to the Khan standing at the door of his dahara. So most of my information about the Khans would come via Pandit Ji. Like all Pandits, he too, loved to talk and talk and found in me a good listener! He would say that these Khans take turns to stay at home and cook. Cooking for such a big number of persons with a very heavy appetite must not have been an easy job.

And sometimes during day time I would watch the Khans on cooking duty busy in preparing the vegetable, The aroma of the cooked vegetable would be no different from the one that emanated from my Amma’s kitchen and I  would wonder why would they take me in a back pack if I would be naughty and troublesome to my Amma. I would sometimes watch the by-turn-caretaker to mend clothes with needle in his hand and I would look at his big rough hands, so big that needle would just not suit them! Sometime he would sing in alien language some song while mending his old and torn away clothes. Music does not need any language and the very tone of the song would make me feel close to the Khan. At such a moment, my feminine curiosity and compassion would overtake all  the feeling of fear and I would make some small talk about their women folks, who, I was told, live back at home in Kashmir! Pandit Ji’ talk had instilled feeling of faith for Khans in my heart and I could now see them not as someone to be afraid of but someone who had same feelings as we had. But I would be afraid of my Amma finding me talking to a Khan as I was told to keep away from them. Amma had her own fears which I could never understand. And the Khan’s big hands, still bigger feet in sturdy leather sandals would substantiate her fears and mine as well.

But when it was time to get a quintal of coal from coal companies situated near the Bus stand, these very Khans would be the ones to carry our loads and keep the fire burning in our hearth. With sweat drops trickling down his forehead, the khan would bring the heavy load of coal and would take the wage decided upon. I don’t remember my Amma offering him anything to eat which she would offer to other collies when they were hired to carry some other load! Did Amma discriminate? Perhaps she did or to be true the Khans never did become a part of social life that existed between the masters and the coolies in Simla. The Chaudharies, the turbaned and bearded hefty Sardars, monopolized the Gunj market the same way as Khans were the sole coolies of the Coal market. The Chaudharies would load and unload big sacks of grain in the grain market. Speaking chaste Punjabi and wearing a cotton Lungi they, too, were alien to Simla populace but still seemed much closer as compared to the Khans. And the third were our very own Pahari coolies who would love to sit by road sides mostly around the vegetable market waiting for sundry jobs. They would carry much less weight as compared to Khans and Chaudharies.

Khans, chudharies and coolies were so commonplace in Simla of my days that their existence had become a part of life for Simlites. So integral to life in Simla that no one gave them a second look. It is with a sense of shame that I acknowledge today how insensitively we took them for granted, everywhere and anytime!

Changing face of Palampur

Driving through a link road to Palampur, I could see the difference between the Palampur of yore and Palampur of today. This link road joins Palampur from Maranda and what a pleasure it was to drive through dense pine forest on both side of the narrow road. It reminded me of the Palampur of yore when such was the scenic beauty on both sides of the main road. But not any more. Big and palatial houses in colorful exteriors welcome the visitor. These houses may speak of the rising financial status of the populace of Palampur but to an old timer. like me, they seem like eyesores on the picturesque beauty of Palampur.

What a pleasure it used to be in the town when the pine trees surrounded the living area of villages, the tea gardens were at one’s backyard, so close by that one could pick a few tea leaves while having put water to simmer! But as I was told tea cannot be prepared from fresh tea leaves the poor leaves have to undergo a long and hard processing before they turn into customary tea leaves! And the water Kuhals, an integral part of a courtyard, would flow through the aangan. It would be common sight to see water kuhals flowing near most of the localities. But I repeat, no more!

While I got down to take a few pictures at this road, I heard faint sound of water and surprisingly found a water kuhal nearby! It passed through the pine forest, silently and without any grudge! But still lucky Kuhal it was, having clean and cool water in it, as I found later many others literally dried up kuhals turned into places to dispose of waste material.

At right hand to the Neugal I was lucky to see a small rustic mud house, a seemingly relic from the Palampur of yore and near to it was the Gharal, a small enclosure for the cows! There were no cows as there was no water in the Kuhals! Just adjacent to this mud house was a palatial and colorful concrete house putting to shame the humble mud house. When I was busy taking the pictures and talking to a passerby about the changing face of new Palampur, he lamented that very soon this mud house would also be razed to ground to give way to another big palatial house! Who knows when I visit next it would not be here anymore.

But this is the price that we pay for development. I looked around the tea gardens and silently thanked the Government policy of not selling the tea garden land for any construction work. This check has restrained the emergence of concrete jungle in Palampur to some extent but the powerful lobby of land mafia is sure to find some way out to turn Palampur into a place alien to my tastes!

The Great Divide: The Two Different Worlds

Revisiting Shimla…..

When I went visiting Scot Hass, one of my blog friends, to Mashobra and asked him about the places that he loved in Shimla, I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say, “I loved Lower Bazaar!” Scott is an author who loves visiting places of tranquility where he can sit back, relax and read and write. “And didn’t you like the Mall?” I asked him with a real surprise in my voice. “The Mall is just Okay, it is like any other place but it is the Lower Bazaar that holds the spirit of real Shimla!” he said with an emphasis. This was nothing less than a revelation to me as I had seen countless tourists roaming on the famous Ridge admiring the timeless beauty of the Chirst church, strolling languishly on the Mall, and reclining on the fashionable benches to rest a while instead of rubbing their shoulders with the ordinary people of Shimla in the crowded Lower Bazaar. Though the Lower Bazaar Shimla to me, a person born in a narrow alley of lower Bazaar, held a special charm but such a remark coming from an American tourist and that too a writer of repute was nothing less than a great surprise to me. Yes, he was so right. The Lower Bazaar is the essence and the life of Shimla. With a sense of remorse do I think that why don’t we write about the Lower Bazaar as we write about the Mall? I thought of the pictures of the Mall that I have stored in my camera but when it comes to the Lower Bazaar, only a few are there.

And this led me to  think about how I feel about the great divide which separated the Mall from the Lower Bazaar. This divide is not a figurative physical divide but a great mental divide as well. Whether you walk from the eastern side of Shimla i.e. from Chhota Shimla  or from the western end of the town i.e. Chaura Maidan side, one common similarity is seen at the point where the road bifurcates. The upper road proudly leads to the Mall and the Ridge but the lower road shyly meanders to the Lower Bazaar. From the Western end it is at CTO that the road to Lower Bazaar starts. This long road is connected to the Mall through a number of stairs which frighten persons with a weak hearts and weaker limbs. The buildings situated on the Mall, towards the Lower Bazaar, are unique in a manner that the one half of these buildings faces the Mall and the other half descends down towards the Lower Bazaar. In between a portion of the building touches what is known as the Middle Bazaar. This segmentation in higher, middle and lower categories of the building is what reflects in the life of the people living in these very areas.  As a young girl born in Lower Bazaar Simla, I have experienced my early years of girlhood in Lower Bazaar and this divide was more pronounced for us as many of my friends lived on the Mall! The Mall always remained the other world– formal, refined and elite whereas the world of Lower Bazaar was homely and informal. And now when I am thinking of my life, I am reminded of many symbols that stood for life in the Lower bazaar, the symbols that meant nothing at that point in time. If the Mall and the Ridge had Takka benches and the famous green benches made of solid wood, the Lower Bazaar, a poor cousin to the Mall had  solid almost square cement blocks of the height of three feet whereupon the cooleys could rest their backs by balancing the heavy load on those blocks. I had watched many cooleys resting a while and  catching a breath while sweat drops would trickle down their forehead. Perhaps as I had grown up watching these scenes every day of my childhood they had become very common for me and I never  ever found anything absurd in these.  In the same manner I would not blink my eye when I would see people reclining on benches that abound the Mall. It was a well earned rest for the strollers when they get tired of roaming on the Mall. Thinking of all these scenes that are still fresh in my mind today after a gap of some forty years, I am able to see with a sense of detachment that how  human mind learns to take for granted something which is never questioned. For me the labourers carrying heavy loads,  the pahari natives carrying fuel wood, the Khans carrying big loads of coal on their backs, was as normal as were the strollers on the Mall, men with a walking stick in hand and coquettish women pretending to be so tired of walking and catching their breath on the famous benches of the Mall, perhaps trying to catch the attention of the onlookers! Intrigued by the great divide theory I asked one of the old timer of Shimla who is at present in her late eighties, “Did you ever see Memsahibs coming to the Lower Bazaar?” Since my acquaintance, a dear aunty, lives at a strategic point in the Lower Bazaar and has grown up watching the present Shimla emerging from the Simla of the Raj, her memories are worth mentioning. “Yes, they would come sometimes to the book market.” I was surprised to learn about the book market. Watching out from the window she looked at the Arya Samaj Mandir down and said, “ a number of book shops eisted from Arya Samaj Mandir to Dr Jagat Ram’s shop and some teachers from the convent of Tara Hall would come sometimes to these shops.”

The present day Shimla still carries the legacy of the Raj days and the present day Sahibs and Mem Sahibs emulate ways of the yore and it is not very often that we find the fashionable crowd of the Mall mingling with the majority of ordinary men and women of the Lower Bazaar.  And Shimla, even today, has maintained  great divide introduced since the days of Raj and even today we have two different worlds silently co-existing complementing each other.

Shimla: No Longer a Walker’s Paradise

During a recent visit to Shimla, I was unpleasantly shocked to see a large  number of vehicles parked on the road near CTO. I was shocked to learn that all these vehicles had access to the restricted roads and very proudly displayed the passes stuck on the vehicle! I couldn’t understand whether the Shimlites had lost their stamina to walk or whether the long repressed inclination of  Shimlites to display their financial status had overruled their good sense to walk on the roads of Shimla!

Whatever may have been the reason, but I was much shocked to see such a great number of vehicles that the once-upon-a-time pristine and peaceful zone! The area near the CTO seemed more like a vehicle stand and less like a restricted area for vehicles that it used to be. The benches on the other side of the road were full of people, more of the younger lot  than the oldies, waiting for the HRTC taxi service started specially for the senior citizens. I thought that the present youth of Shimla lag behind in stamina that young and old of my times used to have. We just used to walk and walk and enjoy every little moment of our walking.

In order to observe the change in the pedestrian’s behaviour, I needed to sit and analyze the waiting-for-the-cab  group closely. I also wanted to observe the vehicles that came to the CTO and dropped their precious passengers. So I, too, took a seat on a bench and mind you, I have never had been so enlightened on the use or misuse of restricted road pass during the twenty long years having spent in Simla as I was during those twenty minutes! I watched with horror the unending flow of Government vehicles, some with red, some without, beacons halting before my eyes. If I waited for some Government officer, on official duty,  to alight from the vehicle, I was sadly very mistaken as these vehicles carried the “Memsaabs” for their evening stroll on the Mall. And as parking at this point is restricted, the vehicles would go away after deporting the passenger and would come back when “M’lady” had had her evening stroll on the Mall or may a cup of her evening coffee at her favorite place! 🙂 Mind you none of the privileged passengers alighting from the Government vehicles seemed sick or unwell, they were in best of their health and appearance, rather dressed too well!

Surprisingly it was not only the Himachal Government vehicles but the Army vehicles were also not left behind in this race and I could see some proud and patriotic army vehicles carrying the “Memsaabs” and “Baba logs” to this sacred point beyond which only the VVVIPs have access! I wondered if in the last thirty years Shimla has changed so much and private and public vehicles have attained access, to this level, to restricted roads, the days are not far off when these vehicles of the rich and the influential would be parked on the Ridge itself! God save the Ridge, I prayed silently!

The Simla of yore, the my own Simla, had a sanctity towards pedestrian and was a walker’s paradise. The only vehicles that we saw plying on the roads of Simla were the ambulance, the fire brigade vehicle and the Post office van. It was only the Governor’s official vehicle that could be seen plying on these restricted roads and that too not very often. But now we have changed. Simla of my days has changed to Shimla and from a walker’s paradise it has become a motorist’s pride!

And the fact that it is our money, the hard earned money of taxpayers, that is used to maintain these roads and to spoil the environment as well, I felt so sorry. I know my lone feeble voice would be lost in the corridors of power and would remain unheard in the buzz of the vehicles but still I would go on raising my little voice till it is not muffled, albeit, by an official order!

Annadale: The Magic still prevails!

Annadale, the bare name of it, opens up so many memories of a place that we would gaze at, longingly, during our childhood days. It seemed like a ovalish round open space the kind of which we had not seen anywhere in Shimla! The Sun rays falling on the ground made it shine like a jewel amidst the green dense deodars that surrounded it. The magic of Annadale held a great charm for us, the children, in the Nineteen  sixties as this was a place to be admired from afar but to be visited barely once or twice in a year!

My earliest memories of Annadale bring forth the grand spectacle of Dussehra, an annual feature, eagerly awaited by young and old residents of Shimla! My father would hold our small hands in his stout and big hands and my sister and I would tumble down  the great descent to Annadale. The descent was much easier for us as we wouldn’t like to waste any time on the passage. We wanted to have more and more time to have fun in the ground! In fact this was the day when our enthusiasm would culminate in a much happening event. As we would watch the raising of the Ravana, Kumbhkarna, and the Meghnath effifies from the very day when huge  bamboo structures would be given some shape for the upcoming effigies. And as the Annadale ground was clearly visible from the window of our class, in the  then Lady Irwin School. The school was housed in the hotel Dalziel building and its windows opened to the great valley down where Annadale shone like a jewel!

Our enthusiasm would reach its pinnacle on Dussehra day and we would happily stroll around various stalls selling toys and eatables and waiting for the evening when the local Ramlila inaction would culminate in Rama personate  killing the Ravana with an arrow! And then the effigies would be burnt! What a spectacle it would be. When my father would make all efforts to hold us strongly, I would with full might dislodge my hand from his hold and rush to get a piece of falling bamboos that made Ravana! As girls in school believed that keeping a semi burnt piece of bamboo, used in the making of Ravana effigy, would bless us with intelligence. And who didn’t want intelligence and that too if available in such an easy manner. In fact it was the hidden agenda that I had, in my mind, all the while when we went to Dussehra at Annadale! Though I was careful never to get a piece of bamboo used in the making of Kumbhkarna effigy! 🙂

Another memory pertaining to Annadale ground is regarding the annual Sports Meet of our school that was held in the Annadale ground. This would also be a great day, eagerly awaited as sometimes, if we would be lucky, we would watch from close proximity Army Helicopters that took off and landed in the Annadale ground. Once the Headmistress of our school Mrs. I. Goswami talked to some Army personnel and he was kind enough to allow all the girls go up and have a look at the interior of the Helicopter. We all were much impressed with the influence and skills of Mrs Goswami and looking back I remember with gratitude that it was my first chance to have peeped inside a “flying object”!

Such is the magic of the world Annadale for all those Shimlates who grew up while the town still loved the legacy of the Raj on one hand and looked for indigenous development of free India on the other hand.

I fully support Save Annadale Drive launched by DYFI! As it is my childhood dream that I am trying to save! The dream about a place which still had fruit trees, flower plants and even some birds and animals that loved those dense deodars!