Dear Diary In Shimla

Shimla (photo Amit Sehrawat )

Dear Diary, I’ve been in Shimla for almost a week now. And what a week it’s been! The magnificent deodars standing tall in the shadows of the mighty snow-capped Himalayas, hillsides dotted with green and red tin roofs, homes with endearing names like The Mythe, Chiselhurst and Alderton – all of it has me under a spell. Add to this the part about the clouds drifting in and out of the windows on a whim, and the magic is complete.

Then there’s also the bit about my arrival to the “queen of hills” coinciding with the onset of monsoons. My visions of sublime rain falling gently on tin roofs while I walk with an umbrella on cobbled lanes have got a serious reality check by the incessant downpour. Clearly, I miscalculated how much it rains here, and just how often!

So, today morning when I saw a clear blue sky, I took it as the sign I had been waiting for to go on a bike ride. With my bike still in transit, I borrowed my very tall neighbour’s rather big bike and oversize helmet. Size didn’t matter, I told myself, padding up the helmet to keep it from slipping off my head. And with the saddle height adjusted to the lowest notch possible, I headed out.

Shimla was new to me, so I decided to stick to the road most travelled. And as I rode past honeymooners posing for selfies, monkeys swinging from big old trees and quaint little shacks selling steaming hot chai – I just knew, I was going to love my two years here.

The route I took, as I later found out, is part of the Shimla heritage trail. The awe-inspiring heritage structures go back to the time when Simla was the summer capital of the erstwhile British Empire. I started from Knockdrin, the Officers Mess (built in 1862), past ‘The Retreat’ (built in 1905), onto the Chaura Maidaan, which had the Cecile Hotel (built in the 1880s) on one side and a beautiful old post office (over a century old) opposite the gates of the former Viceregal Lodge, now known as the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.

I was almost at the massive gates flanked by guards on either sides, when one of them flagged me down. He told me, I couldn’t cycle up to the Institute as there were no written rules pertaining to bicycles. He added that people were either driven up and dropped off or they walked up to the Institute.

This presented a quandary but not one to give up easily, I cajoled the guard to let me ride through after paying the prescribed entry fee for vehicles going up. He seemed relieved to be given a solution till a fresh worry hit him – what would happen to my bike if I were to take it up? He explained that parking was not allowed at the Institute. Quickly thinking on my feet, I assured him that I would cycle up to the building, stop-look-turn and head back, thereby circumventing the whole parking issue. Finally satisfied with the arrangement, the guard filled out the receipt for my entry ticket.

Dear Diary in Shimla

Mission accomplished, I thought, as I started the ride up to IIAS. In no time, the steep incline had me huffing and puffing as I struggled to keep up the momentum. It was a godsend then to spot an empty bench where I stopped to catch my breath. I drank most of the water in my sipper, got my heart rate back to some semblance of normal ticking before getting back on the saddle to continue the climb.

It was at the last bend that the magnificent Scottish structure of the former Viceregal Lodge came into sight. Completed in 1888, it has witnessed some of the most momentous events of Indian history, including the Shimla Conference in 1945. I was sorely tempted to go up closer to soak in its beauty but I couldn’t break my word to the sweet old guard. So, making a mental note to come by again, I cycled down.

The ride back was fun and convinced me that downhill was “my thing”. As I called out a thank you to the guard and sailed out of the gates, suddenly seemingly out of nowhere the wind picked up and the sky started to rapidly turn dark. I realised that I had made the classic rookie mistake in not carrying any rain protection gear, thinking the weather would hold out. Clearly, I had a lot to learn about living in the hills.

In a matter of minutes the rain came pelting down. Left with no option except to keep my head down, I slowly pedalled back home. Soaked to the bone, I was down but definitely not out, choosing instead to see the day as a sign of many more epic memories, albeit always with rain protection gear.

(Note to self: Dear diary thou shalt not take the colour of the sky as a weather prediction.)  

(L) The road less traveled (R) A peek at the Viceregal Lodge

Read more by Rashmi B. Nayar

40 thoughts on “Dear Diary In Shimla”

  1. Loved every word Rashmi…. hat’s off for being able to cycle up …the walk itself is pretty steep.Beautifully written…

    1. Thanks a ton Mona. In hindsight, good thing being new to Shimla I didn’t know exactly what the ride entailed… might have thought twice :))

  2. Loved the read. My uncle was posted in Simla in the 60’s and we spent many summer vacations there. The Mall – for an evening jaunt, Cecil a regal hotel, Green Room….and the Upper and Lower Cart Road…it really was the Queen of the Hills.

    1. Thanks so much Mrs Sidhu. Lucky you to have seen Shimla up close in its heydays. Thankfully the heritage parts have been preserved and give a peek into the bygone era

  3. I could relate to your well written article dear as we spent three years at one of the lodges attached to Indian Institute of Advanced Studies where Dad was a visiting professor.Imagine we would walk up to the Mall almost daily to the famous Bakery to pickup Pastries.Reminded me of good old days !💕

    1. Thank you so much Aunty. I’m so envious of you – the lodges in IIAS are like living in heaven! You would be having beautiful memories of Shimla. I loved going on the Mall for doing my errands – the bakeries and the sweet shops are to die for!

  4. Rashmi thanks for this lovely bike ride down history lane …makes me wish for more hill stations with planning around nature !!! Well articulated and very interesting.

    1. Thanks a ton Kajal. Agree with you, the privilege of living in and around nature is life affirming. I see that sentiment in your paintings <3

  5. A very vivid description.. one could imagine taking the bike ride along with you…
    And the rains in Shimla are heavenly, but with a mind of their own 😁.. ‘Shimla weather’ is a term used to describe weather that is as unpredictable as it can get… 😊

    1. Thanks so much Neha. Coming from a Shimla girl, I take it as a huge compliment 🙂 Truly, I learnt never to be sure of Shimla weather!!

    1. Thanks a ton Reena. Living in Shimla made me realise the difference in the experience of a tourist and a resident.

  6. Awesome going through the article. Have spent some of the best years of my life there and really never ever saw a cyclist. So your story made it so interesting. You really had guts to do that… Uphill or downhill both are difficult. Cheers to you girl.

    1. Thank you so much for the big thumbs up Aunty Lorraine. Love that you enjoyed the sights and sounds of Shimla through a cyclist’s eyes. Really appreciate your feedback on my Dear Diary series… thank you again <3

  7. What a delightful read! You know, i haven’t been to Shimla in 21 years!!! That’s something…living as I do in Chandigarh. Your bike jaunt is inspiring me to soak in the olde world charms of Shimla. Wow! The idea of scuttling into a little coffee shop to take shelter from the sudden rains in a hill station soooooo appeals.

    1. Thanks so much Preeti. You must do Shimla…the old world parts…not the new one. You nailed it, nothing beats the coffee that shelters you from a downpour happening outside…magic of the hills.

  8. Loved it ! The drenched , dripping cyclist must’ve made quite an impact on passers by ! Atta girl , keep at it … the cycling and the writing! U rock both !

    1. Ok I need to say this – you totally made my day/month/year girl <3 Thanks a ton Bandna. Let's do a walk together next time in Kas...I'm thinking Gilbert's.

  9. Shimla is beautiful and the way you described it is so apt
    I too loved the old world charm of the gothic architecture

    1. Thanks so much Priyanka. So glad you got to see that side of Shimla. I’m enjoying the pics of your Himachal trip.

  10. What a storyteller you are…you transported me back to Shimla with your words, so much so that even the noise of Delhi traffic outside my house got blocked out and I could feel the stillness of Shimla

    1. Thanks so much Abhi. This is really high compliment knowing how close Shimla is to your heart and being able to block out the cacophony of Delhi traffic!

  11. Some authors have the gift of transporting you to their experience and living it with them in the most delightful, vivid and vibrant way. You are one of them. A limited edition and a valuable one. Thanks for almost visual treat of taking us with you on your bike to the best heritage sights in Shimla. I still have to get on a real bike 😂. You made me fall in love with Shimla not just the Shimla guy I married 36 years ago. You can never be down or out. Such is your indomitable spirit that also shines out in your writing Rashmi❤️

    1. Thanks so much Sonia for motivating and inspiring me always. I remember the walks we did in Shimla…especially the midnight one!! Always so much fun when you are around <3
      P.S. I love that I could take you along with me on my Shimla ride.

  12. Aapne meri bhi ride karadi Shimla mein 😀
    I can even feel the heart rate uphill, loved the article ❤️

  13. A lovely description of a beautiful place. We were in Jutogh almost 26 years ago and we used to go to Shimla on our ‘Hamara Bajaj’ Reading your article reminded me of so many forgotten things!!Thanks

    1. Thanks so much Amita. I agree Shimla unforgettable. Though I know Jutogh only from the MH visits, I loved the feel of the hill. Loved reading about your Hamara Bajaj memories.. thank you for sharing them

    1. Thanks a ton Dipali…I love that you always pick up on the vibe of old world charm…I remember your comment on Nagar and Wellington 🙂

  14. I stayed at the Cecil Hotel Annexe and later below Chaura Maidan. Done some of my schooling in St Edwards.

    You transported me back to my childhood Ma’am. Reading this article made me want to rewind time.

    Eagerly looking forward to the next article.

    1. Thanks a ton Amol. Shimla’s old world charm has been preserved luckily. You stayed in a beautiful area. There are some amazing walks and trails in and around Chaura Maidaan. The Annexe has a such a grand vibe, though I could only see it from outside as its with Cecil now.

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