Whilst working in India as part of the LRTT project (read more about this here), we were fortunate enough to enjoy a long bank holiday weekend away from the city heat in the beautiful hill station, Shimla. Early on Saturday morning, we headed north on the winding journey up to the Himalayas. Head of the former British Colony in India and the location of the Channel 4 drama, Indian Summers (despite the fact that it isn’t actually located here), Shimla is nestled amongst the beautiful rolling hills of northern India.
We stayed in the beautiful Woodsmoke Resort and Spa, easily the best place we stayed over our time in India and possibly the comfiest bed on the whole continent. Rooms were beautifully decorated with stunning views of the tree covered valleys below. When we arrived, despite having a lot of altitude sickness and an awful headache, the wonderful Sinead, Charlotte, Jess and Rachel were able to coax me away from our swanky room to enjoy a walk through the valleys. Despite the initial hesitation and the presence of a troop of monkeys, we soon ascended into the hills. In comparison to the India that we had become accustomed to Shimla was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air. The climate was much cooler than the rest of India (sometimes we actually felt cold here!) and the landscape was a palette of green hues.
After a peaceful nights sleep, I had shaken off the headache and some of the altitude sickness so I was ready to visit the town and do some shopping. However before we arrived we took a detour to visit Jakhoo Monkey Temple. I didn’t particularly think I was scared of monkeys yet when I arrived at the temple, I quickly realised that I was very, very afraid of the scarf stealing primates who loitered too close for my liking! I didn’t quite make it past the little beasts and into the temple and instead clung to other fearful tourists in what was one of the scariest hours of my 24 years on this planet… I’m not dramatic, honestly!
After making a rapid descent from the Monkey Temple we visited the centre of Shimla. From the main road, we took the lift up to the cobbled streets. Lined with small outlets selling detailed scarves, brightly coloured clothing and embroided bags, we haggled our way through the bustling streets in order to fill our rucksacks with souvenirs for friends and family. We continued exploring, via a few too many flights of stairs, and discovered a lovely library, church and a spot for coffee. We also discovered stalls selling freshly peeled fruit, a rarity in India and an unexpected treat for us.
Post shopping, we made the very winding and slightly daunting journey up to Kali Ka Tibba with the aim of seeing the sunset. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and the clouds descended upon us first. As I know very little about religions other than my own, when the darkness began to fall and I heard continuous chimes, I wasn’t aware of what was about to commence. Intrigued, I followed the sound and arrived at the front of the temple where the sunset ceremony was about to begin. I hung back, not wanting to intrude on something sacred, but I felt honoured and humbled when the Pujari invited some of us into the temple to be a part of their ceremony. As visitors we were handed roses as a welcome and invited to share in their blessings. Even now, 8 months later, the feeling of peacefulness, acceptance and joy that I felt after the ceremony returns when I remember the evening.
The next day was India’s Independence Day (from Great Britain) and we anxiously attended the Independence Day parade in Shimla. Despite the parade being a celebration of India’s independence from the UK, as westerners we were given preferential treatment and seated at the front of the ceremony, before the local people. This left many of us feeling uneasy but as we often discovered in India, the Indian people are extremely hospitable and we had to be cautious not to offend them by turning down their offers of hospitality. Acts included dancing, singing and marching by a variety of people, from schools to the army. Fortunately, I befriended a lovely local lady called Bhishma and her daughter who was able to sit with us. She explained a lot of the acts to us and spoke with such love and kindness that I will never forget.
After the celebration we returned back to Rajpura, rejuvenated and ready to prepare for our conference the next day. Even after our later journeys, Shimla remains one of my favourite places in India. I would love to return to some part of the Himalayas someday but until then I’ll keep dreaming of the peace I found up in those hills…