Shimla’s Walking Culture: Is this the Beginning of the End?

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

There is a joy in walking that is incomparable to any other form of transportation. People of Shimla will know what I, and Friedrich Nietzsche above, am talking about because Shimla is the town of walkers.

Several roads leading to The Mall are restricted to vehicular traffic and this has created Shimla’s strong walking culture. Some tourists too come to enjoy serene walks in and around Shimla but it’s the locals who uphold the walking culture.

The benefits of walking are quite clearly visible in the form of smartly dressed senior citizens, with a cane in one hand, out on their daily evening walk. The secret of their straight backs and brisk pace is the walking culture of Shimla. They have probably walked daily for most of their lives. And it shows.

As good as walking is for health, not everybody can walk such long distances everyday. So the Himachal Roadways Transport Corporation (HRTC) started an admirable scheme to help those who can’t walk such long distances.

The HRTC Taxi Service runs from various neighborhoods of Shimla, connecting people to The Mall. It was a commendable initiative by the government with the aim of helping senior citizens, handicapped persons, patients and children.

But good intentions don’t always lead to good results. The Taxi Service has become a common mode of transportation for the able bodied locals because it is cheap and much less tiring than walking.

HRTC made some clear rules about this taxi service as is clear in the tender notice shown below.

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But since the service is not run directly by HRTC and instead outsourced to local taxi owners, the rules are not followed to any reasonable degree.

Instead of seating only 9 people, the stated capacity of the vehicles, the taxi operators try to stuff in as many passengers as they can to earn more money per trip.

The traffic police have begun fining overloaded taxis, but still the taxi drivers try to get away with it as often as they can.

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As seen above, the tender notice clearly states that physical handicapped, senior citizens, patients and children below the age of 10 will be allowed into the taxi first. If any seats are left, able bodied citizens can also board. The responsibility to make sure that this rule is followed is of the taxi operators. Sadly in practice the scene is completely opposite.

At various boarding places, people wait impatiently for the taxis. No decency of forming a line is observed by anyone. When the taxi comes, everyone rushes in even before the passengers get down. For a few moments civilization is suspended and people return to the jungle raj where might is right. So if you have the strength to push and shove your way in, you can find a seat.

No consideration is given to the elderly or children.

The driver either can’t or doesn’t want to do anything. At most some drivers reserve the front two seats for senior citizens.

There have even been cases where people have gotten injured while trying to get into the taxi.

I personally witnessed an old man, probably a patient, get knocked down near IGMC while trying to get on the taxi for Sanjauli. He hit his head and started bleeding. Meanwhile the college students who had pushed him, sat inside trying to avoid everyone’s gaze. People tried to scold them but they pretended as if they couldn’t hear and soon the taxi was off.

I can understand middle aged men and women trying to avoid walking.
But strong and healthy young boys and girls, students of different colleges, are the ones that seem to use these taxis the most. It is a shame that the young generation of Shimla doesn’t appreciate the walking culture and its benefits.

But what is worse is that if you are strong and healthy it is just immoral to use a taxi service that was started for helping the weak and old. Especially if you fight them off to get into the taxi.

We love talking about how corrupt our politicians are and how the government never does anything.

And now that the government has done something good, it’s us, the citizens, who are abusing the service.

We love pointing fingers at others. We say that the government should make sure that the taxi operators enforce the rules properly. But we don’t want to recognize our own responsibilities. The government can only do so much. If we don’t do our fundamental duties as citizens, no government can save India.

So if you are fit and strong and young, you should never wait in line to get into a taxi. Walk because you can and others can’t. The biggest beneficiary of your generosity will be you yourself. Do it for your own health. Do it to keep Shimla’s walking culture alive.

If you still want to use the taxi at least allow elders and children to board first. Don’t push and shove and stop others from doing the same. It is shameful if you think you can’t walk a few kilometers but it is completely unacceptable if you push others who are weaker than you to get into a taxi.

I’ve seen many septuagenarians still preferring to walk while teenage boys and girls prefer to wait for the taxi.

And I wonder if these kids will even be able to stand when they are in their 70s.

I’ll leave you with another quote to inspire you to walk.

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride’, Pleasure said;
‘Walk’, Joy replied.” – W.H. Davies

Aditya Thakur is an ex marine engineer who quit his sailing career to pursue his dreams of being a writer. Now he freelances, blogs and writes short stories all day long.

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7 Comments

  • Thanks for writing this Aditya. As I walked from the mall to Summerhill today, there was so much traffic on the sealed road that makes walking a dangerous activity…the fumes from the cars and the noisy horns further diminish the experience….is there a way out of this madness? Can a PIL be raised to get these roads back for the walkers?

    • Let’s get the conversation started and hopefully some solutions will start to emerge. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  • Thank god for writing about this issue. Every time I cross the Chalet Day School, a huge crowd is always visible and as soon as the taxi arrives this crowd changes into some mad barbarians, fighting madly to enter the taxi.
    I often ask my mother to go by a local bus instead of getting trampled by the mad crowd.
    Either the able bodied people should not be allowed or there should be another taxi for them, only then we’ll see some decency. Change will certainly happen but it is a slow process.

    • I don’t think more taxis are a solution. More taxis will lead to more lines and more fights. Not to mention more pollution. We need to encourage walking. And maybe even cycling?

  • Hi KZ, as Aditya wrote, its the private operators that try to max out the sardines in the can. The drivers can easily monitor who gets in, however they may have to take some heat from the excluded… In January the cops had cracked down, so they were taking the required 9 from Telegraph office. However they would stuff more folks in soon after they reached beyond Vidhan Sabha. Yesterday it was mostly school kids and middle aged ladies taking the 4 pm shuttle.

    Its very seductive and hugely convenient to get the privilege to be dropped off to Telegraph office…previously the domain of a few. If they could issue a pass to the aged and the handicapped, it would be a way forward to allow priority boarding…however is that again overtly bureaucratic ?

    Frankly there is such a huge demand that this laudable attempt is being smothered by the sheer crush of the populace..

    Aditya, maybe the walking culture emerged as there was no option…my granddad used to walk 20 km round trip to his office from a village beyond ghanhatti… I guess if there was a bus he would have taken it !! We could hold a memorial service for the ” walking culture” of Shimla and give it a fitting cremation and sendoff..!

  • Hi Aditya thanks for putting it in words. I witnessed the same scene near church last year. I had a little fight with few youngsters, they were not letting an older lady in. I even exchanged few arguments with the Driver and as a result I was able to get a seat for the lady.

  • I concur with viveik that walking culture emerged as a compulsion and it is dying fast. Even in villages, the old village ways have been converted to roads and motorbikes and cars are used for commuting short distances. You can see almost every temple in HP which were earlier visited by foot have been connected to roads. In my home district Mandi, attempts have been made to connect far flung Kamrunag temple by road. Another famous shrine of Shikari Devi is already connected by a shoddy road which cuts through sanctury area.

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