Being born, brought up, and educated in Simla, as it was called then, had to be a rare privilege.
“Simla was the summer capital of the British Raj”, says Raaja Bhasin.
It was a spectacular town, built with British thoroughness. They had transplanted a little bit of Blighty onto a Himalayan Hill Top. The residential Bungalows were exact replicas of what they had back home. Buildings for the Viceroy, Commander-in-Chief, the Secretariat, the Governor’s residence were some of the most grandiose buildings in the Empire.
The administration of the town was also very British. No spitting! The fine was Rs. 25.00! That was a labourer’s monthly wage in those days. There were public toilets conveniently situated along the roads from the outskirts of the town to Mall Road.
Simla was neat, clean and functioned perfectly. Never a shortage of water or electricity.
And of course, that specialty exclusive to the Himalaya, the Deodar tree, Cedrus Deodara. The Whispering Deodar of this tree had medicinal properties.
I have two deodars in my garden in Chandigarh. With the slightest breeze, the pine needles whistle exactly as they did in Simla. They also gave me a bag full of cones. The cones are great to start a barbeque. The aroma wafts for kilometres!
We drove up to Simla for the summer in the month of March which is also when the schools opened. The car would be garaged till we were ready to go down to the plains for the winters.
After that, the only mode of transport was on foot! We had horses which my parents would ride and the children, my two sisters, and myself rode in a rickshaw.
I did all my discovering of Simla and the surrounding area on foot. As I grew older and could ride a horse alone, the excursions got longer and more daring.
The horses from the farm would also move up for the summer. I took advantage of this and would ride a horse from Kalka to our house in Sanjauli.
From Sanjauli it was a beautiful ride to Wild Flower Hall, Lord Kitchener’s residence, and onto Kufri. I loved that area. I have pushed a bike up to Kufri so that I could roll down the 10 kilometres at high speed!
One time I walked up to Kufri and came down on roller skates! I held a long strong bamboo pole in between my legs to use as a brake!
The area around Simla was unspoiled, sparsely populated, and excruciatingly beautiful.
I got to know it like the smile on my Mother’s face!
After college, I worked in Delhi. Any opportunity I got I was back in Simla to show off the magnificence of the mighty Himalaya and the beauty of my hometown to my friends from Delhi. Enclosed is a photograph when I took my friend Jack, who worked at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi. Beings a Canadian he missed the snow. I took him up to Kufri to make him feel at home. As you can see we are bundled up against the cold. Do not miss the milestone. Kufri 0! And Jack was only 192 miles from Tibet!
Recently, I came across another photograph, taken at almost the same spot, actually one mile apart.
It is summertime the convertible top of the car is down, as is the windscreen. Great feeling! That wind in the hair feeling.
The car is a pre-war Singer I know it well having driven it often. It belonged to H.H. Sunny, the Maharaja of Jind. On weekends I was his A.D.C. and ran an errand for His Highness. It was one of the best-made British cars at that time.
Here it is in another Avatar. At the wheel is Lord Mountbatten and a lady in the front passenger seat.
Our future Prime minister, Mr. Jawahar Lal Nehru is in the rear seat. It is an educated guess that lady Edwina is in the back seat also. A good move. Cars in those days did not have heaters!
These photographs are taken about twenty-five years apart and they do tell a tale.
How things have changed! Himachal, who inherited this Paradise, have systematically destroyed the town and the surrounding hills. Today it is the world’s highest traffic jam. The Township parking lots were designed to accommodate 2.500 vehicles, today it has around 1.2 Lakh vehicles registered in Simla town.
No planned expansion of the town, no rules or regulation which has resulted in concrete buildings dotting the countryside and ruining the environment.
They call it progress.