25

May2016

Shimla; Journey only strong stomachs can survive

The Viceregal Lodge Photo credit/ Nandit Desai

After 10 days in overly crowded and absurdly congested Mumbai we are now here in Shimla, India, 8,200 feet above the world surrounded by rolling verdant hills forested with vast acres of huge towering cedars framed by the alpine snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas in the distance.

Small villages and stepped layers of farmland are scattered throughout creating as picturesque a scene as you can imagine. Clouds and fog float through the trees and cover the sky with a soft mist, and then as the sun warms the air the world once again opens to awe-inspiring views.

Unfortunately we are here during the rainy season (didn’t quite figure that one out before-hand) so we’ve only had glimpses of the Himalayas but when the view does open up, OMG, it takes your breath away!

Speaking of breath, both Harsha and I are having a terrible time acclimating to the hotel’s elevation. (It was even worse on our excursion to 11,000 feet on Monday to see a mountain top Hindu temple). But here at the hotel, just getting up to open the window I am gasping for air and my chest is heaving. So frustrating. Fortunately relaxing here at the hotel is an incredible experience in  itself and I don’t get out of breath having a martini or getting a massage.

The Oberoi Wildflower Hall

Getting to the hotel can only be described as arduous. A four hour drive up a narrowly defined two lane road with impossible switchbacks is a journey only the strongest stomachs can survive, of which mine barely did. Adding to the unnerving curves the drivers here believe lanes and rules of the road are merely suggestions and not to be taken seriously. The lunacy of the villagers (including children, cattle, and stray dogs) walking calmly along the road (there are no sidewalks or shoulders on the roads to be found) inches away from careening cars do so with impunity. No one flinches (not even the cattle or dogs) except for me including several expletives that hopefully didn’t translate into Hindi. Despite coming to India several times over the past 8 years I doubt I’ll ever get used to it. For now, wherever I go, I can barely look out the window and I bless the Indian drivers we hire to get us around.

So after a dozen moans of “are we there yet” it became crystal clear to me that if this resort destination wasn’t truly worth the trip (this was supposed to be a dream escape for us) I’m fairly certain I would have killed someone. Finally and ecstatically this property was indeed worth the trouble of our excursion. It is elegant and handsome with the exquisite service 5 star hotels in India are known for.

In some ways their solicitous service can be a bit excessive (if one more person says namaste to me or asks me if I need anything I might scream), but having traveled a good deal of the world I mostly revel at the amount of personal care I receive. I’ve never been to another country that has this level of gracious, considerate, and patient concern for your every need. It all feels luxuriously indulgent and I really wouldn’t change it for anything.

Over the weekend the hotel was fairly full with locals traveling here to get away from the heat of the cities below but now it is practically empty so Harsha and I feel like a duke and duchess enjoying our summer escapes to cooler environs.

Stepping back a bit, other than the fact that we are in India, Harsha couldn’t help notice that where we are and the hotel in many ways is strikingly reminiscent of Banff, Whistler, or sigh, even some areas of Seattle! Yikes, we traveled thousands of miles only to come home. Of course this isn’t the Northwest, it is indeed India immersed in a history spanning thousands of years with an overwhelming diverse complex culture along with a globally significant political past.

We also knew it wasn’t the Northwest due to the signs in our room telling us to be careful about leaving windows open to safeguard our belongings from the monkeys, and sure enough, there are monkeys staring at us from the ledge outside our windows!

The road to Shimla

Without question Shimla is a historically fascinating corner of the world. It seems improbable that this obscure, relatively inaccessible and impoverished town played a principal part of India’s complicated process of winning independence from British rule and the partition of Pakistan from India.  The fate of India  in 1945 was proposed here with a series of meetings at the Viceregal lodge built between 1884 and 1888.

Because of the weather in Delhi, several mansions were built for  the British viceroys  in Shimla as their summer homes to escape the heat. The hotel we are staying at was one of those properties but the most meaningful and massively constructed one here was the palatial estate called the Viceregal Lodge (and believe me, it is not by any standard a lodge—that would be calling Superman a Munchkin).

This mesmerizing enormous Scottish Baronial-styled citadel was the location of meetings between Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Ali Mohammed Jinnah and many other prominent British and Indian dignitaries that drafted the final documents forming the future of the country.

Putting the politics aside (which is always good to put aside) Shimla in many ways is part of what some would call the cradle of civilization. Many rivers flow in abundance from the Himalayas down to the valleys below culminating most notably in the Indus and Ganges rivers (the Ganges is called Ganga in Hindi). From Shimla you can almost feel the movement of time and the evolution of human kind crafted by nature’s volatile and capricious impact.

It’s now Thursday morning with nothing planned other than relaxing until we leave on Friday afternoon (already dreading the drive down the same serpentine road that brought us here). We return to Mumbai that evening and then I spend Saturday doing “girl” stuff to get ready for my trip home to Seattle!

  • Written byPaula Begoun

    Paula Begoun nicknamed The Cosmetic Cop and founder of Paula’s Choice skincare. An ardent traveler, with an amazing sense of humour and ability to see beyond the obvious.

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