SHIMLA – A Rendezvous with a Glorious Past

Shimla is the most charming hill-station located in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Going to Shimla is like traveling back in time; a time when India used to be a British colony. In fact Simla, as it was called back then, was the summer-capital of the British, who were quite obviously not used to the high temperatures that regularly characterize the Indian summers.

Few places bear testimony to India’s colonial past quite like Shimla does; mainly in its colonial-style of  architecture. These ancient buildings are hauntingly beautiful and important heritage structures to be preserved. My favorite was the grand and imposing Viceregal Lodge of course. I was in awe when I saw how beautiful it is and how wonderfully it is still preserved. If I wasn’t for the majority of Indian tourists reminding me where I was, I could have easily led my imagination to believe that I was in Scotland. Gaiety Theatre, Gorton Castle and the Railway Board Building are beautiful too.

The walk starting from the Christ Church to the Viceregal Lodge is long but it provides more mesmerizing sights to behold than a walk on the Mall road which most people opt for.

I was lucky to have done this trek when I traveled to Shimla with my mother earlier this year. The main purpose of undertaking this journey was to visit her late grandfather’s house – the Firgrove cottage. This house still stands after a hundred years.  And, although it is in dire need of a face lift, it’s glorious past and its connection to my family is what made it appear beautiful to me.

It took us over an hour to walk up to Firgrove from the Ridge. The walk was both relaxing (as it was among the unspoiled natural beauty) and full of adventure. Several wild monkeys greeted us on the way. They’re not hostile; they’re curiously attracted to glasses, water bottles and mobile phones. The narrow path leading up to Firgrove was a muddy path overgrown with wild grass and slippery after rainfall. We used our umbrellas as walking sticks.

It took us close to an hour to locate the Firgrove cottage.

But it was well worth the effort.

Hidden among the pine trees & standing tall was a large house with yellow pillars and more windows than I had ever seen on any house; kind of like a Tardis in the time-capsule that Shimla is.

Firgrove stood old and proud just like the hills surrounding it. After all it had played a minor role in India’s freedom movement.

The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi himself stayed at this house once.

At the time the house belonged to Lala Mohanlal, who is my great grandfather.

At first glance it would be hard for anyone to imagine any past glory associated with this house at all. Did Mahatma Gandhi really stay here during his Shimla visits? Was this where he, along with other Indian leaders, took important decisions on India’s freedom movement?

I just had to go inside and find out.

The large space inside was now inhabited by a simple and warm Himachali family. The matriarch of the family not only invited me inside, but also offered me, a complete stranger, kadhi-chawal within minutes of me having entered her house!

Would someone have welcomed me in the same way in the big city that I live in? Probably not.

When my mother and an elderly relative reached the property (it was an arduous uphill climb), they found me busy savoring the most flavorful and delicious homemade rice and kadhi with a generous pouring of pure desi ghee, served in an old-fashioned brass plate.

The three women discussed my great grandfather and his legacy in great detail over cups of tea. The sadness in their conversation over the house now being in a neglected state could not be missed.

I watched them and listened to the intriguing conversation being played out in front of me with great respect and awe.

After about a couple of hours, we thanked the lady of the house for her hospitality and apologised for our intrusion.

Some time that must have been to be alive. When one could meet the men and the women who fought for freedom of our country and was able host them in one’s house!

A building which is over hundred years old where Mahatma Gandhi himself once lived ought to be preserved.

But at least my great grandfather’s bungalow is not a complete ruin and is now a house for this lovely family.

Most buildings stand on concrete, but some are built and sustained on love.

 

 

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