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Friday, 3 October 2014

Of Mountains and Chai

Shimla is in the state of Himachal Pradesh - Himachal literally means "in the lap of the Himalayas" (Wiki source) and Pradesh means state. Himachal Pradesh is itself a world away from Delhi - less crowded, different looking people, and - of course - sitting in the foothills of the Himalayas, it is naturally beautiful.
One of the hills crowning Shimla
The refreshing feeling we experienced upon arriving in Shimla from Delhi nearly negated the culture shock of days earlier upon landing in Delhi from Toronto.

Hanga and I left behind the suffocating big city and emerged from our overnight bus to a pristine otherworld, perched atop forested hills overlooking the faraway valley shrouded in mist. Seeing Shimla before my eyes was surreal, like a living paradise one dreams about or sees in movies, like Avatar.

I took a deep breath of fresh air, marveled at both nature's gift and human's ability to build on even the remotest of hillsides, and then got down to business finding our host.

As I've come to learn in my short time in India, reliable information is nearly impossible to come by. And particularly when it comes to getting around. The best thing to do is ask around, yet information given by locals still somehow is unreliable and needs double- and triple-checking.

In this way, we have somehow managed to navigate this untamed country. And occasionally make unexpected friends along our journey as well. Such as Mukta and Sameera.
Hanga and I barged into Mukta and Sameera's home - and we all became friends!
Hanga and I barged into a home, thinking it was a commercial lodge from the outside, looking for help. Upon being greeted by Mukta and her daughter Sameera, we were embarrassed to discover it was a private home. However, we were overwhelmed by their instant kindness – they offered us to take a break and have some tea.

Mukta and Sameera are both open minded individuals, having previously lived a life of travel around India, since Mukta’s husband used to be an army officer. Our conversations were fun, passionate and stimulating.

Subsequently, they invited us back for tea again later that day and, then the day after, offered an invitation for dinner, which Hanga and I gladly accepted. Sameera’s mutton curry was absolutely delicious (and a rare meal with meat so far this trip). After just a few days, and over many cups of tea, we became fast friends.
Amrit and Auntie, our generous hosts in Shila
We received a similarly warm experience with our actual hosts in Shimla. Here was another India-esque experience, as a previous potential Couchsurfing host in Delhi recommended to meet his brother in Shimla, who worked at a charity tour agency called Wahoe. The office had beds in the back but they were full, so Amrit, one of Wahoe’s employees, offered us his hospitality.

Amrit and his parents were very lovely people, inhabiting a humble and bright home in the Upper Mall of Shimla. Amrit's mom made us parantha (deep fried pancakes, yum) for breakfast and a curry for dinner.
Large statue overlooking Shimla, Jakhoo Temple
Aside from connecting with our amazing hosts, we checked out the Jakhoo Temple site at the very top of Shimla, inhabited by territorial monkeys who will steal from your hands, pockets, and backpacks if given the chance.

We also stopped by the apple festival, where we tried apple sorbet and apple ice cream.

Shimla was a special experience. And there was a cherry on top of it all to make it even sweeter - my grandma grew up here. This fact hovered above me in the mist, 
Near where my grandma grew up - Main Square in Upper Mall, Shimla
Flickr link:

PS. coming soon - photo blog of our 3-day trek to Malana, a remote village in Himachal Pradesh.

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