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From my Shimla Diary- Another leaf

It’s time to move on….and I name it ‘Another leaf’. I call it so, because it’s the nth leaf of the innumerable profound memories created in the past one year. Dedicated to this Dev Bhoomi (Divine abode) where serenity and splendour go hand in hand…the beautiful orange radiance of the rising sun, and the mystical alpenglow of the evening with the silhouette of the mountains make an amazing backdrop resulting in a heavenly experience every day; this blog marks an end of our stay in this heaven. Promising that my other penned memories of this charming hill station will keep making their appearance every now and then.

What is in it that makes this halt so cherishing? Like every other move, this time too I feel nostalgic. The nomadic life beckons once again…the nuances of marrying a man in olive but always looking forward to new horizons with hope and optimism. Having spent, one full annual cycle here, it’s difficult for me to fathom which time of the year was the best here. Every season offered its shade of uniqueness. The simple people, architecturally picturesque heritage monuments, the colourful local bazaars, the delicious traditional food and flavourful wines, everyone afoot, the long walks through the verdant tracks, beautiful bungalows with low trellises draped in ivy…all compounding to a memorable experience and a perfect retreat from a bustling city life.

Our exciting Sunday drives to nearby panoramic locations will always be remembered with fondness…Naldhera our favourite…the beauty of its lush and immaculately pruned Golf Course, actually stole our heart. The unblemished beauty of Mashobra, Fagu, Theog and the fascinating green alpine landscape of Narkanda…the Skiing and Winter sports destination, with the Hatu Mata temple sitting atop the highest Hatu peak of Shimla district makes for a paradise on earth. The enthralling apple orchards sprawling on the mountain slopes during August-October offer an exhilarating experience and a perfect rapturous mood…all documented chronologically with my camera preserving those smiles and times for reminding us later of our good days spent in the pristine surroundings .The thought of the flavour and aroma of mouthwatering local cuisine especially Siddu and Dham, so fresh in my memory (courtesy Khadu Cafe, Thanedar) still tantalise my taste buds.

As I mentioned in earlier blogs also, a walker’s paradise-Shimla, its early morning and evening walks, come what may, formed part of our regular regimen…a time for soaking in fresh air and to build a reserve of unadulterated oxygen in our lungs… those familiar smiling faces, those curves and turns of the meandering roads, those beautiful houses with their very English names, the sun rays penetrating through the tall cedar and oak trees with familiar sounds of chirping birds tempting us to cover 10-15 kms every day…made for our lifetime’s memory. The town moved by the hooter slicing the quietness of the air at 10am and in the evening at 5pm signalling the begin and end of office working hours, a practice existing since the British rule…now an elemental part of everyone’s routine…the evening siren a reminder of our tea-time…those little things make a bigger difference…and add up to greater memories.

The last few days before we move from any place are always hectic…when we really want to touch all those places once again where we have enjoyed the most. Bidding adieu to friends is always high on agenda and to balance them with official commitments, farewell dinners, dining out and above all packing…calls for real time management. Simultaneously, you want to be a part of every activity happening in the station…here, it was the coffee at the Honey Hut for a final goodbye to a friend, lunch and dinner with different groups at Amateur Dramatics Club– part of the famous Gaiety Theatre, the long pending Breakfast buffet at The Cecil to relish the authentic charm and grandeur of this heritage building, and yes, the unavoidable exciting nature walk conducted by a friend, made for a befitting farewell from this Queen of hills. The running around to Lakkar bazar and state emporiums for impulsive shopping of souvenirs, wines and colourful caps and stoles, was also packed in the schedule. This is how multitasking becomes our way of life gradually.

The sun facing bright southern side with the colourfully stacked matchbox look houses making the front facade of this magnificent town, and the clear vision of the coral tinted Monkey God, standing erect on Jakhoo hill, makes for a good reference point to spot any place in this area. Just below this, the Christ Church the most sought after place for capturing magical moments in the same frame makes a complete spectacular portrait . This picture post card view of Shimla will always remain etched in my memory and while driving away from Shimla, this spectacle is clearly seen for kilometers till Kandaghat, which slowly fades away, reminding us of the heart-robbing town snugged in Himalayas which was once our home. The thought of friends, memories, routines, favourite haunts, favourite smell and all the little things with a more poignant feeling keep recoiling back like a boomerang exerting a gravitational pull and a yearning to go back. There’s something we have left behind…our footprints and a chunk of our heart…and have taken with us those countless happy moments to cherish for lifetime.

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The Chemistry Of Emotions…

Chemistry….a word that reminds me of the days when learning of the Periodic Table was like climbing the Mount Everest…balancing of equations gave sleepless nights…yet, it all seemed so intriguing . The presence of Hydrogen and Oxygen being the elements in the elixir of life…the water we drink, sounded unbelievable, presence of acids (which we knew were only corrosive)in some of our favourite foods made no sense…still, the bonding with atoms, ions and molecules came so naturally to me. However, Chemistry is not everyone’s cup of tea, a general notion because some find it complicated while some hate this subject for its complex structures and chemical names. Phew!!! for them, mention of the word ‘Chemistry’ is like some nightmare which brings certain terrible looking symbols and species in mind that interact amongst themselves involving breaking and forming of bonds. Chemistry, in their opinion is good only when it helps them in removing those stubborn stains from their favourite garments or helps clean things with the magical mixture of Vinegar and Baking soda. We can lay off Chemistry from our choice of subjects but we cannot take it out of our system. Chemistry cannot be considered solely a subject or even ignored…it is the basis of our life- which once started with a Big Bang…the beautiful enigmatic life. Some compare life with a roller coaster ride with its twists and crazy loops making the journey both scary and exciting.

What does chemistry between two people mean? The way two individuals look at each other tells us a lot about what they feel about each other. It is an emotional connection and an ability to connect on every possible level which arises if you are understood well, supported and accepted for whatever you are. The neurotransmitters (the invisible messengers inside our body) and hormones (chemicals produced by different glands in our body) totally control us and our emotions…love and jealousy, pleasure or pain, all being a backwash of the various chemical reactions governing us. It is hard to believe, but, the feelings whether romantic or of hatred…all rely on a complicated concoction of chemicals and psychology. At different points of time we all have felt good and bad emotions…which is very normal but being aware of our feelings and controlling our reaction is very vital. Emotions have the tendency to fluctuate through the highs and lows in life, and it is on us how to enhance our own sense of well-being. A proper balance of these chemicals is a prerequisite for maintaining good health to some extent through a balanced diet, limited stress, and exercise.

It’s hard to overlook the time when we had our first brush with hormones…the first crush or the first love…clammy hands, racing heart or fluttering butterflies in stomach and difficulty in focusing…the adrenaline rush on being caught bunking the class for a movie…and how about that twinge of green eyed monster overtaking our senses when some one else took the credit for the long hours of tedious work we did…all these swoony sensations stemming from the chemical warfare that gets triggered when we feel nervous or excited about something. Sounds absurd but we are at the mercy of a cocktail of chemicals like pheromones, dopamine, Serotonin, oxytocin and Endorphins which have the power to dominate us…whether it was entering the transitional stage of Adolescence or embarking on the road to motherhood or hitting the climacteric phase…it was always these possessions which manipulated our behaviour and were responsible in regulating our mood and mood swings. A right balance of these promote positive feelings, happiness and pleasure.

The chemistry of love…not necessarily physical attraction and romance, it could be self love, affection or empathy also…all leading to a beautiful feeling; is actually the interplay of chemicals circulating in our bodies which determine our reaction to various situations. The underlying truth is that we need to remain happy in order to make these chemicals behave. So how do we hack these chemicals- anything that we love doing or something which lightens our mood, can be the right course to tackle our feelings. Happiness is heavily influenced by two factors, our innate temperament which is mainly genetic and our circumstances. If the former is not under our might, then it is imperative that we devise ways and means to attain contentment and bliss by mastering our emotions. The answers to our problems, are also upon us to discover…it is our attitude that seeks solutions…sometimes just basking in the sun or cooking our favourite dish can work wonders in uplifting of mood. Shopping has always helped me come out of a bad day. Sunlight, exercise, laughter, food, music, meditation, pets, sleep, shopping, cooking, gardening – do anything that gives you happiness. Indulge in “me-time”…take out time from the busy schedules and pamper yourself with those soulful songs which are lying somewhere in some corner of your mind or spend time by talking to a friend with whom you always shared those little secrets earlier in life. Learn something new; cheerfully adapt and attune to the changes in your life.

So how do you tackle the chemistry of your emotions? Do share the secrets of your happiness😊

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From my Shimla Diary- The Third leaf (White Shimla)

Days have changed into weeks transforming into months and so have the seasons…it’s almost been a year, since I came to Shimla and each day made me fall in love even more with this charming hill station…which, once started as a small hamlet and gradually flourished into an imperial dream of the British empire in India, continues to be enigmatic with its lofty heritage buildings still adorning this beautiful hill town snugged in the Himalayas. The trees, the birds, the clouds and spending hours looking at the ever-changing sky, makes me feel exalted and newly alive. The irresistible allure of this place taking a new embodiment with the changing seasons(now, winters), fills every moment with hope and optimism.

Poetic misty mornings with dipping mercury everyday, at dawn, these snowy peaks appearing even more mystical in the sun’s orange glow, crisp chilly breeze; would leave anyone wanting to just snuggle into the warm quilt with a hot cup of tea and a book but we love spending time outdoors, breathing in the fresh icy winds which makes the winters here so very special. Inspite of having been posted to other hill stations earlier, the thrill of snow still excites me and can never fade. Recounting my childhood days when we used to anxiously wait for snowfall in Mussoorie, so that we could go there (as distance between Doon and Mussoorie is barely 30km) to enjoy the walk on the slippery snow, shaping snowman or throwing snowballs at each other…reckons some haunting memories of those times. This, winter wonderland too, between December to March is replete with snow covered grandiose Himalayan ranges and the vistas nothing short of the ones in fairy tales. Although Shimla experiences it’s first snowfall around Christmas and we were hopeful of experiencing white Christmas this year also, but instead it happened two days later and my joy knew no bounds. The entire town was draped in an immaculate white blanket which swept away the blues of the entire year bringing back cheer and joy. The tourists thronging the town around Christmas time filled the streets with gaiety and laughter. The Ridge and the Mall is the most frequented place and remains overly crowded with people taking leisurely walks along the bustling promenade. Their colourful jackets, coats, scarves and woollen berets make the white canvas even more vibrant. On a cold winter day, the temptation to sip steaming hot coffee or snacking on hot boiled eggs can certainly be a comforting idea to warm up a bit but taking a dig into the frosty softies(cone ice-creams) at the iconic ice cream parlour, ‘Embassy’ is matchless.

For those who love adventure activities and winter sports,there is no dearth of opportunities in Mashobra, Kufri and Narkanda but their breathtaking and captivating views can be equally enjoyed in other seasons too. A drive to these not so far places, is a great way to explore and soak in the magnificent snow draped surroundings of this hill station. An inhibited view of the sun sinking behind the jagged white ranges forms the most idyllic sight to behold.

The Kalka-Shimla toy train ride is a wonderful experience to undertake in winter months, if not the entire journey, one can revel in a shorter distance to enjoy the bliss of nature. An excerpt from my first leaf of Shimla Diary, dated 20 July, 2020….The road journey to Shimla is as beautiful as the travel by Kalka to Shimla in toy train …the railway line being an engineering marvel and recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Though the gentle paced train journey takes much longer than the other travel means but to experience the breathtaking misty views of the hills through 102 tunnels and lofty arched bridges with the surrounding villages offer an unforgettable panorama. However in winters, the landscape looks totally different and pristine carpeted in snow…with boughs of conifers hanging low under the mass of snow and the rays of the sun breaking the horizon feels like salvation.

The ethereal beauty of Tara Devi( Shogi) temple, during winter months is worth mentioning. Last year in February, we decided to undertake the much famed toy train journey and then follow it up further on foot to the temple. The train, from Shimla station to our destination took us less than an hour, chugging it’s way through small tunnels, across mountains, meandering through pines and deodar forests, maintaining its slow pace, making our joyride an incredible experience. It was a perfect time of the year for a trek to the 250 year old Tara Devi Temple which sits in splendor on Tarav mountain at a height of 7200 feet above sea level. After we got down of the train it took us about 2 1/2 hours to go uphill as two of our members lost their way in the forest and we had to wait for them midway. To add to our adventure came a heavy downpour along with lightening, thunder and hail….we ran to find shelter which we luckily did near the mobile towers installed in a clear area on the mountain. This place offered a wide panoramic view of meadows and thick jungle in the backdrop blending picturesque landscape with incredibly exhilarating experience. Another few minutes of walk to the temple with snow covered terrain and the spectacular view of Shimla from the top and surrounding Himalayan ranges made our trek perfect in every sense.

I feel, nature has endless opportunities for rejuvenation, serenity and wonder….it’s upon us, how we profit from it. Every day is a gift and what we encounter is unique and precious. This one year in Shimla…the volatile year of pandemic, passed by, admiring the beautiful foliage in summers, blossoming trees in springs, ember red leaves of autumn, benefitting from and appreciating the different shades of the magical annual cycle of the ecosystem .

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The Musical Memories….

It’s the final countdown…. (Europe) An indomitable song without which the clock does not strike 12 to usher in the New Year, has played year after year, making the moment exciting and wistful.

Daddy Cool or Ra Ra Rasputin...(Boney M); Voulez Vous or Dancing Queen…(ABBA) are some of the classics which trigger some beautiful memories of those days.

How can I forget the songs of QSQT or MPK…Romeo Juliet redux during our sophomore years…awed by their music, I distinctly remember crooning to these songs with heart rending ecstasy. Every song of those days has a beautiful memory attached to it which will continue to influence us always.

I remember, when I was traveling along the west coast while heading to Bangalore, I started humming some old familiar songs, a number of old songs kept popping up in my mind…it drifted me to the year 2002 when we traversed the same route with our little ones in our small car…a distinct memorable trip. Does it happen to you all too? During that trip we played some songs a number of times in a span of over 2000km while driving on the same route. Yeh lamha filhaal jee lene de…(a song with a deep meaning) or the mischievous Whenever, Wherever (Shakira) played repeatedly. This déjà vu (not in literal sense) feeling has visited me so many times. I get transported back in time, when going through some repeated activity and music connects me to the past. Music has enormous power to evoke memories. It’s a proven fact that when we hear some songs that we love; they prompt nostalgia when certain specific scenarios or important life events reoccur resulting in an influx of certain chemicals in our brain like serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine, making us feel good.

Music plays quite an important role in our life…right from childhood to now music has always been an indispensable ingredient…sometimes as a best pastime and sometimes a medium to relax and unwind. Throughout my life whenever I have been happy, sad, or wanting to just spend time on my own, music has always helped me. There’s always music in the background, whether driving, eating in a restaurant or sitting in a salon getting my hair done…music is all around us. There were times when I used to flinch away by the mere mention of singing aloud in front of others and preferred practicing my vocal expertise in the bathroom or behind closed doors, and now, I enjoy singing those age old songs which had wormed their way into my memory decades before, during every karaoke night…Yeh raatein, yeh mausam, nadi ka kinara…being my favourite, rather our favourite (my husband shares this interest with me). Music has always helped me through various mood swings…it’s been a great healer at times and always been a source of letting loose. Music helps to reflect our moods and emotions. Beginning my day with gentle and soft songs helps me start my day on a happy note.

One of the factors for my liking towards Indian movies rests largely on the melodious songs in them…a major element missing in foreign language movies. Sentimental songs to hip-hop, I relish all…it’s my mood that defines the type of song I want to hear. There have been times when the lyrics have brought tears in my eye and at times they have even made me laugh and dance. Music is universal, I feel…I have loved songs just for their melody sometimes even though I did not understand a word of it…Macarena or Kolaveri di are some of them…which had that stimulating effect, that made people dance to their tune.

The rise of digital music, internet radio and on-demand streaming services,has changed the way we listen to the songs these days. The only means to listen to music, way back when I was a kid, was Radio…Binaca Geet Mala, used to play all Hindi chart busters while limited English songs channel used to play Grammy award winner songs. Songs of Bobby, Kabhie Kabhie or Chura liya hai tumne…from Yaadon ki Baraat still rekindle the most vivid memories of the most impressionable time of my lifetime. Our library of vinyl discs (flat records) of the gramophone in two sizes…EP’s and LP’s are still treasured. Whenever I see them, it makes me miss those times so much. The beautiful jackets of these records with their colourful pictures were my prized possession. Then came the era of audio cassettes and CDs…and then music became so easily accessible. Now listening to music does not involve much exercise…it’s just switching on the Spotify or YouTube to listen to our favourite numbers…I still love listening to those classics which bring back such incredible memories of the best years.

Some Flashes (only happy ones) from the various stages of my life which make me come alive:

During School days…spending time with friends practising Tina Turner’s song, what’s love got to do with it or Stevie Wonder’s, I just called to say, during free classes and recess or swaying to the most romantic numbers like Jimmy Jimmy aaja aaja, or intoxicating songs of Nazia Hassan casting their spell on all teenagers.

Oh! I cannot forget our fondness for the Enigma’s MCMXC A.D…our first album on our newly bought music system.

The songs of DDLJ, Roja or RHTDM capturing our hearts in our early years of marriage and then came the Remix trend…like Roop Tera Mastana or Kanta laga…our time just flew grooving to these tunes with friends when we were posted in a remote place where there was nothing much to do.

The list is endless and so are the reminiscences…music is eternal which connects us to the past. Today what we enjoy….it’s the music which will draw us to this time years later when we sit and recollect these days. Let’s make pleasant memories!

Wishing you a fabulous New Year 2021 !!!

If you also believe in the magic of music….do let me know your favourites.

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Your thoughts are yours….

“All actions result from a thought, so it is the thought that matters”

A profound thought, that often looms in my mind; which time and again has helped me take decisions and makes me feel steadfast and totally accountable for my actions because my thoughts are mine. There are two sides to everything, a proverbial phrase which appears quite simple but with a deep meaning. It is upon us what we perceive….our perception may not be the reality. A glass may be comprehended as half full or half empty, which rhetorically indicates our state of mind. Getting a bit philosophical but that is how life is…we judge the world from our viewpoint. We may not be fully correct but we are not totally wrong in expressing our outlook…people may overlook and not be in agreement to what we see from our vantage point. However, we should learn to respect other people’s thoughts, rather than get hostile and aggressive (something which is quite prevalent on social media).

A simple anecdote that resonates in my mind quite often that gave me a lesson for life, goes back to my first day at school. As I entered the class, a four year old shy, cherub looking girl then, was made to sit with three other children on a round, red table and instructed to write numbers as were being called out. A little anxious because of the new surrounding…forgetting how to write 9, I asked the beautiful, elegant lady (my first class teacher to be, Mrs Jordan) who was observing us all the while, as to how to write the figure . She smiled pointing towards the number charts on the wall and asked me to discover on my own. For me the number 6 was number 9. Though wrong, she hugged me and corrected me. Later, in my life I understood that everyone has his/her line of thought… though they may be wrong but that is how they discern the situation. Accepting other persons vision and later providing a suitable explanation can help in better understanding . Being wrong is not important, but attempting is far more important. Like it is said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

During my teaching years I realised how important it was to understand my students and give credit for their uniqueness by imposing faith on their point of view. It was imperative on my part to realise the individuality and exclusivity of each and every individual in my class. To give my conviction certainty, it was very essential to first understand their social environment intrinsically to build a bond with them. By giving them freedom of thoughts and expression, different viewpoints popped up every time we got stuck…sometimes out of the box too. I feel ingenuity is totally dependent on the originality of ideas. At the same time, paying too much attention to what others say, can sometimes malign our thoughts and manipulate our actions resulting in a concoction of notions leading to a confused state of mind.

Many a times in life it so happens that when we meet a person for the first time, we start forming an image of that person and sometimes might end up in character assassination, without even knowing that person well. If our thoughts have led to a proper conclusion then all goes well but misinterpretation can lead to unnecessarily making things murky. The ability to read others greatly affects how you deal with them. When you understand how another person is feeling, you can adapt your message and communication style to make sure it is received in the best way possible. So, it is very important to remain positive and control our thought process before making a final impression. But your thoughts are yours, no one can change your perception. Your thoughts are also the reflection of your personality, so let not others form an opinion about you from what you reflect. Like it is said, train your mind to see good in everything. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.

Labelling 2020 as the most distressful year, would be unfair…it is because of it, that families came together, if hugging or handshake became taboos so did spitting(for good) in public places; health and hygiene became paramount. Always look at the brighter side of things…without rain, there are no flowers.
My thoughts are mine!!!
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The Festive Razzmatazz…

As I sit to compose my next blog, nothing better crosses my mind than an ode to this delightful month of hope and excitement, which we have celebrated year after year soaked in religious sentiments and emotions…the most auspicious time of the year for starting new ventures, house warmings or weddings. Albeit this year, the spirits are dampened, the enthusiasm seems to have been robbed by the dreadful COVID 19. This, further impels me to go through this period remembering the happy times and the transformation that has taken place in our attitude over the years.

Come October and India is abuzz with activities and excitement. It all starts with the 9 pious days, followed by a series of month long festivities. India being a treasure trove of diverse cultures and religions, the entire year is in fact marked with celebrations and festivals which are celebrated by one and all irrespective of their social or economic status. However, this particular period is like carnival time here, basically commemorating triumph of good over evil. The markets bustling with people thronging to enjoy the shopping extravaganza make the atmosphere vibrant and a memorable experience.

This month is also the transition time in meteorological conditions…winter starts to set in and is the most beautiful time of the year. Actually it marks the pre-winter month, Autumn (fall season) and in India we call it Sharad Ritu (Sharad means Autumn and Ritu, also my name, meaning season). The pure and gentle weather manifests clear skies with countless stars; migrating birds, earthy colors of the surrounding infuse virility and liveliness all around offering the most ideal conditions for sowing seeds for winter flowers; pansies, verbenas, phloxes and petunias with dancing marigolds bringing sunshine to the garden. This pleasant season enables people to break free from their humdrum routine and take out time to enjoy.

The concept of rejoicing has undergone a major change in the past few years. There were times when with the onset of this season, major cleaning and painting of houses, shopping of new clothes and items for home, indulging in homemade sweets, buying gifts for friends and families used to kickstart with proper planning and budgeting and for children it meant break from school, time to feast and enjoy. I vividly remember, my parents used to start planning for these days well in advance and I always had my list ready much before time of what all I would love for my doll house which too needed an annual upgradation and beautification and my brothers ready with their list to buy an array of crackers. Every household was illuminated with oil lamps and glittering lights. Soaked in religious fervour and festive spirit for days, people enjoyed fireworks and crackers as they burst into colorful sparks in the dark sky and brought cheer amongst revellers, ignorant of any air or sound pollution. No one ever cared about phenomenons like global warming…life was carefree. Little did people realize that bursting crackers contributed exponentially to the increase in air pollution. Celebration was never considered calamitous though we started hearing of pollution from the 1970s.

As we grew, realization dawned and we started controlling ourselves and brought in certain changes…more than fireworks, lighting up the house and decorating it became more important. The essence of the festive month of catching up with near and dear ones, exchanging gifts has remained intact over the decades. We started enjoying fireworks collectively getting together, organized for all people in the station, which brought down the smoke levels and our conscience did not prick us.

Things have changed, life and situations have changed too…which gradually have brought a major shift in our mindset. Human activities and negligence resulting in environmental degradation has brought in a twist in the traditional fervor. The true spirit and significance of these festivals is losing it’s charm. The main contributory factors being modernization and globalization which have taken over the inculpability linked to the manner in which we celebrated all these festivals. It was more inclusive and even people with limited means enjoyed the festivities. Now people have become more self-focused and are moving away from their tradition and culture. Working couples find this time as an opportunity to unwind, they prefer to go on a vacation during this break rather than go the traditional way. With no dearth for money, new dresses and items for home can be bought at any time of the year. It’s poignant to see the traditional clay diyas (oil lamps) and decoration items losing out to the fancy lights and stuff in the market. The good old ways of festivals and celebrations are far more merrier than the way it is being translated into. We should not let our coming generations, forget the glorious heritage, culture and traditions who treat it like “Sale Months” or “Mega discount” days. Rather it is on us to reflect and recreate that connect with the past and teach them the importance of these festivals so that they learn to rejoice these special days with the family.

This too shall pass…in the process of defeating the virus, we have probably learnt to value the little things and realize the importance of our existence. Let the blooms of this month, the cool breezy winds with nip in the air and its freshness always remind us of the numerous fragrant moments we savored along with our families.

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From my Shimla Diary- The second leaf (Heritage walk 1)

As elucidated in the first leaf of my Shimla diary…this mesmerizing place snugged in the Himalayas, endowed with serenity and austere splendor is embellished with picturesque heritage buildings. Britishers rapt by its mystic beauty and weather, started immigrating here between 1820-30, when it was a cluster of just 50 houses and hence it transmogrified into Britisher’s official summer capital by 1864. The retention of spectacular structures erected during the colonial era with their Anglo-Saxon names add to Shimla’s old world charm and sets it apart from any other place. To experience the grandeur of old buildings and the aura of this place best is to explore it on foot.

The quaint architecture of Shimla is typical British Colonial architecture i.e resembling with the architecture of their ‘mother country’. Renaissance Influenced styles and Neo Gothic architecture is seen in the heritage structures here with elements like steep-sloping roofs, pointed arches, front facing gables with decorative incised trim and fancy carvings, porches with posts or columns and huge fire places.

The Numero Uno walk of 3.5 km one way, starts from the Ridge, the hub of all cultural activities, to Viceregal lodge or the Indian Institute of Advanced Study located on the Observatory hill. Popular as the No.1 Heritage Zone, this walk is a veritable parade of various landmark historical buildings of the city.

Interestingly beneath the vast open space of the Ridge lies the city’s lifeline…large water reservoir of 1880’s vintage. It’s huge capacity of 1000000 gallons of water, makes it the main source of water supply to Shimla town. With Jakhoo hill on the east and Scandal point on the west, this place is a major crowd puller where you can sit for hours as it offers marvelous specter of sunset and sunrise and the panoramic scenic beauty of the mountains and the trees. The Shimla ridge marks the watershed of rivers Ganga and Indus. Rainwater and melted snow from the eastern side makes its way into the Bay of Bengal and from the western side ends up in the Arabian Sea…a fact that I came to know from a friend who’s been here for long.

Christ Church with its light yellow facade ideally situated on one end of the Ridge was built by British in 1857. Its neo-gothic style of architecture with stained glass windows represents hope,faith, patience, fortitude, humility and charity. It is the second oldest church in Northern India. With the church in the backdrop, makes for a perfect stage setting for honeymooners and pre-wedding shoots, at the most photographed spot in Shimla. As we walk down the ridge the famous Gaiety Theatre falls on the left which shares the wall with the ADC( amateur dramatics club). Together they formed the erstwhile Town Hall complex designed by the renowned English architect Henry Irwin. With the stunning architecture it is a visual treat, especially in the evening, when it is aesthetically illuminated. It opened doors to public in 1887 to accommodate more than 300 people. Originally built a five storied building, it had to be renovated and top portion of the building demolished due to some inherent defects of weak rocks used in construction. Various components of this complex are the art gallery, amphitheater, multipurpose hall and exhibition hall with the footprints of some famous luminaries like Rudyard Kipling, Baden Powell and who’s who of Hindi Cine world, who have performed here long ago.

Next on our walking route is the infamously famous Scandal Point where the Mall road joins the Ridge . With many tantalizing stories doing the round, one legend which is most popular is of the clandestine affair between the Viceroy’s daughter and the Maharaja of Patiala. Both eloped from this point way back in 1892. However the authenticity of this mystery could not be proved.

The confluence of the Mall road and Ridge has a number of buildings standing tall wrapped in their olden glory. The prominent red and white timber framed structure of the General Post Office of vintage 1882, is an eclectic mix of different styled British era buildings in Shimla. The red bricked telegraph office building, where a telephone exchange was first set to establish contact with England in 1930 is now occupied by BSNL. It is known for its Scottish architecture and earthquake proof structure built in 1992. It happens to be one of the oldest automated telephone exchanges in the world, with a capacity for handling 2000 lines.

Among the heritage buildings here, the glimpse of towering Grand hotel which was the first hotel to be built in Shimla in 1892 by the confectioner of the Viceroy , the magnificent Kalibari temple of Goddess kali or Shyamala which is dated back to 1845 and the SBI building of 1903 heritage, which originally housed imperial bank are not to be missed.

The red turreted Railway Board building with the fire resistant cast iron and steel structure of vintage 1896 is a predominant feature, which speaks volumes of Victorian’s pride.

The impressive Gorton castle( named after its first occupant) now HP’s Accountant General’s office with its red towers and lime set stone structure built between 1901-04 gives a fairyland castle look. The building was designed by one of the best British architects of that time, Sir Swinton Jacob who earned fame for his masterpieces like Albert Hall (Jaipur), Lalgarh Palace (Bikaner), St. Stephen’s College (Delhi) etc. From its vantage point it can be seen from various locations in Shimla.

The beautiful glance of the valley on the right with the tall cedar and oak trees abounding the slopes leading into a gorge with a circular lush green patch like an oasis of natural splendor looks enthralling from the height. It is popularly called as the Annandale golf course derived from Anna( young belle) and dale (valley) came into existence in 1830 for holding public events.

The Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly or Vidhan Sabha is housed in what’s known as The Council Chamber. One of the last important buildings constructed by the British in 1925 on this road. This building stands at the same spot where Major Kennedy, the discoverer and the founder of Shimla, built the first house.

The view of the charming mansion Knockdrin with lush green well manicured lawns leaves one spell bound. Erstwhile known as ‘Will Hall’ was constructed and occupied by General Buttler in 1862. However, it is now with the army and cannot be frequented by everyone.

The Tendril Cottage of the famed Rudyard Kipling which later on grew into the famous Cecil Oberoi hotel was established in 1884 by the British that was later purchased by one of its employees who came up through the ranks, Mohan Singh Oberoi transforming it into a five star hotel. One can definitely take a break here for a cup of coffee to experience its authentic charm which lies in its magnificent atrium, wooden floors , period furniture and crackling fire fireplaces adding grandeur to this place.

Walking on the winding roads with the overpowering structures on the sides reflecting elegance and grace of the colonial British architecture makes one lose track of time. The tall imposing TV tower becomes more pronounced as we approach the Chaura Maidan area, perched on a hill top as a distinctive marque.

Nestled on the Inveram hill, enjoying the quietness and stillness is the State Museum housed in a original Victorian mansion house, which has a collection of art works, sculptures,coins and handicrafts of the state. It was formerly the appointment house of Military Secretary to the Viceroy.

The architecturally impressive edifice Viceregal Lodge (pre independence) or the Rashtrapati Nivas (post independence) and now the Indian Institute of Advanced Study(IIAS) was originally built for the Viceroy of India Lord Dufferin between 1884-88. Many historic decisions have been taken in this Indo-Gothic style building during the Indian independence movement. The Shimla Conference and Shimla cabinet mission were held here in 1945. The decision to carve out Pakistan and East Pakistan from India was also taken here in 1947. Post independence it served as a summer retreat for the President of India. In 1965 it was handed over to education ministry, by Dr S.Radhakrishnan and thus started as IIAS. A perfect location for history lovers displays some of the most ancient articles and rare photographs of the British era. Surrounded by immaculately trimmed botanical garden with colorful roses and sweet smelling pines offers magnificent views of the mountains across.

The first walk ends here leaving us spellbound with the picture perfect memories for lifetime and a trail of emotions in the heart full of admiration for the ones who carried loads on their back, worked endless hours in the harsh weather, paved roads through the gigantic mountains, contoured stones, lime and mortar creating amaranthine marvels…I often wonder, how it was all accomplished with meagre resources, challenging terrain and lesser advanced engineering technology.

Still basking in the glory of its rich historical past…generations have lapsed but these structures facing the moods and colors of nature, have withstood the test of time.

Writing this piece has been really gripping and exciting…talking to old timers, reading various literatures on Shimla, observing the structures and then taking this tour innumerable times…all summed up into this revelation .

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Well begun…is half done

It begins with the morning sun

A firm believer of this mantra, which I have been following for ages now. The first move or step is very important to accomplish targets in life. Correspondingly, it very well implies to our everyday life too. It is very important to begin your day on a happy note. Enjoying the beautiful Mother Nature, watching the sun slowly rising in the east or listening to the birds beckoning the break of dawn, or, may be , sharing a good strong cuppa with your husband…could be a great start to your day. By including some form of physical exercise and meditation in our morning extravagance can certainly add some healthy years to our life. Anything which calms or cheers you is always the right melody to begin your day with. So…how do I begin my day?

Well for me , morning time is the most vital part of the day…where life gradually regains itself…when at the cockcrow, tapping the alarm off, still in groggy state, is an arduous task…to remove the covers and emerge out of the warm, comfy bed…pulling the curtains to let in the first flush of the morning; the view of sun rays peeping out of the clouds in the horizon, breaking the darkness catches the eye. The sound of chirping birds and distant vehicles invoking the senses to get back to normal. The nature may continue to follow the rhythm of spring and fall but something which remains constant in my life are the morning hours dedicated to self care in the form of physical exercise. An early riser always, has probably helped me continue this routine with aplomb all along the way. I remember how our teachers drilled into us….”early to bed, early to rise…makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”, and our parents ensured that we followed it wholeheartedly. Being in a profession where getting up early was mandatory; this routine carried on for quite a number of years. Now it was my turn to teach my students the importance of getting up early. Although in this period when I was an educator, indulging in physical activity in the morning was not possible but I ensured that I did it in the evening, no matter how tired I was…but kickstarting my day to make it productive with something that pleased me a lot was always my priority. A few sets of Surya Namaskar ( a form of yoga) and a warm glass of honey lemon vitalized my faculties to commence my day activities. In the evening, it used to be an hour of good exercise in the gym, although taking out time, with the whole family to look after and also to attend to the studies of my kids, was not easy, but nothing is impossible…another belief grilled in our minds. Now for some years, ever since I gave up my job, my mornings are not hustle and hurry anymore.

Still my day starts at the break of dawn, but now I spend wee hours doing exercise along with my husband. Believing in the “power of Sisu” (Sisu is a way of life to actively transform the challenges that come our way into opportunities)and being in a place which is a walker’s dream come true, we both love to undertake at-least 10-15 km walk everyday. “A healthy mind dwells in a healthy body”, is what I fully endorse. Morning walks are something we really look forward to. The freshness of the morning helps to cleanse the mind, seeing familiar smiling faces and nature’s bountiful treasures bring a smile which invigorates the mind, body and soul. This is also the time which gives us unhindered time with each other to discuss so many things which otherwise takes a backseat in a day. I remember, somewhere I read that morning nature walks help to secrete Serotonin…a happiness chemical and the mood stabilizer. To keep this regimen always exciting , instead of following the same loop everyday, we often try exploring new areas to keep monotony at bay. Off and on I try to include meditation in my routine…though not more than 10 minutes ever as you have to really train your mind to concentrate but it truly helps to ward off negative thoughts and calms the mind. After a good workout; mild music and a healthy breakfast sets positive ripples for the day. Thereafter I’m able to focus more, feeling enlivened and powerful in body.

When I emphasize on including some form of exercise in our daily lives I am specifically pointing towards women….who regard themselves as super being. With the number of roles she has to play…balancing her career, relationships, home….looking after everyone but ignoring herself sometimes. Today’s woman is not subservient anymore, she can multitask but is a human after all. It is very essential for her to envisage the importance of a healthy routine and pampering herself with self care before she gets into the humdrum of daily chores.

Today’s generation however cringe at the thought of getting up early…for them this early morning act is antithetical . With the changes in lifestyle and eating habits due to unusual work timings, they have become nocturnal beings. However, they should realize that staying active is one of the best ways to keep ourselves healthy. The “feel good sensation” that comes after a physical activity or meditation (of your choice) helps to combat stress, anxiety, depression and anger. Like someone rightly said “Wellness is the complete integration of body, mind, and spirit – the realization that everything we do, think, feel, and believe has an effect on our state of well-being.”

Doing things in moderation has been my key to healthy living…exercise well and eat well has been of paramount importance to us which produces a sense of euphoria and helps the body to feel satisfied. To be honest, controlling appetite by dieting is the most difficult task in the world for me. Though it’s always a delight to watch well sculpted bodies but it is more significant to indulge into that much that you can sustain and savor. Partaking in our favorite morning regime brings about a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. The most vital gospel is to enjoy what you do…an incantation for happiness and wellness.

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Turning 50…

They say celebrating your golden year of existence on this planet is achieving a milestone in your life. Your own contemporaries say…age is just a number…your friends say, you look like your son’s sister. Your younger friends feel you are now middle aged belonging to a different genre and for our elders we are still young. Basically, no one is being truly honest…their perspective is superficial or they simply want to make us cheery. I believe, accomplishing five decades is a triumph and is momentous…a time of celebration and acceptance…a harbinger to set some new goals for future.

I feel every age has its own significance, every year added is a milestone, every phase is a discovery, every number is a breakthrough. Sometimes aspirations riding high on a horseback, sometimes passion running cool on a mobike…always family the priority but friends occupying a special niche in the heart. At the threshold of 50s…I’m forced to think what is it that segregates me from the younger and hails me to the senior tribe. My heart still beats 75 times in a minute, I think my sight is perfect 6/6 still…though I now require an aid for reading, I probably indulge in more physical exercise than I used to earlier…so what is it that I’m losing? On introspection I realized that I am only gaining…a few extra pounds, some scarce silvery streaks….temperature tantrums and mood swings (hormones to be blamed)…a few faints lines of crow’s feet forming, reminder of my incessant smile….all things earned over the years.

The rendezvous with life’s most fascinating period which was not always sunshine and rainbows, involved traveling from black and white to a vibrant era, handwritten letters to iMessages, possessing finite number of dresses to a closet full…waiting for occasions to celebrate to everyday being a celebration, kindle or notepads replacing the story books, online games taking over the outdoor fun, acquiring knowledge from books and manuals to the vast ocean of knowledge just a click away…the change in century made the distance between the other part of the world and stars equally achievable. All fairy tale fantasies becoming more believable but always with a zest for keeping pace with time.

The roller coaster ride so far has been full of thrills, new learnings, achievements, disappointments, attainments along with beautiful people sewn into the fabric of my life…some unforgettable and few a blessing. All stages of life being lived up to well and excited about what the future holds. From a carefree,chirpy toddler to a happy-go-lucky teenager transforming into a composed and confident adult partaking responsibilities as they unfolded slowly, metamorphosed into a caring partner and a doting mother…with years just slipping by, jostling and cruising my way emerging stronger than ever (sounds like an adventure…rightly so, as it’s a journey into unknown). At some point of time, it was not easy to declare my age in front of others (as goes the belief, it’s rude to ask a woman her age) but today I feel proud and do not hesitate…this tectonic shift probably occurs in everyone’s life, when maturity replaces puerility.

In this landmark year…standing at the doorstep, of new milestones to be achieved with promising horizons, it is imperative to reset certain perspectives…enjoy life more and evaluate what is important and what’s not. Change does not come overnight. Till the time, energy and vigor allows…keep rocking and keep proving that age is in the mind only, do not allow it to seize your heart or come in the way of your lifestyle and growth. As rightly said “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

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From my Shimla Diary- The first leaf

(An introduction)

Another fascinating place steeped in beauty and mesmerizing locales, high expansive mountain ranges, lush green vistas of conifers and rhododendrons finds a mention in my blogs not because the mention of Shimla brings forth the reminiscences from the past…but it is the PRESENT….where each day spawns memories for lifetime. The capital of Himachal Pradesh, once, the summer capital of British India, has a very idyllic past…very imperial, which reflects in its classic colonial architecture of the heritage buildings that still adorns the canvas of this town. Not getting into the details of its history and topography…I’ll like to unveil the beauty of this place, as I see it.

The road journey to Shimla is as beautiful as the travel by Kalka to Shimla in toy train …the railway line being an engineering marvel and recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. Though the gentle paced train journey takes much longer than the other travel means but to experience the breathtaking misty views of the hills through 102 tunnels and lofty arched bridges with the surrounding villages offers an unforgettable panorama. However in winters, the landscape looks totally different and pristine carpeted in snow…with boughs of conifers hanging low under the mass of snow and the rays of the sun breaking the horizon feels like salvation.

Shimla has abundant ingredients for a nature enthusiast to feel fulfilled…a place to actually enjoy the outdoors…it’s a walker’s paradise…a base for treks in surrounding hills and excellent for adventure sports too. The thriving flora along the road sides on the slopes growing in wilderness with the diverse colorful, chirping birds and not to miss the arboreal Rhesus Macaques playing havoc everywhere are a common sight. Though initially walking on the roads with inconsistent gradients takes a toll on the legs, and the only means to do daily errands is on foot…but over a period of time one gets habituated. It is a sight to watch the porters carrying heavy loads on their back effortlessly and taking inspiration from them.

This charming town is sprawled over seven hills- Prospect hill, Summer hill, Observatory hill, Inverarm, Bantony, Jakhoo, The Elysium Spur. The beauty of the place takes a different manifestation and look with the varying intensity of light in the day…a perfect similarity with the stage where the interplay of light effects, lasers and fog machines create illusions and make the stage come alive. The fascinating spectacle of drifting clouds engulfing the hills sometimes with one of seven still in bright sunlight accentuates its beauty manifolds.

The ideal location of the graceful Christ Church…like a solitaire well studded in its place, the royal Viceregal Lodge, the majestic Gaiety Theatre, the imposing Gorton Castle, the stately Barnes Court( present day Raj Bhawan)and several heritage buildings reminds us of the lingering strands of Shimla’s glorious past. The most popular socializing hub, the Mall with its famous Scandal point and the Ridge offers the best food walk of the town. The maze-like alleys and stairways of the bustling market cascade steeply down to overly crowded middle and lower bazar.

Being spiritually rich this place offers many religious and sacred places for the god-fearing….with Hanuman( Hindu monkey god) standing tall on Jakhoo, the highest point in this area catches everyone’s eye from all corners of the town.

The magnificent view of the colorful potpourri of chockablock houses with red and green sloping roofs, charming lamp posts, typical handrails along the roads, beautiful cottages and ancient buildings as relics from the past makes this place distinct. With the abundance of fruits and edible flowers in this region, tourists coming here cannot resist myriad of wines, juices, fruit concentrates, cider and love to savor the crispy apple chips with vanilla ice-cream.

There is so much to write about this place that each experience is worth putting down in words…loving every bit of this…the morning walks, treks, drives, all so irresistible and rejuvenating. Nothing less than a heaven….which I call, where the whirling clouds embrace us with love and tranquility where we soak in the beauty of nature, enjoying the present.