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 .