Everybody hates Shimla
The expats and wealthier Indians I talked to were unanimous. From a bewildered “Shimla? Why are you going there? Just on your way to someplace better, right?” to the more succinct “Shimla sucks” it was clear: nobody liked Shimla.
A more nuanced opinion touched India’s omnipresent class divides. “It used to be nice. I think. But now, well, this may sound bad but a lot of working class people go there. It’s kind of a Poor Man’s Mountain Experience.” Ah. I see.
But I also saw a hill station in the lower Himalayan foothills, with slopes still green and trees still proud. The view from my room alone was worth the trip, and the train ride had been both beautiful and…cultural.
I was the only foreigner in the carriage, rattling along in a marvelous sea of inscrutable languages, but the smiles that broke out as the narrow-gauge railroad climbed into the mountains needed no translation. Cell phones were endlessly held in windows to take long videos and countless photos. Green is a compelling color.
Their enjoyment of the natural beauty continued as they munched on the ubiquitous small bags of snacks, all of which were then tossed right out the window into the beauty they’d come to see. I was fascinated. And repelled of course, but the visitor can’t tell anybody what to do. I just wished I spoke their languages so I could ask, in the most polite manner possible, if they saw any conflict between coming to a place for its beauty and then covering it with incompostable garbage.
But well enough, we arrived in Shimla, where yes, construction is sprawling but at least they use color, so the variation of hues frolicked down the slopes in a motionless concrete waterfall. The view was still nice, and I took a deep breath of air that tasted less like smog than I’d had so far in India. Ubiquity breeds blindness, I suppose.
Shimla was in the clouds when we arrived, but the next day showed towns nestled into the swells of the mountains. And above it all, up where the trees still stood, a tangerine statue looked down on the growth and bustle. Walking closer I recognized the charismatic Hanuman, monkey god from the Ramayana. I’ve always liked him. The path to his overlook wound through trees where his smaller simian kin lounged on branches and dashed across sheet metal roofs with a sound like thunder. But I had a job to do.
Back in my hometown, the man who makes the popular Oaklandish shirts asked for photos of me wearing one in exotic locations. I figured a gigantic monkey god might qualify. My selfie skills are pathetic, but I gave it a go. Selfies are big in India (they seem to be the primary occupation of a swath of earnest young men) and seeing me do likewise sparked the Indian love of taking selfies with tourists. My Oakland pride selfie might not work for its maker, but versions of it are going home all over India.
Back in Shimla, in a sheet metal shack where the guy sang Hindi pop songs while cooking my next curry over a propane flame, near my hotel staffed with young men thoroughly stoned on local hash, I decided Shimla’s not so bad. Sure it’s being pulverized by the presence of so many humans, but shit, so is most of the planet. If we’re going to hate everywhere humans ruin, it’s going to be hard to love.
Is that depressing? I don’t know. But I do know I enjoyed Shimla, though I wouldn’t want to live there and one full day was plenty. The next morning I was up early and on my way to the bus for a much more highly regarded destination. Manali was next…
Enjoy Manali brother!!!!!
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We enjoyed Shimla, but that was back in 1981.
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Do you recognize it?
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The first two pics certainly look familiar.
Hanuman wasn’t there yet? Oh man, he was my favorite part! Well, no, that was (as always in India) the smiles and eager camaraderie of the people. I’m guessing that’s nothing new. 🙂
Looks and sounds fascinating. Not ruined – yet.
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wow – I don’t blame you for visiting Shimla. This is the kind of places I love to visit when I travel. Going to where people live the third world lifestyle. It was good you kept on moving using your own thoughts of visiting Shimla. It was great reading from you. Cannot wait for the next one. Take care now.
My apology, but I think I need to address here that the term of “third world” is often seen offensive. There is a better term for it, it’s called developing country.
I am not to blame, some people should remove it from history books and re-write history books. I am afraid both words were found in my history books many years ago “third world” and “developing countries.” Let me put it right – how come parents round the world never came forward and said “listen our children is learning something that is not right” – but nobody saved us. The “third world” and “developing countries” are still being taught in schools today. Who do you blame? – me? I was once a student too. I just cannot help either words, since I did not write them at all. We still use them. Even in the news on television they still read news using “third world.” I believe it takes one person to change something that is not right. If I were you, I would write to all governments in the world and let them know that our children should not be taught “third world” words, instead tell them to teach them “developing countries.” You may be remembered as someone who changed a piece of the world. I am sorry the schools taught me “the offensive word.” I have graduated many years ago, I cannot turn back to do a job. I hope someday someone will notified the world about it. Thank you for bringing it forward.
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Nicely written! Yes pollution is a big issue in India and I’ve even seen people throwing garbage on the street even when a dustbin is around and so true you are that you can not tell people.From my experience I can tell you that the more you go away from the crowdy cities you’ll find way cleaner places even though it is safe to assume that most of the highly educated people live in the cities.
Nicely put.. Shimla is a little unorganized now compared to what it was 10-15 years ago.. I, as a native of shimla feel a little discomfort in saying.. Shimla has lost its charm… The soaring population has made this place a chaotic mess. Glad that you liked Shimla, but mate, we have lots of unexplored places here, something you would cherish if you would visit again.