Himachal Pradesh Stories and Tips

Day 5: Shimla: The Quieter Side

Annadale Photo, Shimla, India

We wake up in the morning and Tarun orders a cup of tea from Room Service. The waiter who brings it is the same one who took our order for breakfast yesterday. He’s at his dimwitted best again today. All the other waiters, when they bring tea or coffee, bring a pot of grain sugar. This guy’s brought cubes. No problem, really—except that he could’ve been a bit more generous: the pot has three tiny cubes of sugar in it. That’s it.

"The teapot usually has two cups of tea in it," Tarun explains to the waiter patiently. "If I’m to have two cups of tea, I’d like some more sugar." My husband likes his tea sweet. The waiter looks at him blankly. "I have brought you sugar," he replies. "See. Three cubes."

At this point, Tarun realises that trying to get this man to understand will be a task beyond Tarun’s faculties at present. Tarun thanks him and lets him go, then tells me that if this guy ever went to a superhero convention, he’d be Moronic Man or Captain Cretin.

After breakfast, we ask the receptionist for directions to the Viceregal Lodge. We’re told that today’s a local holiday in Shimla, so the Viceregal Lodge, the Himachal State Museum and just about every other sight will be closed. This is a major blow for us: it means we’re effectively left with one entire day wasted, and worst of all, we’re going to be leaving Shimla tomorrow morning. I’d really wanted to see the Viceregal Lodge and the Himachal Museum, so this is a bit of a tragedy for me.

For lack of anything better to do, we decide to drive down to Annadale and the Glen, both of which lie downhill from the Vidhan Sabha. It’s a lovely drive—all oak, rhododendron and deodar trees—and even though we don’t find the Glen (a popular picnic spot, according to our guide book), we do fall in love with Annadale. It’s Army-run, with a golf course, pretty old cottages, and the Army Heritage Museum.

The museum’s no great shakes, but it’s quiet and neat, very militarily well-maintained. The Cactus House next door is delightful, with a fine collection of cacti and succulents, some of them in flower. We sit for a while on one of the benches overlooking the golf course, and feast our eyes on the surroundings. The green lies in a shallow bowl, the cottages all along the rim surrounded by crisscrossing paved paths and colourful flowerbeds. It’s delicious!

After Annadale, we head back up towards Peterhoff, then (on a whim) decide to check out the Himachal Pradesh University, which is supposed to be home to an old mansion called Manorville where Mahatma Gandhi once stayed. We ask directions from a local fruit seller, and though we don’t find Manorville, we end up at the Himalayan Bird Park. A misnomer, really, since it’s actually a very modest aviary—but it has some spectacular monal pheasants, silver pheasants and kaleej pheasants: exquisite.

Opposite the Bird Park is the Indian Institute of Advance Study, which is housed in the Viceregal Lodge. Not very hopeful, we ask the guard if it’s open today. "Yes," he says. "But you better hurry up; they close for lunch at 1." The institute lies 400 m steeply uphill, and it’s already 12.40. Panting and puffing, we manage to make our way up and arrive just in time to buy entry tickets for the last batch of visitors to be allowed in before lunch. The Viceregal Lodge is very impressive, the sprawling gardens outside equally so. We spend a good hour or so just wandering around, drinking in the majesty of it all (along with bottles of lychee juice from the Horticultural Produce Marketing Corporation stall tucked discreetly away behind a high hedge). Eventually, at around 2, we head back to Peterhoff for lunch.

At 4, we set off and labour up the impossibly steep shortcut from Peterhoff to the Himachal Pradesh State Museum. This is where our luck finally runs out; the place is closed. We go back dejectedly to the hotel, where the mayor of Shimla is being interviewed on the front lawns, so we can’t take any photographs of the view from the hotel.

At about 7.30, finally sick of the hopeless food we’ve been getting at the Peterhoff, we take ourselves off to the Oberoi Cecil for a fancy meal. It comes for a fancy price too, but as we get into the car, replete and feeling very smug, we agree that it’s worth it.

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