When I think of Shimla, I recall images of white mist, rugged mountains and dark woods that only a child’s mind can see so vividly. At an adolescent age, I conjured up further images of dark, mysterious scenery. My time spent here were nothing less than a visceral amalgamation of childhood memories. Shimla is my retreat to a wonderful world of remembrance.
In retrospect, I remember my annual visits to Shimla with watery eyes and a heavy heart. The visit to my late Grandmother (Nani) house at the Corstorphan Estate was an annual pilgrim trip. It was something I looked for every Summer. The location of my Granny house was special. Perched on the steep upper embankment of Lakkar Bazar, we were at the heart of the town.
The beautiful Forest Hikes around the vicinity were something we relished. The highest point of Shimla, The Jakhu Temple was just a few kilometers further our place. The beautiful winding roads around the Jakhu ridge are the best day hikes Shimla has to offer.
On the auspicious day of ‘MahaShivratri’, I retraced this beautiful Forest hike. My Cousin Brother accompanied me. The plan was to take the famous 10 kilometers ‘Upper Forest Road’ loop. This road gets more interesting as you move away from the famous ‘Shimla Ridge’.
Avoiding the tourist hustle, we took a drop till Nav-Bahar Chowk near St. Bede’s College. Fighting the gastronomical urge of “thou shall not binge on any street food”( in lieu of Shivratri fasting), I nonchalantly ignored the temptation of the famous ‘Golgappe walla‘ nearby.
The narrow road from Nav Bahar ascends to Jakhu Ridge from its backside. We walked along the motorable road, passing by a series of picturesque villas. Some of them renovated, rebuilt from scratch.
One of the private Mansion has a beautiful Sun facing Garden. I could only imagine how wonderful it would be to live a quiet life enjoying a morning tea, reading a newspaper. And then, my bubble of wonderment broke by a passing car honking like a maniac. “There are no manners among men in the hills anymore”, I smirked with an advertent thought.
The road now forked with the Upper Forest Road coming all the way from The Shimla Mall. Keeping to our right side of the road we reached Indus Hospital. For a hospital, it was surprisingly pretty. No frills or ghastly cloned modernisation. The fiery red brick exteriors blended beautifully with the landscape. There was a pin drop silence. Where else can you find a hospital with such setting? Brilliant!
Taking a short cut, we reconnected with the road. Along the way, we saw another Bungalow. The gate had the name of Brigadier Mahindra Singh. The old Mansion has minimal renovation. Everything in this property has elements of classic residential mansions Shimla is famous for.
I particularly like the view of the famous Churdhar Peak looming in the background. Another gem of a residential Bungalow. Charming indeed.
We made way towards the unchartered territory. Leaving the main road, we opted for a jungle trail taking a true right. This felt more like hiking. We climb up the path and less than a few yards from civilization, turn and disappear into the woods only to sink down into the fragrant grass in a silent release.
Entering the Monkey trail, I looked for an imaginary sign board, “Welcome to the world of Monkeys”. Because that was exactly where we were. Some monkeys swayed on the trees nearby. A few sat there under thick clumps of leaves to stay dry from the drizzle.
We walked past them unperturbed. One of the lively troublemakers was not pleased seeing us trespass his territory. He rushed forward with his primordial swagger. I told my brother to not exude a reaction as I lowered my Camera lens. To our relief, the alpha male let us pass by. We escaped the hostility of the notorious Shimla Monkeys this time.
In all this commotion, we overlooked an abandoned property. An alone Chinar Tree gave a surreal perspective to the desolate Mansion. Could this be one of the many old Mansions of Violet Hill of Jakhu Ridge built by late Mr. W. S. Halsey?
We did a careful inspection of the property. The rustic edifice was in shamble. Smashed window panes, worn out wall paint, broken wood flooring embellishments rotting away. A forgotten beauty lost in slow decay.
The front facing green grounds is a reminder of the space where Mr. Halsey laboriously worked in setting his botanical garden. Viola (Violet) being the prime flower of his interest. And so the surrounding hill was also known as Violet Hill. Now we know the adjourning area as Jakhu Hill.
And then I saw a Satellite T.V Dish on top of its roof. There is definitely someone living here, illegally? Fancy that!
Leaving the anonymous resident bugger we climbed the last section of the ridge. And wolla, we were at the premises of Jakhu Temple.
The whole landscaping of Jakhu Temple has been redone. It now has a nice garden with a lush green grass. The Temple complex has received a makeover. I remember the old landscaping of the temple area back in the late 1990’s. I can only imagine what late Rudyard Kipling may fathom this reality. The man who got his inspiration to write the inevitable “The Jungle Book” from his frequent visits to the hilltop.
A final look at a 108 feet monolithic statue of Hanuman, the Monkey God. And I had seen enough. Surrounded by tall Deodar Trees, the statue makes no sense. They might as well call this the new Scandal Point of Shimla. I hear the authorities are building a timber trail ropeway station to the Hill Top. Bummer.
With no intention of seeing the urban makeover of my beloved Jakhu, I asked my brother to take a hasty retreat. Maybe, there are more reminiscent memorabilia of Shimla I once knew still standing?
To be continued: Shimla Chronicles, a visit to the forgotten Corstorphan Estate.