Sunday, June 8, 2014

Child in the Hills



Maggie and I returned home yesterday after a brief journey in Shimla and nearby places of tourist interest.  A full day has passed after the visit and I am not able to write anything worthwhile about the visit.  It was not at all inspiring in any way.  Except for the mountains and their natural beauty.  But nature alone cannot satisfy any tourist.  The people matter.
Child in Chail
 

And here is one person who caught our interest.  Our driver had stopped the car on the way back from Chail to Shimla in his own village market to talk to his people.  Maggie and I continued to sit in the car.  We saw this little girl sitting all alone on the veranda of a nearly-dilapidated building.  She was eating a tiny piece of watermelon.  Maggie called her and smiled at her.  She didn’t care two hoots for smiles.  In fact, she looked more indifferent than scared.  Maggie went out of the car and approached her.  She asked some questions and eventually managed to extract a smile from the child. 

Hanuman lords over the Mall Road in Shimla
The child remains my metaphor for the whole of Himachal Pradesh I managed to see in two days.  The place extracts much from tourists.  The people don’t give anything  in return except what you pay for.  The mountains give.  The mountains give their natural beauty.  The rest is business.  Religion plays a great role in that business.  Hanuman rules the roost – standing humongous atop a peak, amid the vast jungle.  The entire people of Himachal Pradesh (that I saw) seem to think that tourists are silly devotees. 

Every mountain has a number of temples dedicated to various deities.  Every temple has a priest waiting to force some prasad on you in return for some monetary offering, of course. 

Our driver was like any of those priests.  As we were driving around in Chail he told us that the Kali ka Tibba on a peak was not listed in our package but he could take us there for an additional Rs500.  I told him to skip it since a religious place was not worth that much for me.  Moreover, I was sick of seeing so many religious places already.  Then he stopped the car at a particular bend on the road and said, “Sir, look at that.” 
A view from Kali ka Tibba
See closer shots of that building below
“What’s it?” I asked.  “Kali ka Tibba,” he said.  It looked grand against the shimmering light of the late afternoon sun.  But it didn’t fascinate me enough.  Then I noticed that it was one of the tallest peaks in the area.  The view around from there would be majestic.  I must have said that loud because the driver echoed my thought: “You won’t forget the view from there, sir.”  The distance from the main road to that peak was a mere 8 km.  “Why don’t the tour operators include this place in the itinerary; the place is easily accessible?”  I asked the driver as we were driving down the peak.   “The place is private, you know,” I could easily see that he was bluffing just as he had earlier bluffed about the relative inaccessibility of the place.  “It’s a temple built by our village people and only a few drivers know about the place ...”  I knew he was lying throughout.  I had already noticed the inscriptions on the temple’s walls which said that certain commercial enterprises had erected each part of the temple. 

I decided to cut short my visit to Himachal Pradesh by one day and spend the saved day in Chandigarh, the heat in the plains notwithstanding. 


I hope tomorrow will inspire me better to write about the rest of my visit to Himachal Pradesh.  

Who stays in such a place?
Maybe, a new god is waiting to incarnate to occupy a new temple, a new tourist attraction!
Sankat Mochan
There seems to be a lot of sankat to be relieved all over Himachal Pradesh.  In the picture above you see only a fraction of what you will actually see in the vicinity of any temple in the state.  

17 comments:

  1. Really cool! Great holiday, Sir :)
    Have been planning to visit HP. very much on my list :)

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    1. My age and experiences helped me keep my cool, Anita.

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  2. Sorry you had bad experience in Himachal. Believe me most drivers are from the plains. They understand value of money and try to fleece as much as they can. I tell you my experience. I booked a place with two rooms in Chail. When we reached there, we found we had only one good room and another literally fly infested godown. We later realised, some people had arrived before us, lured the manager with big money and taken our room. We were helpless because owner who booked the place for us was sitting in Faridabad, Haryana. We had no place to go, one elederly person and two kids. So we had to grin and bear it. Hope it cheers you up. Happy roasting in Chandigarh.

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    1. I'm not complaining as much as expressing my anguish about how hill stations are becoming just like the plains. 4 years ago we (my wife and I) spent about a week in Gangtok and Darjeeling and the experience was pleasant and cherishable. Shimla offered a stark contrast. You're right: most drivers, tour operators and almost all the hoteliers are plains people.

      I had booked a deluxe room through cleartrip's website. The deluxe room that we were given left much to be desired. My complaints brought the owner of the hotel who agreed to change the linen in the room. Brand new sheets were spread on the beds. But the condition of the room didn't impress me at all.

      Having travelled much, I have come to the conclusion that the entire country (perhaps, the world) is undergoing a transformation. Everyone, irrespective of whether one is from the hills or the plains, is becoming merely money-minded. Deception is accepted as part of normal life.

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  3. Better to visit south indian tourist places as they have breathtaking natural beauty and greenary.. North hill stations are no more fascinating given the crowd in this season and commercialization :(

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    1. We wanted to keep it a short visit, just a 3 day-affair. Shimla happened to be a choice. Just 8 hours journey from Delhi.

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  4. Me and my husband had been to Manali in January.. Snow capped mountains were breathtaking but there was nothing much to offer apart from temples... being a south Indian, having traveled so many miles, may be I was expecting more. Temples represent Indian culture but may be we all have got bored of visiting them during a leisure holiday. Talk about south India there are beautiful hill stations and beaches and trust me, thousands of temples and some more. And the sad part is, people only loot us in temples. We even faced this in manali. Finally, time to say "Oh god!!"

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    1. Natural beauty is splendid in the Himachal mountains. Commercialisation has crossed the lines of basic human decency, that's the problem. As you observed, even temples are business enterprises. In Shimla, opposite to the Sankat Mochan temple they have constructed a cave - a pretty long one with wonderful lighting - and installed a deity with a priest who shamelessly points at the plate for monetary offering when devotees go near the deity. I wonder why they can't be more imaginative and make the cave cater to other interests.

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  5. Thanks that you shared your experiences. That is helpful. You are very correct with your realization that only nature gives without any expectation of return. Everyone else does. Hope your future experiences are not as bad as this :-).

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    1. I'm always prepared for both the best and the worst, Jayantha. Rather, I don't go with much expectation. I have learnt to accept the given reality. It helps much.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences...I've visited HP about 6 years back ...it was a 16 day tour....things were much better then..

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    1. 6 years is a long period in today's world, Maniparna. 6 years from now people will be holding pistols on your face in tourist places, I foresee.

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  7. Although I'm a Hindu, I don't like to go to religious places due to greedy priests.

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    1. They reduce themselves to the status of beggars, in fact. It's a disgrace in a place where people should feel sanctity. I think these priests indicate the severity of the problem of unemployment.

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  8. I really wish to visit shimla mainly because of its colonial culture that still lingers in shades and of course after reading such an interesting post about the city!

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    1. I'm glad to have motivated you. thanks for the appreciation.

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  9. Nice to meet you all. Thanks for sharing this with us! Well my friend really wished to visit this Shimla in the next month. So I really thank to you for this valuable sharing. It will help us to go Shimla and make our trip more interesting. Even though I had booked Resort in Chail. Shimla here I Come!

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