‘Gora’ Sahab’s life in these hills

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Photo courtesy internet

Just because Shimla was entirely built by the British and many Brits lived here even after the Indian Independence, people have an impression that Shimla is known for celebrating Christmas and New Year. It is right up to some extent but not completely. In the olden days, perhaps till the turn of nineteenth century, during the Raj the hills remained crowded with the European families for nearly six months of the year, April till September. There was no electricity in the hills and also the facilities were limited. Before 1903 when Shimla got connected by railways to the plains, people faced many problems during winters so, here came September and the British gentry started moving to the plains.

After the railways in 1903, the European population of Shimla increased drastically. People started living here for longer and some even stayed round the year. It earned a reputation as “A Resort for Spoilt Rich’. During the winter months, the first problem was how to warm up the houses and the best way was, firewood. Chimneys were an essential part of any building. Without Chimneys the houses were not approved by the government. Every house had at least one of two Chimneys and more if it was possible. People had to start collecting firewood from the forest. Since the land was granted to the outsiders on a condition that they would not chop tree so the firewood was obtained from the fallen trees.

Before the electricity was introduced in Shimla, people, at night, depended upon the oil lamps. Kerosene oil was brought from outside on mules and bullock carts and a limited amount of that was supplied to the residents of the station. Electricity was introduced in Shimla on 15th July 1913 and was produced by damming a river Nauty to the north face of Mashobra. In those days the ravine was accessible only through nearly a fifteen kilometres long of wooded slope.

When they travelled to the hills they also brought their cattle with them. During the winter the temperature dropped in minus and was difficult for the cattle to bear. The only dairy farm of Shimla was located in Tara Devi, five kilometres on Kalka Shimla road. The dairy was originally started in 1880 by Mr. Horace B. Goad to supply milk and cream to the viceroy. Later the site was given to a Shimla based dairy produce seller Mr. Kaventer. He brought nearly 200 Brittany cows and supplied milk, cream and butter to the town. An idea was to cross the imported cattle with the hill cows but unfortunately the imported cows suffered a disease and all of them died. Presently the site is owned by Himachal Road Transport Corporation and the cows have been removed by the busses.

The story of Belssington proves that people stayed in Shimla during winter months. In 1928 Mr. Blessington, who lived in Blessington court in Lakkar Bazaar gifted Shimla an Ice Skating Rink. One morning when came out to play tennis, he slipped and suffered a minor injury in his foot. The dew had frozen to frost. The following evening, he sprinkled some water on the ground and waited for the morning. By the morning water had frozen to ice. Now he managed to encourage people to come and try the bladed boots on ice. The Ice Skating Rink of Shimla is a club now and is the only natural skating rink in Asia.

The other problem faced by the British community in Shimla was the transport. In general people used mules and horses to commute to the town but within the town it was difficult to use the pony rides. Jinny Rickshaws were the most interesting and suitable way of transport in Shimla. Although it was a luxury to keep a rickshaw as four bearers were required to ply it. Only rich could afford it and so it was also the most expensive mode of transport.

The British looked after Shimla very well and every individual took is as a duty to maintain the decorum in town. They carved this town out of nothing and developed it as per their needs. They brought up a resort for them and used it as a capital town, the Summer Capital of British India. They took such good care of Shimla that they didn’t allow more than 150 people at the Ridge as the weight was a threat to the water tank underneath. But today no one cares for these rules. Here comes some political rally and the ridge is thronged by the party supporters. The area becomes an open air theatre and the leaders address the public from the pedestal above Mahatma Gandhi’s statue.

After the independence Shimla remained to serve as a resort for rich Indians. The tourism business flourished only for two summer months, May and June, of a year and some came in the end of December to celebrate Christmas and New Year. For rest of the time Shimla was meant only for the locals.  The hotels hardly did any business. With time the town has improved and the development is trying to move it on her own paces. Christmas and New Year is still celebrated in a big way but the quality of the visitors has its own variety. The definition ‘A Resort for the Spoilt Rich’ has become ‘A Spoilt rich for the Resort’.

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