What is it about the hills that makes people calmer, more peaceful, relaxed and , if I may use term loosely, more spiritual? Is it just the weather? Somehow I’m disinclined to believe that.. winters, or even the monsoons in the hills are not conducive to a good temperament. Yet the hills have traditionally been known to be the abode of saints and spiritual seekers. Though that may be a thing of the past, genuine spiritual quest being a rarity these days, but people heading to the hills either to lead a life of solitary seclusion or just as a weekend getaway is fairly common. Think Khushwant Singh and Ruskin Bond and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Born and brought up in Shimla, hills are nothing new to me. Life in the hills, whatever idyllic scenes Bollywood may conjure up, is not an easy one. Not only are certain daily need essentials difficult and far away to procure, avenues for entertainment are limited as well. Everyday living, especially when you are battling inclement weather, can be quite an adventure or be quite tiresome depending on how you take it. As if that is not enough the onslaught of tourists isn’t very convenient for the local population. Great business yes but convenience, no.
My parent’s house is located on the outskirts of Shimla where my brother runs a home stay (Aapo Aap Shimla). With its picturesque location offering a 360 view of the mountains it attracts not tourists but “travellers”. For a long time this distinction seemed just semantics to me. But having interacted closely with the guests who come, I’m beginning to more fully understand and appreciate the difference. A “tourist” starts out with a set agenda- there is a goal to be achieved at the end of the tour- site seeing, shopping, eating out etc etc. When in Shimla, a daily visit to the Mall road and going to Kufri, Jakhoo Temple are a must as are picnics on the road side and creating a ruckus on the Scandal Point or your place of stay. This is what a weekend or week long getaway means to most people.
The travellers on the other hand are a different category altogether. Arriving mostly with a map and Lonely Planet in hand they enjoy being left to themselves. There have been guests, who in their stay of a month or so, have never as much as expressed a desire to visit the Mall Road except to procure daily essentials. They read, they explore the area by foot, they just sit and watch- they truly travel and learn. Is this what “travelling to learn”, that we read about so often, mean ? Probably. For they know more about Shimla than I do.
For me the charm of Shimla today is not simply meeting with family and friends but rediscovering the place with the eyes of a traveller. Often I walk around aimlessly and all by myself…far from the madding crowd. I go with my son to discover new and unknown picnic spots. I just sit in the lawn and watch the grass grow or the snow fall. And I read. That is another thing that the hills strangely encourage people to do – read. With the global attention span deficit, it’s not a surprise that people don’t read anymore, not much anyways. Seeing the mushroom growth of authors and publishers and with an average book costing less than a standard lipstick, the quality of writing remains anyone’s guess. What keeps me engrossed is not the latest best sellers but old classics. I do pick up the former too, though only to thrash them, but it’s the classics all the way for me. And reading on Kindle or similar apps does not qualify as reading to me. There is something to be said for the smell of an old rusty Jane Austen or how a Hardy’s yellow pages feel to the hands. A cup of coffee, a chair overlooking the deodar clad mountain side, your favourite book in hand and the scene is set for an amazing afternoon.
Yes there is something about the hills that beckons me…the peace, the quiet, the call of nature..call it what you will.Would I like to settle down in the hills? Maybe at some distant date and time. For now I’m more than happy with my travelling relationship with them.