March 22-23, 2009
From McLeod Ganj we continued to Shimla, another town that Pnina visited on her last trip to India.
Here’s an anecdote that illustrates just how tough and stubborn Pnina can be. When she arrived last time, late at night, she was immediately hassled by a bunch of locals telling her where to go to find a hotel. She didn’t want any help, so in defiance she decided to just not get a hotel. What does that mean? It means she went homeless for the night – she found some shelter in a building that was under construction and she went to sleep there. When it became too cold to sleep, she got up and did some aerobics in place, and then tried to sleep again.
With that kind of experience, it’s amazing that Pnina wanted to return to Shimla, but in fact it was totally her idea – she remembered that Shimla was kind of a nice place.
What makes Shimla nice (and I hope nobody takes this the wrong way) is that the town was set up by the British (Shimla served as a summer-home for the viceroy who governed India, a getaway from the heat in Delhi). As a result, it has some things we westerners love – relative cleanliness, trees, wide pedestrian roads, etc. We didn’t see a lot of western tourists there, but we saw a ton of Indian tourists – apparently they too find it to be a nice vacation spot.
(The Mall – the main street in Shimla)
(A well-preserved old building that is now a pricey heritage hotel)
(A not-so-well-preserved building)
Pnina and I checked into the YMCA, located behind the big yellow Christ Church. Our Lonely Planet raved about this place, but we thought it was kind of a dud – another situation where places previously recommended by LP go bad. What really annoyed us about the YMCA is that they charged for services that are normally free in other hotels, e.g. watching your bags for a few hours after you check out. Long story short, we don’t recommend it.
(The dining room at the YMCA was like a green house; it was the one really cool feature)
East of town there’s a Hindu Temple located on top of a big hill – Jakhu Hill. It’s a steep climb, which makes it a good way to warm up in the cool temperatures of the early morning. At the bottom of the hill we found a sign challenging people to test their fitness by checking how long it takes to climb up to the temple – exactly the kind of dare that Pnina and I go for. I’m happy to report that, by this measure, we rate as “absolutely fit” 🙂 Anyhow, Jakhu Temple is dedicated to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, and that’s appropriate because the temple is inundated with monkeys. It’s arguable that they are the main attraction, really.
(A local guy asked Pnina if he could get a photo of her with his baby, who was probably 1-2 years old. So interesting! I can’t imagine an American doing that – we’re far too protective and polite)
(The temple complex at the top of the hill)
(Monkey drinking from a faucet)
(You have to take your shoes off before entering the temple, but you need to be careful where you leave them!)
Pnina and I were sitting on a bench, relaxing, when this Indian guy stopped by to chat. He asked if we’re from Israel, which was surprising because most Indians refuse to believe that we’re Israeli – apparently we just don’t look Israeli enough anymore. Anyhow, we said yes, and he introduced himself as “Sason”, which by coincidence is the Hebrew word that means “joy”. He said that he does yoga/massage/meditation/horoscopes, and he has a lot of Israeli people come to study with him. He then proceeded to tell us what he knew about Israel, which was quite a lot – he quickly rattled off about 40 towns, 20 singers, and all kinds of cultural tid-bits. He knew stuff I didn’t know. Then, uninvited, he started doing horoscope stuff on Pnina. Some of it was spot-on and kind of amazing, like when he said “I see that you have low blood pressure and that your hands and feet are always cold”. But then some of it was way off, like when he said Pnina likes to sleep on her side and that her father is a harsh person 🙂 Anyhow, Pnina and I are not spiritual people so we didn’t go for it, and after some time he left.
(Pnina and Sason)
West of town, you can visit the building that was once the residence of the British viceroy. Today it houses the Institute of Advanced Studies, which is a center for post-doc research in various social studies. The building is significant because it hosted some of the first meetings where the British administrators and Indian representatives (e.g. Gandhi, Nehru, etc.) discussed the forthcoming independence.
A butterfly on grapes in a market stand.