Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Long weekend in Shimla.

Late Friday evening, I headed northwards towards the mountains with eleven other interns. Since we had so many people, we rented a small private bus that took us around town during our stay, and booked a decent deal in a comfortable hotel, all for less than $60 for travel and board (after two weeks, I am still in shock at the obscenely favorable exchange rate).

Located at 7000 feet on the edge of a mountainside, Shimla is one of the premier hill stations at the base of the Himalayas, and is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh (India has 28 states). Naturally, my visions of the place involved wide open spaces, sweeping views, and enough greenery to cure me of Delhi’s urban congestion.

In reality, Shimla promptly reminded me that the population of India makes it difficult to find quiet anywhere, and that the country’s exploding taste for tourism reaches even into the Himalayas, which once were so shrouded in mystique. I shouldn’t complain about the tourism industry itself, as I so clearly contribute and it gives employment to millions of Indians; but it was disheartening to see all the environmental degradation wrought upon a town whose infrastructure is not equipped to support all these millions of visitors.

Putting aside my distaste for the place, I focused my energies on enjoying the company of my new friends and stuffing my stomach with the nonstop supply of fantastic food.

Saturday: Arrival in Shimla early in the morning.

A lunchtime meal of channa masala (chickpeas), butter roti (whole wheat tortilla), and puri (thin dough that is fried until puffed). It was also at this meal that I began my fast obsession with masala tea, also known as chai. Simply, it is black tea boiled in milk with sugar and an assortment of spices, most commonly ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon.

Pony-riding in a (poor excuse for a) state park. I swore afterward never to take advantage of those poor animals again. They were unresponsive, overworked, and stood around unfed in their own feces. I enjoyed the photo-ops with my friends, but I couldn’t help feeling guilty. Same with the obligatory yak photos.

We came to the Mall for dinner, which is the outside shopping strip in the central, most trafficked part of Shimla.

Dinner of mutton seekh kebab (tender ground mutton in a thick sauce), rasjmash (kidney beans in a parsley-based sauce), and cheese naan (bread baked in a tandoor and stuffed with paneer cheese). After masala tea, sweet lassi is now my second drink of choice. It’s a palate cleanser after a heavy meal and so refreshing.

We ended the day with good ol’ wine and beer at the hotel, and piled on the bed to watch movies until bedtime.

Sunday: I woke up slightly ill today. My entire body felt tingly like I had a cold, and I was terrified that I was feeling the first effects of flu. I knew I was not myself, because my appetite plummeted and I just wanted to crawl into bed all day.

After spending the morning getting a tour of the academic center of Shimla (which looked like a scene directly out of Harry Potter), our driver dropped us back off at the Mall for the rest of the day.

The Mall felt strange because it did not feel like India at all. All the architecture was British, and there were even Indian men walking around with tweed and caps and walking canes. Even more curious was this catholic church placed prominently in the center of the strip. It was obvious that this was an artifact from British colonial times and merely an attraction today, with few serious worshippers. They even required removing the shoes, which is usually a Hindu practice.

A snack of samosa (potatoes, peas, and a mixture of dry spices, wrapped in flaky dough and fried).

Afterwards, some quality dessert time.

Came back to the hotel at 8pm, still feeling sick, and went to sleep for the next twelve hours.

Monday: In retrospect, I probably had some mild food poisoning the day before. I woke up a hundred percent better.

And just as well. First thing in the morning, we started at the base of a hill, and walked for 30 minutes up a strenuously steep climb to Shimla’s highest point to see the town’s most famous temple. The Jakhu temple was established as a shrine to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman. And rightly so. We encountered hundreds of monkeys, probably out of thousands that roam the area. We carried sticks with us to ward off the more aggressive ones, but we re-emerged from feeding time without incident.

Five of us shared dishes for lunch, at yet another hole-in-the-wall establishment: channa masala, dhal makhani (lentils in gravy), paneer in tomato-based sauce, chicken curry, and chapati (crispy baked flatbread).

Then, the 9-hour drive home.

Shimla itself was just alright, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with these new people, and having some of the most amazing, endorphin-inducing, moan-eliciting meals I’ve had in a long time.

More pictures here.

And thanks to my good ol’ job for giving me all this time to blog. I haven’t done any work for the past two hours.


justinnhli said...


That picture of you on the yak somehow reminds me of the fact that you're from Tennessee.

Lexie said...

i LOVE justinnhli's comment. made me laugh.

also one of the girls in my sorority made pakistani chai for us one night .. it was QUITE different than coffee shop chai, lol. i wonder what yours tastes like!!

JRaizin said...

keep it coming! I'll be checking back for my daily fix to ward off wonder lust. any new sweet recipes?

Stu said...

I wanna ride a yak