Yarrows in Shimla
Yesterday, after a long time, I walked around the Inverarm Hill. The shady forested road begins from Hotel Cecil at Chaura Maidan, to the west of Shimla, and runs till the rear side of hill. Here, from the parking lot of the Viceregal Lodge, various roads bifurcate to various directions. In seventies when my father was the Train Examiner of Shimla Railway Station and we lived in the railway colony, every morning me and my father used to go for a morning walk on this road. Then, there was no traffic. Hardly a person in the town had a car. Everyone walked across Shimla. But the towering cedars, along with the Victorian villas still hold the character of the town.
Holocombe – One of 33 Houses of S. Bo. Goad
I followed the road bifurcating from near the Chaura Maidan Post Office, towards Ava Lodge and leads towards the university. Holcombe is the first house that comes on this road. Originally known as Jim’s Lodge, the name it drew during the period when it was occupied by J. E. O’Conor – the C.I.E and the Director General of Statistics of Government of India. This house changed many hands. Mr. Evarard Cotes, a famous Canadian journalist under the pen name as Sara Jeanette Duncan lived here with her Anglo-Indian husband Mr. Everard C. Cotes for several years. Later it was purchased by a rich man from Shimla, Major. S. B. Goad who was one of the largest property owners in the town – 33, from which he earned a rent of about Rs. 38000/- per annum. After the Indian independence the house came to the hands of India army and is now allotted to the officers of Brigadier rank.
Close to Holcombe two educational institutions, a College of Business Studies and a College of Law Studies, have come up in last few years. The students of these colleges keep standing here and there, park their vehicles in the middle of the road to talk to their girlfriends, or just to enjoy a few puffs of cigarette. Their expensive cars, of course financed by their rich Dads, enforce them to bunk the classes and just keep playing with the decorum of the area. I remember the day when I conducted a walk for one of my clients from England and a car ran towards me swiftly, nearly going to hit my leg. I had a narrow escape and in the fit of anxiety I shouted on the driver. The wheels of the car creaked and a young tall boy jumped out of the car, ran towards me shouting angrily and educated me not to walk in the middle of the road and be on a side. His unacceptable irritating behaviour and his ill mannerism showed that his father had just become rich and the boy had just begun to rule the roads. He failed to understand that a pedestrian’s right on the road comes first.
Ava Lodge, another beautiful house to the left side, up on the hill, now houses the College of Legal Studies. Once the official residence of the Home Minister to the Viceroy the house. Mr. and Mrs. Braithwaite who visited Shimla looking for their family roots in October 2013, visited Ava-Lodge with me. Mr. Braithwaite’s Grandfather occupied Ava Lodge in 1936-1945 when he served here as the Home Minister to the Viceroy. Yarrows, the next house from the Raj on this road is now being used as the National Academy of Audits and Accounts, since 1950. In 1913 the house was originally designed by Herbert Backer, the famous architect and the assistant of Edwin Lutyens – the designer of New Delhi. Herbert visited Shimla during his tenure in India and designed this house for Sir George Rivers Lowndes – an Anglo Indian Lawyer and a Judge. Genevieve Walker, another client of mine from Australia, visited Yarrows. It was a snowy day when I got a call from her. When I went to meet her, she told me that her father was born in Yarrows and now he is nearing 95th year of his life. He continued working in India even after the Independence and after his retirement he moved to Australia.
The forested road further on has not changed much apart from the nuisance brought by the students, recently. The tranquillity of the forest keeps your mind fresh and cool and the silence is disturbed only by your footsteps or by the sound of some occasional vehicle. This is spring time in the hills. The flowers have just started blooming. The most attractive it rhododendrons, the red coloured flowers reflect on the entire forest. Many other wild flowers have begun to show up. Perry Wrinkles are there a lot.
I remember the days in seventies when me and my father used to come here for our morning walks. Father would tell me various stories about the wildlife, his adventures and his affection for the hills. He would walk on this road alone to see his cousin who lived in Boileauganj. One day when my younger brother, who had just learnt to walk, accompanied us and father was in a mood of having fun and give us a different experience. He wished to jog and told me to take care of my younger brother, keep walking on this road and wait for him to return. He followed the other road that passes the Radio-Station and encircle the hill to join this road at the parking lot of the Vieregal Lodge. I was thrilled to walk alone through the forest and threw a challenge to my father. I told him that he may run but we would reach first. He knew that we, the children would never do that but he still, to please us, accepted the challenge and began. Both of us laughed, initially and as we saw our father disappearing beyond the next curve, my brother dropped his jaw and looked at me with questioning eyes. I encouraged him not to worry and promised him that we would reach first and soon we shall be together. The forest, for us at that age, was awful and even the moving of a shrub by the breeze was terrifying for us. I was trying my best to keep cheered up the young toddler and kept rushing towards the destination. Holding my hand, he struggled to equalise his pace with mine and without saying anything constantly kept his eyes on the next curve.
We merely had advanced for not more than two hundred meters and my brother shrieked with joy. I saw a sparkle in his eyes. He screamed, ‘papa !!!’ Father, although he had left us in the forest and took a chance to test our courage but he himself was anxious to meet us as soon as possible so instead of jogging he had sprinted to go around the hill. He was out of breath but was relaxed to see us smiling.
It was peaceful everywhere. The forest is beautiful and keeps it cool even during the summer months. When it snows in Shimla, this road remains blocked for longer period as it hardly receives any direct rays of the Sun. The railway track of Kalka Shimla Railway is to the right of the road. It is barely visible through the overgrowth and a very little part of the last tunnel can be seen from here. The sound of the toy train, running through the forested track, is a delightful experience. It sounded like the train was approaching but after a long wait it did not come. A few boy students passed the road behind me and perhaps they wondered what was I looking at, down the valley. They have no value for this tranquillity. They are the people of modern era with patched clothes and new designs of haircut. Sometime it is funny to see their hairstyle. The sides are like an army soldiers whereas on the top of the head they have long hair parting apart in all directions making them look like a flowerpot. Their jeans pants are dropping below the hips exposing the elastic belt of their inner wear. This appears very erotic but these days this is the best way to look modern and educated.
A tiny bungalow here, from the Raj, with a garden in front, now named as ‘Vishram’ is a marvel example of Tudor architecture. Aunty Suraksha and her husband Captain Satish Sharma, an army officer occupied this house in seventies when the captain was posted here. On weekends, me and my mother would visit them and spend a night or two with the family in this house. One evening after the dinner when all of us sat in the withdrawing room and chatted, a growl attracted our attention. We looked through the window pans, the garden was lit up by the moon light and a leopard was laying on the grass, cunningly waiting for his prey. Even now it is common to encounter a leopard at night on this road.
During last monsoon a tree fell on the front gate of ‘Vishram’ and damaged the gate and a car parked near it. The vehicle got completely smashed and remained there for nearly a month before it was taken away to the scrap dealer. Thank god there was no damage to the house otherwise we would have lost another piece of heritage. The bungalow is in the lovely settlement with cedars and oaks around it. Behind the bungalow is vast ground where we, the students were taken for picnics with our teachers. Now the ground is used by a primary school, recently built. On sunny days the students of this school sit out for their lessons and also bask in sun.
I turned left from the parking lot and passed the left overs of recently pulled down building Willy’s Park, an old English house form the Raj. Till a few years ago this was the venue of Press Club. All the press reporters would meet here every evening. Later they found the new place at the Ridge and Willy’s Park became a neglected building. One fine morning I found myself following the bridal path leading to this abandoned English house. It was open from all the sides except the front door where a padlock hanged. Since the press reporters left this place, and no one was living in it, Willy’s Park began to provide shelter to birds, flying fox, spiders, snacks, insects, dust and even to the drug sellers. I saw the signs of abundance the real owner must had enjoyed but now it had started losing its major characters such as grand doors, window frames, electric switches, ceilings, hearths, chimneys, wooden floors and the carnes. The plaster had begun to fall apart exposing the wooden planks and splinters of ‘dhajji’ walls.
One day I saw it completely pulled down. I don’t know what attachment I had with Willy’s Park. ‘A Tree Takes Revenge’ is one of the stories that I wrote about it and got published in my second book – Shimla Bazaar.
It is almost 7 years now when the book got published. Now the structure has completely been pulled down and the State Government is erecting an awful structure here, to be used as a Circuit House.