Saturday, 28 March 2009

Happy Holi!!!

Holi is an annual festival held to celebrate the beginning of Spring. It is celebrated with water and coloured powders being rubbed / thrown into your clothes, face, hair. Like all festivals it is intended as good, clean fun. Well, hold on the clean bit for now. Our Holi started relatively calmly. At about ten o’clock a few friends of the family dropped by and showered us with a bit of powder, nothing too hectic. We then went to Nipun’s Aunts house near Ludhiana town centre and watched the kids playing holi from the relative safety of the driveway. A couple of water bombs hurtled by, and in an effort to antagonise the kids across the road I stood directly beneath their balcony whilst they poured a bucket of water from above (I moved at the last minute). It was, as I said to Nipun, a little anti-climatic. So after a half hour or so we decided to mosey on down the road, buy us some powder and join the locals. It started off quite tamely, the first group we encountered were three young guys who were very gentle. “Happy holi” a bit of powder rubbed onto the old cheeks and pate and big smiles all round. As we got closer to the main road it got a little more frenetic, and by the time we reached the main road it was open war on the streets. I had figured on being singled out being the only pale face in town. But this was ridiculous. Unbeknownst to me it transpired that my good wife’s Hindi had been in improving in leaps and bounds and she had been telling everyone that it was my first Holi experience and that I was, well finding it “anti-climatic.” That nobody wanted to play. And could they redouble their efforts. Please. Well words to that effect.
It was mostly fun (the unfun bits being powder in the eyes, mouth, nose) until we got caught in a large group and someone smashed an egg on Nipun’s head. We had been warned that this might happen but it was a pretty unpleasant surprise. My first reaction was to get medieval on the offender’s ass, but when in a group of 12 or so burly adolescents this is not necessarily wise. And hey, it is a festival so go with it. As it is I think they got wind of Nipun’s vociferous displeasure and the fact that I looked ready to thump someone. And so it was that the culprit was hauled before Nipun by his mates and she was handed a large egg with which to extract her revenge. From here we beat a hasty retreat back to the house, where we stood beneath the kids next door and let them cover us in water from above to their hearts content.
The Train to Shimla.
Well here we are in Shimla, the Himachal Pradesh capital and the headquarters of the colonials when it got too hot down in the South! We left Ludhiana at six o’clock this morning and went down to the bus terminal where we jumped on an air conditioned bus to Chandigarh. The journey was relatively uneventful, if you ignore the on-board entertainment spouting out from loud speakers above our heads of a woman singing a holy song unaccompanied. In itself, no bad thing. Not entirely to my delectation but then not everything is. However, take into account that the song was on a continual loop for about forty minutes (yes, that is right, the same song) and you can maybe begin to understand the nature of my pain. Luckily at about the forty minute mark Nipun remembered that she had an Ipod with her and I got to rediscover the genius that was Swervedriver. Nice.
After changing at Chandigarh we caught another bus to Kalka where the adventure really began. The train, or the Toy Train as it is affectionately known, traverses 96km of mountain terrain and runs through 103 tunnels and crosses 24 bridges. Hauled by a diesel engine, our train consisted of six carriages. Whilst the journey is only 96km (or about a nano second on the Eurostar) it takes about five hours of continual uphill journey through some absolutely majestic scenery. The route is amazing and it is incredible that the track was ever completed, let alone completed in 1903. The bridges are again magnificent, being constructed to replicate aqueducts, many of them stacked several arches high.
As the train progresses up into the mountains (up, always and continually up) the vegetation changes into fairly dense forest and the final approach into Shimla contains several rhododendrons which were in flower on our trip.
Upon arriving in Shimla we got a taxi to the elevator that takes you from the lower street level of Shimla and up onto the mall. The mall, is not as you would be correct in thinking, a shiny plastic pleasure dome of cinemas and Starbucks but rather a long pedestrianised street with traditional shops and a handful of hotels. We are staying two doors down Clarks, the oldest hotel in Shimla and a very swanky five star at that. Sadly the Rock Sea Hotel from where I write this (in two single beds pushed together and delightfully peach walls) is not quite as elegant or refined, but is seems clean and offers a good view of Shimla sprawling out beneath us from the balcony.

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