Now before coming to India, a good JEP friend of mine, Rob, suggested that if I had the opportunity to travel in India that I should go to Simla, a supposedly charming town situated in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Well it just so happens that one of my fellow CLS’ers–Ayushi–has grandparents who live just outside of Simla. Thus, without hesitation I took her up on the offer to travel north for a weekend.
Now, planning a trip in India is quite the experience. From rickshaws, motor rickshaws, and busses, to trains, taxis, planes, and hitchhiking there is a plethora of transportation methods to utilize when traveling anywhere one wants to go. And so it was that Ayushi, Levi, and I set out on our journey to Simla by means of non-AC Sleeper class train to Delhi, non-AC bus from Delhi to Kalka, and toy-train from Kalka to Simla. When recalling the early moments of this adventure the mantra “The journey is the destination” comes to mind. Despite the recommendations to take anything but a non-AC Sleeper class train, we college students took advantage of the cheapest travel method possible. This part of our journey was the perfect start to a great trip. The three of us had three seats–I can not attest to the accuracy of that ratio for the rest of the train–but stayed up into the early hours of the morning on the top seat playing different mental trivia games.
Once we arrived in Delhi we ventured to find the Foreign Tourist Office within the train station. I honestly believe that the person who built this office wanted to make it the most difficult thing to find in all of India. But after an hour we did manage to find the office and were greeting by a very unpleasant, rude, and somewhat offensive desk clerk, who in the end refused to help us because our visas said “student” not “tourist”. This is were I learned the Indian saying “Not all five fingers are the same”, for we ended up talking to another clerk who was much more helpful.
All in all, we made it to the Simla station safe and sound and were greeted by some of the most fun-loving, hilarious, stubborn grandparents that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Unlike the US where we refer to our grandparents uniformly as grandma and grandpa (perhaps with some particularities), in India everyone has a unique title. So it was in Simla that I met Ayushi’s ChoTi-Nani (younger sister of her grandmother on her mother’s side), her Bari-Nani (actual grandmother), and her Nana (the husband of ChoTi-Nani). Staying with Ayushi’s family was the best part of my experience in Simla. I learned that when one sees a giant spider (about the size of a baseball) crawling on the curtains behind the couch, to let it be… I learned that Indian grandmothers know how to cook just as well as those in the US. I learned that anytime is teatime even if you have just had tea. I also learned how to play Rummy–which now has been a must with every Indian trip I have taken.
As Rob foretold, Simla was a beautiful city. The cool breeze of the mountains was a welcome change to Lucknow, and the people were very friendly. We visited the local library and churches (even attended Hindi mass), climbed the path to a Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman–the giant orange monkey god pictured below–, and visited the Viceregal Lodge from when Simla was the summer capitol of colonial India. At one point we crammed seventeen people into one taxi-we were quite proud.
After saying our goodbyes we departed by night bus back to Delhi. Admittedly, we camped out at the McDonalds outside the bus station the next morning for breakfast, but to cap off the experience we took a fifteen-hour NON AC bus ride from Delhi to Nucklow (had to throw in a Kipling reference eventually :D). After that most trying leg of our journey, we arrived safely in time for an appreciated cold shower, a quick rest and another day of Urdu.
The person of this post is of course Ayushi. A crazy, high-spirited, joking child, Ayushi and her fluency in Hindi were well appreciated on this trip. She enjoys studying Sufi Shrines and is under the illusion that she is better than me in Rummy…
Useful Urdu phrases to learn: “MaiN Amriika say huN” = I am from America. “Yai _______ khoobsooraat hai (N)” = This _________ is beautiful (if plural with the N). Also–an essential for the bargainers out there– “Kitnay?” = How much?
My next post shall be about my travels to Kashmir and Amritsar! Phir MilaiNge!