Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Apr 26, 2002
Travel & Places
Columns - Slowburn
Head for the hills
Timeri N. Murari
IT IS summer. This is the time when those who can afford it head for the hills. The schools have closed and so have our courts. I am not sure why our courts take such long summer breaks. I know it was a British habit and, as the judges were British, they needed to escape the heat. But it is 54 years since we last saw a Britisher on the Bench, and yet we cling to those old customs.
They were the ones who discovered and created our hill stations. They went out and cut a path through thick jungle to reach Ooty, Kodaikanal, Simla, Nainital. They must have been surprised to find that these hilly places were 20 degrees cooler than the plains or the coastal regions. Having made that discovery, they built their cottages, clubs, and small hotels, so that when summer struck its thunderbolts of heat, they could play in the cool of our hills. I cannot blame them for wanting to escape the heat. And when we saw them packing up and heading for the hills, we followed suit.
Of course, prior to them, we did not do such things. We stuck it out in our heat, praying for the rains and dreaming of the cooler times to come. Except for those tribals in the hills, the majority of our ancestors had no idea that there were cool places nearby. The Mughals, and the others, who ruled us out of Delhi, headed to Kashmir. They built their palaces and gardens, so they could loll in shady places and wait it out. No one heads for Kashmir these days, except for the jihadis.
Our hill stations now have become as ugly as our cities. They remain cool, though not as once they must have been when the forests surrounded them. We have cleared away the irritating forests and their cover, so we can build our cottages that are meant to look like those old British ones. Come the heat, and we pack our bags and children and camp out in the hills, the way the British did long ago.
Unfortunately, thousands of others have also had the same idea. They have also built their cottages and are camped out there. Along with them and to cater to their needs, have come the shops, hotels, restaurants, cars, lorries, tempo travellers and all the ills of urban India are camping out there for the summer. They bring with them the garbage, the air pollution of their cars and lorries and the noise pollution of air horns and Bollywood music pumping through the hills.
The hills are no longer a retreat from the ills of urban India. We have taken urban India along with us for our comfort and needs. We would go crazy if there were only silence and solitude. The Kodais, Ootys and Simlas are merely extensions of our daily lives in the cities we have escaped. We see the same friends, play the same game of golf with the same partners and socialise in the evenings with our old pals. Naturally, it is a lot cooler there and we always remark to each other how cool it is to be up in the hills and not sweltering the city with those unfortunate millions who cannot get away.
Come summer and the richer ones among us head for even cooler climates. At one time, the hills were their retreats. But when the herd invaded the hill stations, they decided to move further afield. This is the time of the year when you can be strolling down Oxford Street, Fifth Avenue or the Champs d' Elysees and see as many familiar faces as back home. Nearly every travel agent has booked charter tours for the richer Indians to see the world with home comforts. They have buses touring Europe and America and elsewhere with Indian cooks on board. We can now stop off at European and American hotels and have rotis and dhals to our hearts content.
We drag home along wherever we go. We can even watch Bollywood shooting the song and dance sequences in Scotland or Las Vegas and come home to catch the finished movie. Bollywood shoots these song and dances abroad as the hill stations became too crowded and familiar.
Everyone had seen the real thing, so Bollywood was forced to shoot in places no one had been before. But we are catching up with Bollywood. All those locales are familiar, even to the masses sitting in the front rows. One day, they will be out there in Las Vegas or New York.
But once the summer's over, we shut up our hill station homes, get on our long distance flights and head back to our urban wombs. Not that it has become any cooler, except by a few degrees. We do it because the Brits did it. The schools have opened and our judges have returned to their Benches. It is business as usual for everyone.
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