Daily O

Ruskin Bond on retracing the footsteps of Rudyard Kipling in the hills of India

[Book extract] Mussoorie does not really figure in the prose or poetry. The Simla Hills were his beat.

Kipling’s Simla

Every March, when the rhododendrons stain the slopes crimson with their blooms, a sturdy little steam engine goes huffing and puffing through the 103 tunnels between Kalka and Simla.

This is probably the most picturesque and romantic way of approaching the hill station, although the journey by road is much quicker. But quite recently I went to Simla by a little-used route, the road from Dehradun via Nahan and Solan. It takes one first through the subtropical Siwaliks, and then after Nahan into the foothills and some beautiful and extensive pine forests, before joining the main highway near Solan. By bus it is a tedious ten-hour journey, but by car it is a picturesque ride, and there is very little traffic to contend with.

But those train journeys stand out in memory — the little restaurant at Barog, just before the train reaches Dharampur, where the roads for Sanawar and Kasauli branch off; and the gorge at Tara Devi, opening out to give the weary traveller the splendid and uplifting panorama of the city of Simla straddling the side of the mountain.

In Rudyard Kipling’s time (that is, in the 1870s and ’80s), travellers spent the night at Kalka and then covered the sixty-odd hill miles by tonga, a rugged and exhausting journey. It was especially hard on invalids who had travelled long distances to recuperate in the cool clear air of the mountains.

In his story "The Other Man" (Plain Tales from the Hills), Kipling describes the unhappy results of the tonga ride on one such visitor:

“Sitting on the back seat, very square and firm, with one hand on the awning stanchion and the wet pouring off his hat and moustache, was the Other Man — dead. The sixty-mile uphill jolt had been too much for his valve, I suppose. The tonga driver said, “This Sahib died two stages out of Solan. Therefore, I tied him with a rope, lest he should fall out by the way, and so we came to Simla. Will the Sahib give me bakshish? It,” pointing to the Other Man, “should have given one rupee.”

Today’s visitor to Simla need have no qualms about the journey by road, which is swift and painless (provided you drive carefully), but the coolies at the Simla bus stand will be found to be as, adamant

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