Shimla! I wrinkled my nose even as Arun invited me for the travel blogger’s meet at the Club Mahindra Resort in Mashobra near Shimla. Being a hardcore mountaineer I considered all hill stations a necessary evil to be transited through only when unavoidable in my quest for the lofty Himalayan heights. Topping it up I have severe dread of the oh-so-comfortable-and-cozy honeymooning getaways that these so called hill stations abound. So I pondered over the invite and finally agreed since I would get to meet some dear friends and also have an excuse to escape the blistering Delhi heats. When I boarded the bus to Shimla from Delhi along with a bunch of hooligans I prefer to call friends, I had no hopes of any fun at all except few days of good and cheerful company. All the eight of us essentially had a common ground that we all loved to travel, though in decidedly different manner and barring self, all the other were really looking forward to the enchantments of the erstwhile British summer capital. I had no idea then that all it would take to change my views of the place and the people was a simple smile from a complete stranger, who seemed my lifelong friend when I bid him goodbye few days later. This is how it happened.
The uniformed chauffer greeted us with a wide grin into the cool widening morning sun just outside the Shimla bus stand. As he zipped around the hill road towards Mashobra I liked his demeanor, candor and driving skills. Shortly we reached Whispering Pines, the Club Mahindra Resort. We drove over a drawbridge resembling that of a castle with a moat. This is different, I mused. No sooner we had entered the resort door to the reception, again held open by a beaming lad of twenty, glasses of sweet and chilled juice appeared out of nowhere. Hoping to be magnanimously critical, I sipped the juice cautiously only to discover that it was fresh and really soothing. The interiors of the resort were all in wood with wall hangings from a different era. As I climbed the stairs towards my second floor room I observed century old black-white daguerreotypes adorning the wall. Were we in a modern day resort or in some nineteenth century British bungalow! Compared to the outside, the room was utterly modern with plush carpet and a mega-size LCD TV hooked to the wall. The bay windows, facing northeast took my breath away. Perched at the hazy horizon I had a clear cut view of my family and friends. Some of them I had climbed, few I wished to.
The breakfast happened to be a sumptuous affair with me overeating (despite trying my best to keep away from the temptations) and I overate in every subsequent meal that I had there. The sprightly brightly smiling stewards and the sous-chefs kept my stomach happy and my mind sad… how would I ever lose the weight that I was putting on! The mealtimes at Whispering Pines became among the rarest of rare moments in my life when my palate and stomach totally disobeyed my mind. Among the stewards I noticed in particular Balwinder. He is an amazing bundle of energy. The genuine smile never deserted him even when eight hungry people literally pounced upon his slight frame. He was always ready with suggestions and offerings. And he was always there, either in the bar, in the lawn outside, at the barbeque, or in the restaurant. When did he sleep, I wondered. From my point of view our meet at Whispering Pine could well be a gastronomic adventure amidst the happiest people on earth. In between our meals, if we found a breather, then some of us would try to sweat it out in the well appointed recreation room with few batterings of TT, Pool or badminton.
The resort manager, Mohnish would pop out of all sorts of places and times without being overbearing, enquiring about our welfare and suggesting what we could or should do. He seemed to be there 24X7 and I even inquired surreptitiously if he was married and if his family was around. I was really surprised when he nodded in affirmative on both counts. His smile was of course the brightest of all, but then it could also be because he could any day become the world’s leading dental model. Leading from the front, he was, no wonder the staff never stopped smiling and neither did the guests. He threw a party for us (as if we needed a special one after all that was going on in his restaurant) and boy did I hog.
Our last night held another surprise. A special barbeque around an open fire under the starry sky. All wrapped up and served on a hot platter by the chief Chef Vikas. He and his team was another bundle of joy and finally I got the chance to meet and thank the real culprits for my tightening trousers. The barbeque went on till late and we ate till we dropped, at least I did. I have no idea how I reached my room that night. The next day morning when we bid goodbye to the staff at the reception I had another heartbreaking moment when Neha, the pretty receptionist wished us bon voyage and hoped to see us again. All during our stay, Neha and her team had ensured that not one of our requests went unserved. I wanted to come up with an appropriate remark to express my appreciation for all of them, but finally decided to serve them in their own coin, hence I grinned and beamed from all the places possible on humanly scale and took my leave with a heart brimming with joy.
At the bus stand the same chauffer now handed over my bag and wished me a happy journey back home. Not a single strand on his head had strayed out of place nor the smile had lessened neither the crisply starched uniformed creased unceremoniously. I shook his hand firmly and thanked him profusely. After all his smile had begun my stay and his smile is concluding it as well. As they say; well begun is half done and all’s well that ends well! Well, in that way I have just had a perfect holiday.
P.S. Just in case any of you are wondering; I did go to the Shimla Mall and to all the other touristy places around, also camped for one night where we must have roused all the 100 villages across the neighboring hills with our raucous ensembles (which we preferred to label as music) and last but not the least did a small hike too where we picked up at least a ton of garbage along the way. My sincere advise to you honeymooners and mooners alike, don’t go to Shimla, but if you do then just head for Whispering Pines and stay put. It’s a far better place than the location and you will actually come back with a feeling that you have been somewhere close to heaven. Follow this link to find the stairway to heaven http://www.clubmahindra.com/res_shimla_home.asp and if you want to know a little more about what we did and other touristy stuff then check out Arun's post at http://www.indianeye.org/2009/09/21/an-evening-at-the-shimla-mall/