This year we decided to go to Shimla for winter break instead of going to Rishikesh. Shimla is the capital of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, in the Himalayan foothills. Once the summer capital of India during the British Raj, it remains the terminus of the narrow-gauge Kalka-Shimla Railway, which connected the summer capital with the rest of India.
On Sunday, December 22nd noon we drove from MPA to Yogi Bhajan’s house in Anandpur Sahib where we also stay at the beginning of the year. After a nice dinner in Anandpur Sahib, prepared by our amazing school kitchen workers, everybody went to bed since we had to leave the next day at 5.30 am. The next day, along the way, we had some nice breakfast and arrived in Shimla at about 2 pm. Our hotel was directly on Mall Road, and because it is a pedestrian area we had to leave our buses outside of Shimla. Small traveler buses from the hotel picked us up and brought us to the elevator that connects “lower Shimla” to “upper Shimla” where our hotel was. Actually, it is 2 elevators, one after the other. Almost directly opposite the elevators was our hotel, and the hotel staff brought our luggage from the cars up to the reception. Hungry and curious, our students divided into groups and explored Mall Street.
Every morning at 7:15 everyone could participate in an optional morning run, at 8:30 we had formation on the hotel roof to do some sadhana before breakfast, and the next formation was 5:30 pm on the terrace. In between all students could spend their time as they wanted, traveling in groups when leaving the hotel.
December 24th Karm, Amarbir and Dharampal led the morning sadhana and at 10:30 am we left to visit Jakhoo Temple, dedicated to the Hindu deity Hanuman, and a 1 hr. hike from our hotel. It is situated on Jakhoo Hill, Shimla’s highest peak, 2.5 km (1.6 mi) east of the Ridge at a height of 2,455 m (8,054 ft) above sea level. The sight of the huge statue is impressive, at 33 meters its head is way above the trees. Up there is also the Temple and a nice cafe. On the way down most of us took the Jakhu ropeway, which connects the peak to the Ridge, a large open space with a neogothic Church from 1844 and a Tudor styled library building built in 1910. At 3 pm some of the students took our offer to go to the trampoline park in lower Shimla. Woohoo, we had lots of fun there! In the evening we showed “How the Grinch stole Christmas” in the hotel’s breakfast area, served together with delicious hot chocolate.
On Christmas morning all students got felt stockings on their doorstep with some sweets inside, and morning sadhana was led by Sat Parvan, Sarabjot and Elisa. At 9.45 am the big scavenger hunt started. Almost all kids participated and it was huge fun. In the afternoon some students then went Roller Skating close to the Ridge. At 8pm our Christmas Celebration started. We played “The White Elephant” for which everyone bought a 100 Rupees gift and put it in the middle of the room. Everyone received a number at random and starting at number one, and moving one by one in order, everyone chose a gift from the pile in the center and opened it. The gifts contained all sorts of items from the Shimla stores and stalls. Some gifts everyone wanted, and so if you were lucky enough to have received a higher number, you could take an opened gift from someone instead of choosing an unopened one for the middle pile. There was lots of laughter as gifts moved around the room to different people. In the end, everyone was left with a gift. After hot Chocolate some Karaoke singing took place and then we watched a video with all of the greetings sent by parents for their kids and all MPA students. It was very lovely and heartwarming, a tear or two were shed, and afterward everybody got lots of cake because of Liza’s birthday!
Sadhana the next morning was led by Adelina and Maggie for warm-up and Amar and Amarbir for chanting. At 10 am we went to visit the Viceregal Lodge or Rashtrapati Niwas (literally the “President’s Residence”) and the Botanical Garden around the Lodge. The Viceregal was the governor-general of India and the representative of the monarch of the United Kingdom until Indian independence in 1947. The Viceregal Lodge was designed by British architect Henry Irwin and built in the Jacobethan style during Lord Dufferin’s tenure as Viceroy. Its construction started in 1880 and was completed in 1888. The structure draws inspiration from the architectural style of the English Renaissance, and also reflects elements of the castles of the Scottish highlands. There, in 1945, the Shimla conference took place to approve the Wavell Plan for Indian Self Government. Walking through the rooms of the ground floor we could almost feel the history. Not all of the estate can be visited for it is now closed to the public and transferred to the Ministry of Education, and since 1965 is a postdoctoral research center for Humanities & Social Sciences.
The next morning, Friday, December 27th, we left Shimla at 5:30. The elevators were not working at that hour so we walked down the steep road to lower Shimla, fortunately without our luggage, which was brought by the hotel staff. Soon we were on the road again to Chandigarh where we went to the huge Elante Mall and spent the afternoon there. Dinner we had at Anandpur Sahib, also prepared by our MPA kitchen staff who traveled there to cook for us, followed by a bonfire.
On Saturday after a delicious breakfast from our kitchen, we went again to Chandigarh and Elante Mall where we watched the new Star Wars Episode in 4D. Yay! On the way to the mall, we stopped at the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden after its founder Nek Chand Saini, a government official who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. Today it is spread over an area of 40 acres (16 ha). It is completely built of industrial and home waste and discarded items. He was way ahead of time using recycled items for art!
December 29th finally was the day to drive home again. After the optional run at 7:15, we did morning sadhana in Yogi Ji’s house, and of course, Guru Ram Das meditation. After breakfast and bringing our luggage to the buses we went to visit the famous Virasat-e-Khalsa, a beautiful and skillfully appointed museum of Sikhism. At 2 pm we had lunch at Haveli which everyone was very much looking forward to. It is always a highlight on our trips to Himachal Pradesh. Close to Haveli is Jalandhar where a music festival took place, so after lunch, we stopped there to listen to some classic Indian live music. Finally, at 7 pm we arrived happily exhausted back home.