Why this blog is called "Gallimaufry".

gal-uh-MAW-free\, noun.

Originally meaning "a hash of various kinds of meats," "gallimaufry" comes from French galimafrée; in Old French, from the word galer, "to rejoice, to make merry"; in old English: gala + mafrer: "to eat much," and from Medieval Dutch maffelen: "to open one's mouth wide."

It's also a dish made by hashing up odds and ends of food; a heterogeneous mixture; a hodge-podge; a ragout; a confused jumble; a ridiculous medley; a promiscuous (!) assemblage of persons.

Those of you who know me, will, I’m sure, understand how well some of these phrases (barring the "promiscuous" bit!) fit me.

More importantly, this blog is an ode to my love for Shimla. I hope to show you this little town through my eyes. If you don't see too many people in it, forgive me, because I'm a little chary of turning this into a human zoo.

Stop by for a spell, look at my pictures, ask me questions about Shimla, if you wish. I shall try and answer them as best as I can. Let's be friends for a while....

31 August 2009


As I've said earlier, most Hindu temples leave me cold. Some of these have a peculiar soullessness that stands in stark contrast to their apparently pious air! Or maybe the two are not entirely irreconcilable, after all hypocrisy has long been the preserve of religion.
The temple at Mamleshwar left me distinctly underwhelmed. It is not the temple's fault - I attribute it to concrete. This temple is like many others you'll find all over Himachal. Yet, what it lacks is that pristine quality of unsophistication, that almost puritanical aspect, which, for me, has become the singular facet of this wonderful state's buildings, be they tiny forts or places of worship.

This temple suffers the fate of many of its brethren elsewhere. The old "dehra" (temple) has been relegated tothe background. The lovely old wood and slate and stone structure has been covered with vast layers of ugly concrete, painted over in cheap oil paint. The old images, almost pagan in bearing, have been replaced by the more generic North Indian idols, robbing them of any consonance with local culture. Many of the old deities graven in stone have been pulled out of their original places and embedded into concrete, making them look utterly ugly and out of place. The temple walkway is covered with marble, a stone which looks admirable in warmer climes, but is unsuitable in look and use in Himachal.

The temple priest wears the greedy air typified by his ilk all over India. He is unshaven, and most likely, unwashed. His five o' clock shadow takes nothing away from the general air of decay that surrounds him. He has been lolling on a reed mat, watching TV (thankfully, one of those loony religious channels) but bustles around officiously when he spots our party advancing upon the temple. He insists we perform rituals, but on finding no encouragement, sulks in a corner.

Facts: Mamleshwar is in Karsog tehsil, about 95 kilometres from Shimla. The drive to Mamel, from Chindi via Karsog where the temple is located is really beautiful. Visit the temple if only to tick it off your list!

The Temple of Friendship

A joyous weekend in Chindi and Karsog. All the ingredients worked to make it perfect: a great travel companion (may I name you, G-m?), superb weather, wondrous scenery... And if that wasn't enough, temple upon beautiful temple in hidden nooks and crannies.
Let me make one thing clear. I'm not a religious person. I exercise the God-given right of every Hindu to reject most elements of the faith into which I was born. I detest the monuments that man has raised to his deities, all the while trampling upon and indeed excluding a large chunk of his fellow beings. I have an active loathing for the middlemen who seek to tell us lay people how we must live, what we must eat, drink, read or who we must consort with. The conventions and protocols of my faith bother me and anger me by turn.
Yet, like Mary, there is something about the temples of Himachal. Is it the near-pagan forms of belief? Is it a yet-unsullied innocence? Is it their Arcadian air, as yet not contaminated by the big bucks and big Cheeses of Hinduism? I am going to post a series about them. Judge for yourself and tell me, gentle reader.
Temple no. 1 in this series is the temple of Chindi Mata, found in Chindi. This is located in Karsog tehsil, about 90 kilometres from Shimla. It is on the main road, and thus, easy to find.
"Chindi" is possibly derived from "Chandika". This is a leading female deity of the Hindu pantheon. She is also known as the "violent and impetuous one", and is said to have been born from the enrgies of male divinities. She has gorgeous tresses and is multi-armed, each one adorned with auspicious weapons, jewels, garlands and rosaries of prayer beads. The deity in the Chindi temple is no different.

What I liked about this little place was its neighbourly air. Surely there's something benign about a place where a dozen puppies frolic freely and see nothing in sleeping at the feet of a tiger (the animal familiar of Chandi)?

The little old lady resting in the temple precincts offered us a puppy, a first in a Hindu temple for me. My experience has been of priests directly or discreetly demanding offerings to please the deity!

27 August 2009

Windows. (No relation to Gates).

Funny how some things can exist right under your nose and you never notice them! This sweet, crumbly little building stands on a road I have criss-crossed more times than I care to remember. I've looked at it while walking past. I've gazed at it from a car window. But it was only last Saturday that I actually stopped to look at it properly. Little did I realise that I was in for a treat.
This old structure - the annexe to Hotel Cecil - built in the typical dhajji-style (wood, plaster and hay between them for insulation) has the most incredibly embellished windows. They're made of a tin cover for the chajja (the little slanting cover which protects the window panes from rain) and wood. Supporting the chajja are gorgeous little arches carved from wood. The patterns are a mix of the floral and the geometric. Some of these are cut into the tin, forming extremely attractive shadow patterns. The windows are, as Baudelaire would say, profound, mysterious and dazzling.


i go to this window

just as day dissolves
when it is twilight (and

looking up in fear

i see the new moon
thinner than a hair)

making me feel
how myself has been coarse and dull
compared with you, silently who are
and cling
to my mind always

but now she sharpens
and becomes crisper
until i smile with knowing
- and all about

the sprouting largest final air

inward with hurled
downward thousands of enormous dreams

- e e cummings -

25 August 2009

A divine and lordly manor

One weekend G and I decided to explore our neighbourhood, the learned portals of Himachal University. It yielded two hidden gems. I've spoken to you of one which, home to the Institute of Integrated Himalayan Studies, remains otherwise nameless. The second one is further down the same road.
It's called Manorville.
But first, this little marble plaque on the gate-post: "The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi stayed here often when he visited Simla during 1935 to 1946", it informed us somewhat ungrammatically. Interest piqued, we walked in.

The chowkidaar on duty, a most helpful person, told us that this was the former residence of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (1889-1964), who belonged to the erstwhile royal family of Kapurthala, but is better known for her active role in the nationalist movement. The Rajkumari went on to become independent India's first Health Minister. Like all true nationalists, she thought nothing of gifting away her considerable wealth and property to the country. This bungalow today serves are a guest-house for the visitors of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

I pored over the Shimla Heritage Report of the Town & Country Planning Department, but found no details of Manorville's history. It rates only a passing mention, possibly through the Gandhian connection, but otherwise there's no description of its age or style of architecture. The chowkidar thought the building is about 50 years old! A fact entirely impossible since we know it for a fact that various nationalist leaders were tripping in and out of this beautiful brick and timber mansion.
Queries to locals also did not elicit any useful responses. To me, what was most appalling was that a large cross-section of Shimla's residents is clueless about the historic significance of this beautiful bungalow. Some knew it existed, others were totally unaware of its presence. Admittedly, Gandhi-ji lived in different places during his repeated journeys to the capital of British India, but even so, the town's fathers and educationalists have signally failed in telling their youngsters of this piece of history which still lives in their midst.

This is the balcony from which Mahatma Gandhi purportedly addressed the crowds.


The wonderful sitting room which commands a gorgeous view of a cedar and oak forest.

The carefully-preserved rooms where Gandhi-ji stayed.

The little marble board says it all!

18 August 2009

Thou bonnie gem!

Ever so often, you come across the mention of a place. You speculate, should I go see it? Will it be worth a Sunday's exploration? Am I doomed to disappointment? What if I don't find it at all?
Then, serendipity.
Seeing the temples of Dhanu Devta come close to what Edna St. Vincent Millay says... "A lovely temple, tenantless, Long since that was once sweet with shivering brass".

The name Dhanu Devta (धानु देवता) comes from the word "dhaan" for rice-grain. Shri Sevak Ram ji, who is one of the "kaardars" (protector, retainer) of the temples recounts an interesting tale. There was once a man who would take his herd out to graze to a particular spot every day. One evening, he found that his cow would not give her usual quantities of milk. So he set out to discover why. Many days later, he espied a strange sight. Every evening, a snake would appear out of nowhere, wind itself around the cow's legs and drink milk straight from its udders. The man, frightened, fell to his feet. He begged the snake to reveal its true identity. The snake revealed himself as Dhaanu Devta and said he had come to rest hear after having tried several other villages and places. In gratitude, the village built him a fine temple near a flowing stream.
In time, the villagers of Vihar, or Bihar, and the hamlets of Klel, built two other temples for the deity and his younger sibling to visit.
The three temples are built at three different elevations, within a radius of a kilometre.
The one you see below is temple no. 1. The architecture of Himachali temples is unlike anything you'd see anywhere in India. For one thing, observe the geometry. There is a small platform. On this is built the sanctum sanctorum which no one except the retainers (all men) can enter. This is surmounted by a structure wider than the one below, which is then topped off by a double sloping, almost pagoda-like roof.

An interesting detail. Men, it seems, are as attached to the accesories of a cult as they are to their deity!

A representation of the deity on the door (locked, you'll notice) to the sanctum sanctorum. It is interesting that the deity who guards the door is a mutli-armed female riding what looks like a tiger!

Now this is an interesting little gathering place. If you look carefully, you will notice a sunken sand-pit in this pillared hall. This is where a "khel" takes place. Translated from Hindi, "khel" would literally mean "game". But that's not what it is. This is essentially the villagers' way of communicating with their deity, their "devtaa". And even so, they do not speak to him directly. They have two levels of interlocutors. The first is the "ghoor", the shaman , or the medium through whom the deity speaks. The second is the "sarjaai", the local temple retainer whom the distressed villager addresses. The process is simple. The person in distress requests the "sarjaai" to explain his problem to the medium. In return for its alleviation, the person promises the deity a gift, not necessarily payable immediately after the desired results are achieved. The repayment can be spread over several years, or can be postponed by a decade or three!


Walk further down a winding path through fields of maze. Around the corner is temple no. 2. Of all three, this one looks the most distressed. Almost an example of the less preferential treatment that younger siblings often allege they are given! Shri Sevak Ram announces that this is the shrine of the "younger brother".

Delicate, almost lace-like embellishments seen in the second shrine.

The singularly artistic entry to the inner sanctum.


The best is reserved for the last. The most delectable of this trio of temples is the main sanctuary, located about 500 metres beyond the second temple, closer to a flowing stream. The stream, sadly, gathers all of Shimla's refuse as it flows down from Combermere bridge. The only saving grace is that it is far enough not to spoil the line of view.

As The Bard says, "Nothing ill can dwell in such a temple. If the ill spirit have so fair a house, Good things will strive to dwell with't." This little structure surpasses the others in its serenity, it shuts out the the clamour of the outer world and directs the mind to a higher heaven almost.

As Voltaire says:

Sacred to peace, within a wood's recess,
A blest retreat, where courtiers never press,
A temple stands, where Art did never try
With pompous wonders, to enchant the eye,
There no dazzling ornamets, nor vain,
But truth, simplicity and Nature reign...

Join me in glad adoration, but here are some facts:
The path which ran down the hill from Kanlog is almost completely overgrown and therefore, hidden from view. This may make tracking the path to the main, the lowest temple a tough task. A better way of approaching the holy triad is by way of Khalini. When you approach Khalini from the the town, ask for the turnoff for Bihar-gaon. You have to follow the nearly kilometre-long path to this hamlet. There's no simple way to describe this path except to state that the road is metalled for about half the distance. The good thing is that there are no forks on the way, so, asking nicely, you will be able to eventually find your way down to the temples.
I strongly suggest that you ask first for Bihar-gaon and then for Shri Sevak Ram Sharma. This is far likely to fetch you the desired result of seeing the temples, than the asking for directions to the shrines directly. It is also not advisable to try and locate the temples by yourself, because tiny as the span of the location is, none of the temples are visible from the upper Bihar-gaon road, or indeed, from the village pathways. While trying to discover the shrines would be entertaining, it might eventually tire, or even bore the less stout of heart (or foot!).
I can assure you, however, that once you do chance upon these hidden gems, you won't regret the trek you've had to make!
Caveat: the distance to Bihar-gaon is best covered by a vehicle so that you can conserve your energy for the little hike below. In my rough estimation, the distance is about three kilometres from the road-head at Khalina, but all of it goes uphill and downhill and winding this way and that.
For more specific directions, leave a message here and I'll get back to you.

I shall save the tale of the accidental discovery of the Zoroastrian Cemetery for another day!

14 August 2009

I found that essence rare...

There's a little road which runs along the bigger one which leads up to Viceregal Lodge. This road winds gently up to Squire Hall and then an even littler path takes you to the Summer Hill Post Office. It was on this little path that my friend G and I made an astonishing discovery.

Tucked into the retaining wall was this small plant. Its height could not have been more than 30 centimetres. The plant had long, stalkless, tuber type flowers. The flowers looked peculiar because while their petals were white crescent shapes, the sepal was pale green in colour. The length was, by my educated guess, around 20 to 24 milimetres. There were three leaves about 6 to 8 centimetres long. We were unable to identify the flower. This is where the good people at Flowers Of India came to our aid. They identified it as Habenaria Intermedia, of the orchidaceae family. In plain English this means this is a type of orchid!

Further reading lead me to the research conducted by R. S. Chauhan and others. The most disturbing aspect pointed out by these scholars is that Habenaria intermedia is rapidly disappearing due to indiscriminate digging for its edible tubers. The scientists report that this species forms an important constituent of the Indian traditional schools of medicine for preparing a rejuvenating tonic much popular with Indians - "chyawanprash". Apparently, a destructive and indiscriminate system of harvvesting this delicate plant is resulting in its gradual disappearance. A minor catastrophe.

This Robert Frost poem describes our day so well....

Once on the kind of day called "weather breeder",
When the heat slowly hazes and the sun,
By its own power seems to be undone,

I was half boring through, half climbing through
A swamp of cedar. Choked with the oil of cedar

And scurf of plants, and weary and over-heated,

And sorry I ever left the road I knew,

I paused and rested on a sort of hook

That had me by the coat as good as seated

And since there was no other way to look
Looked up toward heaven, and there against the blue
Stood over me a resurrected tree,
A tree that had been down and raised again -

A barkless spectre. He had halted too,
As if for fear of treading upon me.

I saw the strange position of his hands -
Up at his shoulders, dragging yellow strands

Of wire with something in it from men to men.

"You here?" I said. "Where aren't you nowadays

And what's the news you carry - if you know?

And tell me where you're off for - Montreal?"
"Me? I'm not off anywhere at all.
Sometimes I wander out of beaten ways
Half looking for the orchid Calypso".

11 August 2009

A sorrowful loveliness

A building is sometimes like a dogma; it is insolent, like dogma. Whether or no it is permanent, it claims permanence, like a dogma. The people who chose the spot where it stands. The people who designed it. The people who built it. They are all dead and gone. Yet, it stands. Valiantly, if somewhat in a melancholic manner. Stripped of its former occupants, its old uses. A home turned into a place of learning.

Last weekend I wandered into Himachal University's Institute of Integrated Himalayan Studies. This winsome building is located near the gruesome space-age University Library. So ugly is the latter that you could be forgiven for nearly missing its far more pleasing neighbour!
The building which houses the Institute bears no name. I asked the youngsters loitering around. They were ignorant. I asked some old-time residents. Some of these did not even know such a building existed. Or perhaps, to be more charitable, they failed to make the connection. I'm optimistic yet, that someone will tell me its original name, because no building worth its salt went without a name in Shimla!

What's in a name, asks the Bard. Indeed, nothing much. So let's go on to look at it. Why I was captivated by it is because, in my perambulations across town, this appears, to me, to be the only example of Art Deco architecture in Shimla. I would love to be corrected on this.
This building is a lovely example of the classic Art Deco features: a simplicity of design and understated ornamentation and a focus on geometric embellishments. Art Deco was a popular international art design movement from 1925 until the 1940s. It inspired fields such as architecture, interior design, insdutrial design and even visual arts.

If you look at the dark green trimmings of the balcony, you will notice the archetypal Art Deco feature: horizontal lines. Remember, Art Deco was a child of its times, and increase in speed was the motif, especially in the transport industry. These lines reflected that desire for a streamlined, speed appearance!

Apart from geometric ornamentation, the "sunburst" pattern you see above, was a motif much favoured by designers of Art Deco buildings. (Other symbols used frequently were lightening bolts and plant and animal life). These symbols were meant to embody dawn, truth, justice and achievement.
You will observe the sunburst motif repeated in the balustrades of this little "sit out" whose photograph is placed below. .


I have placed below three examples found in the Institute of classical Art Deco elements: vertical lines, simplicity: a stripped-down, elemental look in terms of façades and features, and geometric embellishments in terms of the use of circles, semi-circles, chevrons and squares.

Art Deco embodied all that was thought of as "modern." It represented the modernity of the machine age - - - all the amenities of modern society brought on by the industrial revolution. It represented modern simplicity, strength, forward motion, achievement, technology. A departure from the traditional, classic design/ornamentation seen in the Gothic and neo-Gothic styles. It was at once unique, alluring and sublime.

9 August 2009

Ah, sunflower!

I've not done this before. Made three posts in one day. But, as Archie said to Mehitabel, wotthehell, my dear, wotthehell. Sunflowers deserve over-posting! A perfect beauty of a sunflower! A perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence!

I was reminded of Blake:
Ah Sunflower, weary of time
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my sunflower wishes to go!

Sunflowers are synonymous with van Gogh! D. H. Lawrence once remarked that "When van Gogh paints sunflowers, he reveals, or achieves, the vivid relation between himself, as man, and the sunflower, as sunflower, at that quick moment of time. His painting does not represent the sunflower itself. We shall never know what the sunflower itself is. And the camera will visualize the sunflower far more perfectly than van Gogh can. "

Spreadin' the luurve.

There are some people whose blogs/sites I follow very assiduously. They're amazing people: insightful, intelligent and so amazingly perceptive. My favourite posts made by my favourite bloggers in the recent past:

Ann, while meandering through Sydney explored the Rocks Market.

Bibliophile posted an interesting Wednesday Reading Challenge asking you to consider a primary religious text and how it affected the literary culture and heritage of your country.

Vinayak took his readers down memory lane by creating a list of Kishore Kumar's best songs.

Atoorva pondered on why she is a bureaucrat.

Paul reminded us why photographers need people skills.

Dick enlightened us on how organisations become inhuman.

Christina blogged live on Thursday. An interesting experiment.

Melanie was her usual entertaining and insightful self when she owned up to being a girly girl.

Nityin gave us a wonderful insights into how a bride is welcomed in Himachal Pradesh.

Delhiwalla made some powerful observations about the power of faith.

Shilpa taught us how to make "hirva batata", a potato curry in coconut masala. Simple and fabulous!

Thank you, each one of you. I read you and learn. I read you and am inspired. I read and am awe-struck. You folks are brilliant.

Wild flowers don't care where they grow....

I just realised that I haven't posted about flowers in a while. What a crime, considering that Shimla and its surrounds are positively bursting with a mad variety at this time of the year. So here is a selection:

Cranesbill or the wild geranium.
I found this wonderful flower a-bloom in profusion in the President's estate in Mashobra. Some plants were 30 cms tall, others, about 100 cms. The flower itself was about 3 to 4 cms in diameter. According to Nimret Handa, "cranesbill" is so named because of this plant's long, beaked fruit which resembles a crane's bill. However, the fruit wasn't visible at this point (early August).

Wild strawberry

The first picture you see above is of the flower and the second, the fruit of the wild strawberry plant. The leaves were trifoliate; the flowers, five-petalled. According to Inder Singh, the gardener at the President's estate, each petal will give way to a red, succulent strawberry. Singh said that it is also known as "kiphalia" locally.
The picture of the strawberry, incidentally, was taken in June this year. Reminds me of Kipling's words: "Red jewels warm / from Nature's heart".

Jungli haldi or wild turmeric
Found this plant growing in a shady nook in Mashobra. I'm still a bit doubtful whether it is curcuma aromatica. This belongs to the ginger family and apparently contains "volatile oils" which can help to remove excessive lipids from blood, promote bile (to clear the congestion of liver) and reduce inflammation. Both Indian and Chinese traditional medicinal schools swear by it.

The hillsides of Mashobra are covered with pale pink and deep crimson knotweed. (Fallopia japonica). This is a slender, erect plant. Each flower spike grows by itself and was, in some places, up to 15 cms in height. In the US and Europe, this pretty little plant is treated as an invasive species (read weed).

5 August 2009


Wandering around Shimla, I've often discovered lovely examples of woodwork and masonry, some of which has found its way into this blog. But I haven't yet mentioned the interesting specimens of Shimla's metalwork: in grills of balconies, in fences and even on garbage bins!

The metalwork you see below can be found outside the Police office just above CTO. The complex belonged to an erstwhile royal family, which proceeded to place its coats of arms on the fencing!

This grill you see below is part of the balcony of Jodha Niwas. This building is quite unlike others in its vicinity and indeed unlike many other buildings in Shimla, in that it has integrated a lot of Hindu design elements into its facade. If you look carefully, you will observe that the figure is that of the Hindu deity Lakshmi with adoring peacocks looking up at her.

This interesting example of metalwork is from a garden fence of a house near the US Club.

This funny little floral metal piece was probably a decorative detail of the pillar of a gate. I wonder if it had some sort of a light on top at some point.

This little piece decorates the steeple of one of Gorton Catle's turrets:

Walking past Railway Board Building, if you happen to look up, you will discover this beautiful facet:

This little piece of Anglocana is visible all over Shimla on fences and railings. I found this particular instance in the railings along Oakover:

We pass these dark green garbage bins in Shimla daily. They too are adorned with an interesting design element!

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