SHIMLA- TRAVEL TO THE QUEEN OF THE HILLS
From a Group of small hamlets prior to 1815 to becoming the state capital of Himachal Pradesh in 1971, to the present day town, with a mix of old British architecture and modern brand stores, Shimla has come a long way.
The British made Shimla its summer capital in 1864 primarily to escape the summer heat of Calcutta. Imagine transporting all the offices and tons of documents so that the officers in charge of the administration of India can work in cooler climes. Shimla (originally written as Simla) was a just a few houses and a temple till 1816 when the British took over India. In 1822, the first brick house was built by Captain Kennedy. There were only 30 houses in Shimla in the year 1830 and grew to 1140 houses just the very next year.
Bagai, I. (2017). Shimla.
Today Shimla is called the Queen of the Hills and is one of the most famous tourist destinations in North India. From being shown as a romantic getaway in the 70s era of Bollywood, it still captures the attention of newlyweds and couples alike.
Best time to visit Shimla is between March and June and then in September-October. If you prefer cold weather and snow, then December to February is the time for you.
You can travel to Chandigarh, the nearest fully functional airport, and from there catch a cab. Another way is travelling to Kalka from Chandigarh by cab or bus and then catching the Toy train to Shimla.
Shimla does have an Airport and it is serviced by Air India from New Delhi but the services can be erratic. The flights often get cancelled and depend on weather conditions.
Due to the rich history of the town, this is a must visit place for everyone. Learn the history, meet the warmest locals, try the local cuisine and sit on the ridge and bask in the sun for hours at an end.
Built in 1898 by the British, the Kalka-Shimla rail route is an engineering marvel. It's a 2'6" wide Special Gauge railway system, also known as the toy train route. This route has a total of 107 tunnels and 864 bridges.
It's a 45-minute drive from Chandigarh to Kalka where this train service originates. It traverses a mountainous route overlooking beautiful mountains and valleys. If you are lucky, you can also see many children who go to school in small huts near the railway line. They are super friendly and will wave at you. Due to the bad conditions of the highway, this train is the best and most comfortable way to travel to Shimla (especially for those travels who get car sick in mountainous roads).
The Barog tunnel is the longest tunnel which is about 1143.61 m (1.2 km) long. The train stops there for lunch and takes a break for the oncoming train to pass.
Bagai, I. (2017). Shimla.
This railway was declared as UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE on 8th July 2008.
Every traveller visiting Shimla or Himachal should take a trip on this train as it can be a once in a lifetime experience. The slow train going across the Himalayas reminds you of the times gone by when the British used to travel by this as there was no highway at that time. So travel by First Class or Executive Class as you get a proper seat (soft and comfortable). In the second class, you will be jammed with about 4 more people on the same wooden bench.For couples, travelling to Shimla for their honeymoon, I recommend travelling by Shivalik Queen. This is specially made for honeymooners, with elegantly furnished coupes, wall to wall carpeting and big windows.
Looking at the other mode of travel to Shimla, highways in India are dotted with small eating places called “Dhaba”. A visitor will taste the authentic food of that region in these small "Restaurants".
Kalka-Shimla highway is under construction making the road from two lanes to four lanes. Its utter chaos in some sections due to this. Businesses on the side of the highway are being shut down or moved to another location as the road widens.
I saw this small dhaba on the side of the road and ventured in to see what the owner is selling. The board reads: "Chicken Pakora, chicken ramen, boiled eggs, omelette, fried eggs and soup available here."The owner complained about the shoddy and slow construction work that has killed off little business he had with all the restaurants popping up around him. His shop has been here for about 24 years and for the first time he has seen a loss of customers. I had fried eggs and toast and trust me, they were the tastiest snack I have had all this trip!
Travel Tip: The dhabas are a good place to have a snack or a proper meal. The owners are friendly and if the place is big enough, the servers are even friendlier. They are curious to know what you do and where you from, so please talk to them as learn something new about a place. Also, if you have a sensitive tummy, visit the dhabas which are either big in size or brightly lit with lots of people. Their food is safer but bit more expensive in comparison but at least your trip won't be spent searching for a fully equipped for emergency John!
Bagai, I. (2017). Shimla.
Shimla is a town full of British architecture which is still in use to this very day. Many structures have been restored to its former glory, many are under renovation and many are left ignored. Take a walk around the town to see the British architecture, and feel what it was like in in the early 1900s.
People who walk past it and often ignore this dilapidated structure. But it was an employment office when it was in use until the late 80s.
This building has seen many prayers at its entrance as potential candidates went to get registered for a job. Thousands of people must have gotten their dream job and hundreds left disappointed. The history, the joy, the sadness of those times must have seeped into the foundation, it's a structure that would have told countless stories of the past, only if it could speak.
Bagai, I. (2017). Shimla.
Travel Tip: Shimla is a small town; the best way to get around town and the places of interest are walking distance. If someone comes up to you and asks you if you want a car, or a guide (being a tourist spot) please avoid as they will fleece you. Search all the places for yourself as you don't want to fall into a tourist trap. Take a walk on the heritage route, as it is full of old British buildings that are still being used today.
Try to avoid the chain restaurants in town as they are the same old all across the country.
Visit old restaurants like Fascination, which is right above Baljees on the Mall road. Amazing food and probably the best cup of tea you'll have in the city.
Established in 1986, Hainault Public School, is located in the heart of Shimla. It is also one of the very few schools which have a playground for students as the terrain is totally hilly. As a kid, my dad sent me to this school as my previous school had moved its campus. Most of my fondest childhood memories were in this very school.
Bagai, I. (2017). Shimla.
I recently went back to meet the Principal /owner of the School, Ms Aditya Kumari, as I myself was a student of this school for four years.
I met her parents who are the erstwhile King and Queen of the former State of Jubbal now part of Shimla District. Sad news awaited me. The family has taken a decision to shut down the school. The king told me that since the parents demand pick-up and drop facilities, not many kids are enrolling into the school The school sits on a sealed road which means it is not open to motor vehicles. (Parts of central Shimla are kept free of vehicles except those of police and emergency services.).Unfortunately, after so many years of service, they are going to close the school down permanently. They started this school as a goodwill gesture to the society. They never took any profits from the school, plus in time of need, they are funding the school out of their own pocket. Being the kindhearted person the King is, they are going to run the school for one more Year, with just the kids from 12th class. This is so that they are at ease during their exams and they don't have to search for a new school.
It was a humbling experience meeting the Royal family of Jubbal. I never realised that the King would be so patient and polite to talk to. Hospitality is on another level entirely. In my life I have met celebrities, well-known dignitaries and businessmen, but never met someone who was soft-spoken, yet engaging to talk to, minus the ego.
Travel Tip: Forest road walk from Beads Chowk to Mall road is one of the most peaceful walks. You'll be surrounded by Cedar trees, singing birds and none of the traffic and pollution. The stretch between Hainault Public School and Mall road is one of the most picturesque walks. You can view the road entering Shimla, the TV tower, Institute of Advanced Studies, the train station and many more houses. Sunset can be especially beautiful.
KEEP TRAVELLING! CHEERS!
Bagai, I. (2018). Shimla- Travel to the Queen of the Hills. [Blog] Available at: http://www.iceleopardimaging.com/blog.html [Accessed 26 Mar. 2018].
Is Photography an Art Form?
In his respected work, Ways of Seeing, the art critic John Berger comments that:
unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it. No painting or drawing, however naturalist, belongs to its subject in the way that a photograph does.
It’s a positive way of looking at one of the differences between traditional art and photography. A photograph captures a moment in time in its actuality, whereas something like a painting or drawing, however accurate is essentially a rendering of whatever the artist chooses to see. But can photography itself ever be described as an art form? And more importantly, what is art?
Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy
Subjectively Biased Interpretation
In my mind art is a subjectively biased interpretation of the artist’s subject. In many ways, the choice of subject is largely irrelevant; it’s the biased interpretation that makes things interesting and unique.
Artists show their own unique vision of a scene, which provokes a reaction from us, the viewer. Their ‘job’ if you like, is to make us see a scene and to execute it in a way that engages the viewer. The skill lies in being able to translate an idea to a finished product in the medium of the artist’s choice.
If we take the above paragraph at face value, it’s difficult to see where photography would fit into this analogy. As photographers, it’s not easy to see anything other than what is in front of our lenses – we can only photograph what physically exists, or what we can make physically exist. And, as such, it’s not hard to see why some people can be very dismissive of photography as an art form.
Is There Artistic Value in Photography?
For myself, I certainly struggle to compare my work to that of a painter or sculptor. I can’t draw for toffee and I certainly don’t have the skills that they have.
It’s also hard for people to see an artistic value in photography when it’s possible to make nearly identical copies of the same image. A photograph can never be a one-off like a painting (unless of course you print one copy and then delete all traces of its existence!). And of course, since digital photography became the norm, there’s a certain belief that anyone can take a photograph. Entry-level DSLRs are remarkably cheap and the camera companies that push them are partially responsible for supporting this view. Owning an expensive camera can seem like more of a lifestyle choice than anything else these days!
And you don’t even need a camera to take a photograph these days. Most mobile phones come with a camera and a million and one ways to instantly upload and share your work with anyone you choose. The magic of a photograph is somewhat lost when it’s posted on Twitter or Facebook five seconds after it was taken.
It’s undoubtedly hard to justify this instant medium as ‘art’ in the true sense of the word.
Art Influencing Photography
But yet, despite all this, I do believe that some photography can be viewed as art. What a lot of people don’t realise is that many of us pros see art as a huge influence in our work.
If you take a close look at landscape and portrait images, you’ll often see the influence of paintings. I often mimic the setup of groups of people in paintings in my own portraiture, along with the interesting expressions and moods that said painters have captured. So, before many of us have even pressed the shutter, the influence of art is apparent in our work.
Technical & Artistic Skills
The sort of photography I view as art is the kind of work that has clearly had thought put into it, and in which both technical and artistic skills is evident. The most stunning portrait and landscape shots have clearly not just been ‘snapped’ with a camera phone.
Photographs where time has been taken to get the correct lighting, whereby possibly hours have been spent getting the set up right, a relationship with the subject has been established and is evident in the final result – these images are art.
There is a skill involved in taking images that speak to the viewer and provoke a reaction in them that’s no different to the reactions evoked by art.
So yes, I do believe that in the right circumstances photography is an art form. And it’s an art form that takes skill, artistic ability and an understanding of technology. It deserves its place on the artistic forum.