Location: The Oberoi Cecil, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh 171004
At first sight Shimla looks like a temporary town built in a hurry by the British as a holiday camp, with ugly add-ons since it became the Himachal Pradesh state capital. Fortunately, it’s more than that. At 7,116 feet altitude, the surrounding forested Himalaya landscape is sublime – wellness is to walk, drive, cycle, picnic, barbecue and even practice your archery, tennis and cricket in it. In town you must walk – walk up and down, down and up the steps and paths to find lively temples, local medical herbs, mountain dals, tailors stitching, festival bric-a-brac, tubs of home-made pickles and, thank goodness, steaming fresh chai, patties and jalebis at tiny cafes (a vital alternative to hotel Raj recipes). Kipling’s Kim, and Rudyard himself, would be pleased.
Then, there are the views that will mesmerize you as much as they did the British, who gave them names such as Prospect Point while dreaming of Scotland. Recently, my Californian client’s response had more empathy. ‘Look!’, she gasped. ‘Can’t you imagine Hanuman flying over these hills to fetch herbs for Laxman?’. I could. Well, we were in India to follow Navratri up to Dussehra…
But when it comes to accommodation the British tradition trumps all others. In 1815 the little hamlet of Simla was part of the Lower Himalaya region settled by the British after the first Anglo-Gurkha War. Its low-humidity and cool air was a godsend after the steamy summer heat of Bengal and the plains. Privileged Brits quickly built summer retreats. Then, from 1864 until 1947 the entire administration lumbered up here to spend seven months of each year perched on a mountainside - no Calcutta empire splendour here. Today, lots of those charming cottages and mansions welcome guests but none does it like The Oberoi Cecil hotel. Located bang in the middle of town, it matches quality tea and piano cocktails in the historic lounge with refurbished bedrooms, huge indoor swimming pool and Oberoi service. To top off the experience, arrive or leave by the Kalka-Shimla ‘Toy Train’ twisting through that luscious landscape.
Must-do wellness experience: Deep breathing while walking through ancient deodars
Oberoi Cecil buzz phrase: After that walk, let’s have tea in the lounge!
Ideas for unpacking your kind of slow-down wellness at The Oberoi Cecil
Sit back on the Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge railway as it meanders through 20 stations, 103 tunnels, 912 curves and 969 bridges at a 3% gradient. Built 1898-1903, its 60 miles transformed part of the long journey between Shimla and Calcutta, then Delhi, which had been by horse- and ox-drawn cart.
From hilltop Oberoi Cecil, stroll along mostly flat Ridge and Mall to evoke colonial history at Christ Church, restored Gaiety Theatre, the second-hand bookshop, Viceregal Lodge (interior messed up, yet historically intriguing) and a wild assortment of Tudor revival and neo-Gothic buildings.
Thank the British rules for daily exercise and a passion for the picturesque for delivering Viewpoints that promote our own wellbeing today. Find a variety in town such as Prospect Point, Kali Bari temple and over Annadale; seek out others at Summer Hill and beside Chadwick Falls.
Let your body and mind be nourished by the forest, it is on your doorstep. Walk among ancient deodar cedar trees, the lofty pine and oak, and tree-high native rhododendrons that botanists brought to the West. Breath the sweet-smelling air they perfume. Feel so good.
In Lower Bazar, buy rocks of mineral rich Himalayan salt (added to a bath it helps detoxify the body), learn from locals about medicinal herbs, and most definitely visit a tailor to have a locally woven, tartan wool waistcoat made overnight. Remember, shopping is part of finding our balance and wellbeing.
Episode 23: Chonor House, Dharamshala
It really is time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2022!
How shall we want to travel?
We are emerging into a more cautious world, one where we perhaps want to move more slowly, be in control of our interaction with other people, avoid crowds, be outside as much as possible. I am here to help you achieve this in the Himalaya, on the Deccan Plateau, along the coast, in forests, desert and villages.
If you have not traveled with me in a group before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to off-beat places. We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs. In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
For private travel ....
I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!