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Himalaya

Day 34: Shimla

Shimla, India 
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Keeping out of the sun or keeping out of the book? Shy ladies on the Ridge at Shimla.
Michael Palin - HimalayaFrom being just a summer hideaway, Shimla grew to become the nerve centre of Britain's Indian empire for eight months of the year and in 1888 a building considered appropriate for this role was completed. The Vice-Regal Lodge is an extraordinary edifice. Built at the top of a hill and the peak of Victorian self-confidence, it is authority made manifest, superiority set in stone. The British relationship with India changed in the 1860s, after the bloodshed of the Indian Mutiny, or the first War of Independence, as most Indians call it. What had been a loosely commercial enterprise, a sort of mercantile laissez-faire, began to be seen as a moral obligation. Previously relaxed relations between British and Indians were discouraged. Better communications meant that wives and families could come out to India, ending
inter-marriage with locals. The army was strengthened and concentrated in well-armed cantonments.

'Keeping India at bay', is how my friend Raaja sums up this new imperial vision, as we walk in the gardens of the Lodge this morning. In his view, the sombre grey walls that rise above us represented a deliberate attempt by the British to recreate the island mentality in India. The Vice-Regal Lodge stood not just for power, but for permanence.

Permanence lasted less than 60 years and to add insult to injury many of the most important talks that led to the departure of the British took place behind these grandiose faux-baronial walls. All the founders and future leaders of India and Pakistan at one time trooped in below the lions rampant that stand guard above the carved stone portals.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 34: Shimla
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Shimla
  • Book page no: 75

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