The morning is bright, cloudless. On the way out to Kufri, a quick detour to Bemloe below the Clarke’s is a disappointment. In September, the stone-walled, slate-roofed cottage of memory would be filled with the sweet smell of Shimla’s own Golden Delicious apples, fresh harvest from the orchards of Chail. Evenings were spent watching the sun go down in flames behind the western ridge, striking sparks from distant windows, lying like lava upon streaks of evening cloud. Now the roof is a bilious green and the walls have been painted red. A fence shuts off the valley view from the sunset seat. The flower beds where gladiolii nodded amidst the verbania are now bare except for some apologetic marigolds.
You can never go home again.
Through the tunnel, Sanjauli is a traffic nightmare. The road inches tiredly past shabby tea-shops, past the bus-stand at Dhalli and the dirty workshops, opening suddenly onto a vista of terraced fields and farmhouses small in the distance.
The choice was between some time soaking in the view from Wildflower Hall, or a visit to the autumn orchards of Chail. Some of the orchards have day passes, where visitors can eat all the fruit they want. And, presumably, repent in a haze of acidity afterwards. The Himalayan vista seemed by far the better option.
At the last fork before Kufri, a brick-paved driveway leads up through an ornate gate. Wildflower Hall. As the car groans up, the horizon flowers with snow-capped peaks. Immediately, the air seems fresher, cooler. The building itself is ugly as a barracks, somehow reminiscent of a Nazi schloss, perhaps out of Where Eagles Dare. Alighting in a stone-walled portico beside a lawn so green it looks Photo-Shopped. Once through a slightly out-of-place revolving door, shoes squeak upon super-polished parquet floors, through the lobby, through the sun-washed morning room, to the terrace.
Words are not adequate.
Little red flowers line the parapet, framing the vistas beyond. On two sides pine forests, dark even in the brilliant sunshine, brood upon the songs of unseen multitudes of cicadas. In front of the terrace, layer upon layer of shaggy hills climb from green to blue towards the cloud-fringed horizon. But not all the white is cloud. On the edge of the sky, the
Peace comes dropping slow.