It was forty two years ago. Frazzled from a month and a half on the Overland to India trail, I stopped off here on my way to Kashmir for a day’s recuperation. I ended up staying a week. There wasn’t much to do – there still isn’t – but Dalhousie grew on me. For fifty rupees a night (50p) I rented a room in a tenement with a wooden bed, a cold tap and a balcony with a view, a glorious view. Looking down, I could see pine-covered valleys thousands of feet below dotted with small towns, rivers and undulating hills. Looking up, I could make out the peaks of the spectacular Dhauladhar range of mountains better known as the Outer Himalayas. I was 19 years old and it was the best of times to be in Dalhousie, early summer with white temple magnolias and yellow cobra lilies dotted all around town.
This time it is deep autumn and the flowers have long gone. I take one of the pedestrian walkways that connect Subhash Chowk with the other town square, Ghandi Chowk, perched on a separate hill a mile and a half away. The tenement I stayed in has long disappeared but the bench I used to sit on at the end of each day remains complete with its faded inscription: “Here you can admire the sunset”. Well, maybe not this evening.
A couple of hundred yards further, I walk past several grand villas adorned with ornamental gates and name tags. One identifies a top civil servant from the Punjab, another a Delhi judge and another a university professor from the Indian state we are in, Himalchal Pradesh. In the decades since I was here, Dalhousie has clearly become a desirable retirement home for the Northern Indian elite who have taken over the houses and bungalows built for the English who stayed on. In 1973, I met one of those who did, a widow originally from the Home Counties who had spent most of her life here. She invited me in for tea and, over a pot of Earl Grey and two helpings of bread and butter pudding, told me her tales of the Raj. I reminded her, she said, of her grand-nephew in Worcester.