We wander at our own sweet will

Anne MacLeod on Simla, 1890

We wandered at our own sweet will together through the byways of Simla, studying its manners and customs and the lie of the land. A vast panorama of snow-capped mountains forms a far-away background with valleys between us and them. Viceregal Lodge crowns a hill at one end; three miles away, at the other end, Barnes Court, the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjaub, lies hidden among trees. Snowdon and the Commander-in-Chief are located in the middle; four or five big hotels at different centres, with bungalows here, there, and everywhere, on the edge of the roads or perched under pines on the hills. The names of the owners of these bungalows are painted on a board nailed on to the trunk of some tree near the entrance gate, a little tin box being frequently hung beneath this board with 'Not at home' written above the slit in its lid, into which cards can be dropped.

I am told that everyone calls on everyone else in Simla, including the inhabitants of all the hotels, and that it is held incumbent on every householder who receives such a call to acknowledge the civility by an invitation to luncheon, dinner, or tea, a custom which has survived the days when conditions were totally different, before India was dreamt of as an alternative to the grand tour, or even to a winter in Egypt, and the population of Simla amounted to about a fifth of its present numbers. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that this multitudinous exchange of hospitalities must have become rather a strain to both the entertainers and the entertained.

But to return to our irresponsible days. Captain Speedy and I, having finished our grand tour of Simla as a whole, shopped all along the Mall and had sometimes tea in Peliti's balcony, looking down on the neverending stream of rickshaws which passed and repassed, their owners having a welcoming smile, so it seemed to me, for everybody, and a bow which was as regularly repeated as if it had been pulled by a string.

In this way we filled up the blanks between luncheons and dinner-parties before evenings devoted to dances and plays – hospitalities which more than confirmed all one had heard of the kindliness of the Anglo-Indian community!

Byways of Simla, 1890. Anne MacLeod married Jim Wilson of the Indian Civil Service in 1888, and spent the following decade and the early years of the new century in various postings. These gave her the material for regular letters home, which she was to publish in 1911. With her we visit Simla, to which both the Viceroy and the Government removed themselves each year in the hot weather.

The Haunted Simla Road by Khushwant Singh | Contents
A view of Simla by Edward Lear, 1873