Hill Stations: Spawned by the British, Adopted by Us
Hill stations- that place all of us plain-dwellers visit for some welcome relief from the oppressive heat.
When we think of a hill station, we think of relaxing at a quaint little resort (or an exotic, luxurious one, depending on how deep your pockets are), sipping on steaming-hot chai, eating pakoras and bhutta, and indulging in loads of gupshup. It usually also has scattered relics of the British Raj.
All of this is so commonplace, but have you ever pondered how 'hill stations' came to be? No, right? Well then get ready for an account about the genesis of our beloved hill stations.
It all began with Mr. Russell, an Englishman who used to trade in India on behalf of the British Crown. He wasn't a complete stranger to the land, having already resided in the country for a few years. Initially it was all jolly good, what with all the riches and the flourishing trade. However, soon he began getting frustrated by the damp heat and began seeking cooler climes more akin to his homeland. After all, you can take a man out of his homeland but you cannot take his homeland out of him.
It was this search of his that lead him to places like Shimla, Ooty, Matheran, Panchgani, Dehradun, and Mussoorie. What were once simple, small towns whose primary source of business was trade and agriculture on a small scale, were transformed into full-fledged holiday destinations for his folk who came looking for relief from the Indian heat.
He took help of communities like Parsis, who were one of the allied or more helpful ones towards him and his folk than the rest. Communities who had over time come to adopt British sensibilities. But what made the Parsis share such a relationship with Mr. Russell that the rest of the communities could not?
For that, we need to look back into the past to the time when the Parsis first arrived from Persia to the shores of Gujarat, in search of an environment that was safer than their homeland. When the Parsis first settled, they were a small population and they soon realized that social distinctions would not help their cause, so they dissolved all distinctions in their society, keeping only the priests above the rest.
This endeared them to Mr. Russell, who by now was peeved with the Hindu caste system since it provided barriers to conducting business. The Parsis became the liaison between Russell and the rest of the Indian populace. The partnership that started with brokerage and assisting Russell and his friends with the opium trade, evolved into the Parsis owning fairly large business houses while receiving relatively favourable treatment from the British as compared to the rest of the Indians.
Mr. Russell knew that Parsis were an invaluable tool and he enlisted their help in developing these hill stations as summer destinations for him and his folk. In return, he helped the Parsis acquire large properties in the hill stations.
The coming of the British populace brought other changes to these places. Theatres, operas, summer houses for government officials, new roads, telegraph lines, and railway connectivity; all concepts which were more or less like a fish out of water in the scenario of the country then, and you can still see most, if not all, of the impacts Mr. Russell had even today.
Thus, what started as a simple search by a colonising power to find a place more akin to home, ended up being one of the foremost generators of tourism in the country, even decades after the colonising power had left the land. Hill stations became our 'go-to' place for that short weekend getaway, or even for that long vacation where you want to forget all your work and just chill (quite literally). Hill stations became the child the Brits left behind that we adopted, brought-up, and loved dearly, and we continue to do so.