x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

In summer, head for the hills

It doesn't really matter where you go as long as the temperature is cooler.

To this day, those who can escape do so. By the time the British arrived in India and experienced their first heatwave, it was already established that a few months spent in cooler climes was a necessity, not a luxury. So following the example of the land's hundreds of monarchs, the British, too, escaped to "hill stations", a term used to describe a sleepy town in a suitably mountainous location. Over time, as the Raj spread across the country, so did the hill stations, and the escape routes turned from mule trails to pukka roads.

But the summer sojourn in the hills that was once reserved exclusively for the monied class has, over the past half a century, evolved into a more affordable holiday for the Indian middle class, whose ranks have grown, as have their salaries and assets. At the same time, those who can afford to escape abroad are also doing so. Friends in India have flung themselves to far away spots - from the Swiss Alps and Madrid to Phuket and even New York City, to celebrate July 4.

And at the same time, I find myself advising friends here - Emirati and otherwise - about the joys of a trip to a hill station. A friend who impulsively booked a ticket to Delhi after getting tired of the heat here has compiled a list of six spots to visit, from Shimla and Leh to Sikkim. We have charted places in the vicinity of the capital, not too different from what I imagine the British were doing 200 years ago.

Any Indian state with a range of mountains provides an escape route. For example, Darjeeling was the summer capital of the British when they ruled India from Calcutta, before moving to Delhi. For six months, the hills would come alive with platoons of the army and their generals searching for a respite from the heat. Over time, the journey evolved from dozens of elephants and palanquins bearing the rich and their worldly possessions. The British established a more economical and efficient way of travel by laying down the narrow gauge railway, on which trains, popularly nicknamed toy trains, ferried both foreign and Indian tourists to and from the warmer regions.

This year I am struck by how much the world has continued to evolve. The places that we visit on holiday and the way that we think about travel have both changed dramatically from even a decade ago. Borders are blurred by globalisation. And so this summer, I find my European friends looking to Indian hill stations, while my mother packs her bags to visit family friends in Norway and I head to the Margalla hills in Islamabad for a wedding.