Shimla losing its monsoon magic?

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : Drenched in the memories of years gone by, R.L. Thakur, 80, ponderously looks at the evening sky and then at the busy Mall Road. The tourists who once used to be draped in bright raincoats and armed with jumbo umbrellas now stroll around without their rain shields – a constant reminder of lean monsoons that the hill town has been witnessing of late.

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The retired government employee, who settled in Shimla in 1955, says till the 1990s, heavy rainfall during the monsoon was a normal feature of the town.

“There used to be heavy rainfall during monsoon and it continued for days together. From June onwards, people used to carry half-sleeved sweaters and long umbrellas with them. Suddenly, the crystal-clear skies used to turn cloudy every evening and showers made the atmosphere much cooler,” Thakur told IANS.

“Now, people are wearing half-sleeved shirts and t-shirts even when the monsoon has arrived. The trend of strolling with a jumbo black umbrella in one hand has been replaced with small trendy ones. This shows there is striking climatic change,” he added.

Thakur is not the only one. Many old-timers talk about the changing climate dynamics of Shimla — once tagged as the ‘Queen of Hills’ by the British when it was their summer capital.

They say that for almost two decades, Shimla has not seen the kind of heavy, incessant rains that sometimes used to paralyse life for days.

Jyoti Kashyap, 35, a government employee who has been brought up in this town, said: “The locals used to buy knee-length waterproof boots before the monsoon. Now, you can hardly see anybody wearing those. People have even stopped purchasing raincoats and waterproof jackets.”

According to officials, deforestation, construction of high-rise buildings and rise in pollution have rendered the Shimla hills warm and rain-deficient.

The meteorological department here says that the mean maximum and minimum temperatures throughout the year have been recorded above average.

“Now there is a lot of gap between one spell of rain and the other. There is no downpour for days together as it used to be,” said Manmohan Singh, director of the Shimla meteorological office.

According to the Met office, from June 1 to Aug 17, Dharamsala received the highest rainfall at 2,226 mm — 33 percent above the average — while Shimla got 666.5 mm against the average of 742.7 mm, a deficit of 10 percent.

S.M. Joshi, another Shimla old-timer, said the town used to get a fresh look with the arrival of monsoon.

“The rainwater automatically cleaned the streets and pathways. Now, most of the natural drains have been encroached upon and not cleaned regularly by the authorities. A mild rainfall now brings the entire household waste on the streets,” he said.

Jaiparkash Goel and his wife Sunanda, a Delhi-based couple, regularly drive down to the hill town during monsoon.

But they say that over the years, “the town has lost its charm of moistness and haziness. One can’t get the feeling of walking on clouds”.

However, not everyone is complaining.

Sheela Chauhan, an octogenarian housewife, said: “Earlier, most of the houses developed leaks due to seepage… the inside walls used to develop black moulds. Even wet rot set in on beddings. Now, these are things of the past.”

Even the blocking of streets and pathways due to uprooted trees is a rare spectacle now. “Even people whose houses are located in densely forested areas used to move to safer places during monsoon,” Chauhan recalled.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])