The treats are lined up in Shimla

The treats are lined up in Shimla

The Mall in Shimla is a whole atmosphere. A character of its own. The whiff of the Raj era is unmistakable with the dominating Christ Church, bang on the Ridge at the crest of the Mall, as its presiding deity. And the romance of that nostalgia is accentuated by the string of delightful bakeries - a British legacy - peppered all over the Mall Road.

It was afternoon. The snow-capped range stood benignly beyond the green hills, the same way it stood when the sahibs and their dainty wives of the Raj's summer capital came out on the Mall to have their tea, with scones. The sahibs have disappeared. The desi variety of today, from Chandigarh to Chennai, have taken their place. And they were out to snack, too. I joined them, but with the nose for the old, favourites bakeries.

"We are into the third generation now," said the middle-aged man behind the counter at Beekays, the bakery at Scandal Point. Before I could take the conversation forward, a group of high-school girls in their uniform of checked tunic prattled in, filling the place with their happy buzz. "Uncle this." "Uncle that." "Uncle, but I don't have change."

Though I had done my bit of online research, I still perked up my antenna to find what their favourite picks were. After all, being regulars, they'd know better. At the end, I decided, "Garlic bread and coffee please." It was indeed a hit, the garlic bread, I mean. Burger, patties and even momos where getting lapped up fast all around. Certainly a busy joint.

Neither Krishna Bakery nor Trishool, by their desi names, would tug your mind towards the British past of Shimla. But ask any old-timer and his pupils will dilate, for sure. There is always a crowd in front of each of these modest-looking stores on the Mall Road, spilling on to the road, and the sudden waft of that enchanting aroma of fresh bake. Little wonder to see a constant flow of locals picking up their daily bread. I ventured into both, and I tell you, I had the best cream rolls of my life. The crusts are long, crunchy yet not too flaky. And end-to-end filled with fresh, optimally sweet CREAAAM. And the real cherry is the price - down to the earth for such angelic taste.

The entire length of Mall Road, from Scandal Point to its gentle roll down eastward, is dotted with eateries - not just bakeries, but cafes and fine dining, sweet shops and street vendors. An enchanting place for sandwiches, yes, exotic sandwiches at that, is perched up on an upper floor reachable through a precariously steep flight of stairs, and you would miss it if you didn't know it exists there.

The Mall Road veers south, past the lift which brings people up, mostly tourists, from the busy motor-road deep below and continues its journey winding through shops, eateries, more shops. And then, just before it takes a final turn at the iconic Clarkes Hotel, a cute opening to the right peeps out at the road - a pastry shop, a tiny outpost of a well-known local brand. Tiny, but will spoil you with choice. Rich brownie, apple-almond cake - a Shimla specialty with apples from the orchards around, almond fudge, cherry dates, the list goes on.

What do you think I settled for? If you happen to be there, do have the lemon-apricot cake. You will remember me. Fondly.

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