Chilling in Shimla
Anyway – Shimla. Was our first trip up to the Himalayas (not counting our trip the month before to Haridwar, which we thought was in the hills, and thus optimistically packed jumpers and jeans to snuggle up in, but ended up being situated on the decidedly flat, dry, dusty and HOT plains just before the hills, where we sweated it out) and we were very excited to get out of the Delhi furnace and into some weather which we were assured by the Internet weather site would be between 19 and 25 degrees – heaven!
To get to Shimla, we caught the very comfortable Shatabdi Express to Kalka, and lounged in our seats with tons of legroom, drank ourselves silly on tea and excitedly watched Delhi disappear as we headed north. Once in Kalka, we walked out of the station to find a taxi to drive us up to Shimla. A man approached and offered to hire us an Ambassador, the quintessential Indian vehicle – looks 100 years old but was actually manufactured last year – for 1100 rupees. As seasoned Delhi-market frequenters, we immediately tried to bargain him down to 1000 (the AUD$3 saving would have been worth it!) to which the man signalled his disgust and walked off to assist the waiting throngs of other people who were also waiting for taxis. An hour later, after several unsuccessful attempts at engaging the services of other drivers, and when we could next catch the man’s attention, we sheepishly agreed to the original fare, and were on our way!
Or so we thought. To get to the Shimla “highway”, we needed to pass through several traffic jams of other cars also trying to get to the shimla road, a number of “tax points”, and weave our way around the ever-present cows, calmly munching away on garbage by the side of the road. After what felt like hours of tooting, yelling, swerving, stopping and starting, we were REALLY on our way, our driver calmly driving around the hairpin bends on the road between Kalka and Shimla on the wrong side of the road as if he had done it before tonnes of times (which lets face it, he probably had).
We got to Shimla after a couple of hours, feeling slightly dizzy, and asked our driver to take us to our hotel, “Spars Lodge”. Perhaps Spars Lodge isn’t all that well frequented, as despite the LP saying it was only a few minutes out of the centre of town, it took us another hour to find. We eventually got to it by driving back out into the countryside, along some bumpy dirt tracks, through a military installation, and eventually, up a hill too steep for the cars gearbox, at which point it was suggested we could get out and walk. We got out and hoisted on our backpacks to find that we were surrounded by a fine white mist; it was raining heavily, but more importantly – it was cold!!! We practically danced our way up the vertical slope to Spars Lodge, whipped out our fleecy jackets and smiled ruddy cheeked at each other.
Spars Lodge was worth the search. Perched on the side of a hill, it had great views of the Himalayas, a friendly manager and decent food. They also had 4 wine glasses in a box which they were happy to crack open for us to fill with our BYO Indian shiraz. The rooms were simple, a little grubby, but pretty cheap, and had amazing views. The hotel also had resident monkeys which shocked us by appearing suddenly at the window as we were sleepily gazing out at the cold.
One thing Shimla is not short of is monkeys. In the town they mostly keep to themselves, which is a good thing. But at the Monkey temple, which is perched high on a hill above town - they attack! So much so that it’s worth the 5Rs investment to hire a stick that you can threaten them with if they get too close. Particularly if you are, like me, more than a bit knackered by the time you finish climbing to the temple – unfit foreigners are easy pickings for those unfriendly (and not at all spiritually at-ease – which is odd given that they live at a sacred Hindu temple that is dedicated to them!) monkeys.
Chris, happy and stick-free at the top of the "Monkey Temple hill"
Monkey at his temple, looking for his next victim...hmmm who's that guy over there in the orange hat? the one without the stick?
We had 2 full days in Shimla, which we spent going for long walks in the slightly chilly air, alternating between jumpers on and jumpers off, drinking hot chocolates and trying to find an Indian wine that was drinkable but also affordable. That proved to be an unsuccessful task, but we did learn that Shimla produces its own apple cider – a very tasty alternative indeed.
View of Shimla....
On our last day, we walked to the Vice-Regal Lodge – a big old building built by the Brits in what was described as the “Scottish style” – for a poke around. The lodge was built in the 1800’s for the Vice Regent of India to stay in during his summer vacations (I mean, working holidays) in Shimla. We went on the tour, which consisted of a guide leading us into the foyer and out again, and informing us that as none of us have PhD’s, we were not permitted to go any further (the lodge is now an Institute for advanced study, and fair enough too that the academics inside don’t want to be disturbed by the hordes of uneducated tourists!). What was most special was the photo of Gandhi, Nehru and the English bloke in charge at the time (sorry cant remember his name) posing outside the building, having just concluded an important decision-making meeting regarding Indian independence. It seemed fitting to be at this place on the celebration of Independence Day.
In Gandhi's footsteps, but without the PhD's........with friends outside the Vice-Regal Lodge in Shimla.