I long had dreams of going to Shimla, based mainly on watching the TV series “Indian Summers”. The setting is a beautiful green valley, with lovely gardens and walking trails. Shimla is NOTHING like that! It is a vertical city, perched on the steepest, largest mountain sides I have ever seen. Each building is above or below the next. A difficult city to get around.
We arrived on the narrow-gauge railway, built a hundred years ago by the meticulous Brits, to give their ex-pat citizens a place to cool down in the summer. The trip takes 6 or 7 hours about 22 Kms.
The train to here was amazing; see our clip of the Himalayan Queen here
The trains are old and restored, listed as World Heritage. You go over 800 bridges, through 103 tunnels and ascend to 7,500 ft, and there you are; Shimla.
We are staying in a small village, perched on a narrow ridge on the top of a mighty big mountain.
You look behind houses on one side of the road, and there is an almighty drop, then cross the road to the other side, and another similar drop. Blimey. Today we decided to head to downtown Shimla, where some lovely historical buildings can be seen along the “Mall”.
So we took the local bus. It is only a short distance, but takes an hour, with crazy turns; the fast-moving bus driving precariously close to the edge of a cliff.
I had to move to the other side of the bus and look away. The return trip was worse, with way too many people squished in, and us trying to stand. Each time when we thought, “no way, no more people, I can’t breathe”, another 5-people got on. The passengers were very good natured, no one got upset at having an elbow in their face, or their nose in someone’s armpit. Everything in Shimla is like that; that’s what I meant by difficult. It’s all a matter of perspective. We have a lot to learn.
See our one-minute video of our bus ride @
It is SPECTACULAR. The views are mind blowing. The Himalayas just keep on going, as you look towards the horizon, and the mountains get bigger and bigger. So here we are; the agony and the ecstasy.
We have a nice Airbnb, which is gorgeous inside, lots of space and friendly hosts living upstairs. However it can only be reached by going very slowly down a long set of outdoor steps, VERY steep and scary, especially with luggage. We are starting to get used it to it…a bit.
Our village, called Kasumpti, is becoming familiar. We have the older guy who sells us large bottles of water (you can only buy smaller ones from the other little stores), and eggs at 5 Rs (8c) each, sometimes a bottle of soda water and Cadburys chocolate. The village is just a strip along the mountain. There are often lots of people congregating in a central area, called the bazaar, who are waiting for buses. There is also a wine shop; first we’ve seen in India. I asked about the price of a bottle of Kingfisher. It was marked 85 Rs but he insisted that we should pay 180 Rs, so no-sale for me. Other store owners just charge the price on the item. Oh well.
Yesterday began another hospital day. I had squirties again, and a tummy ache, so I thought, better get onto this early. Our host very kindly offered to walk us to the local hospital. He has never driven a car! I guess this makes sense in this part of the world. The traffic is chaotic; with the road circling those mountains, always with 1000 ft drop on one side and steep mountain on the other. There is NO wiggle room. He told us that several times a year a bus rolls off the road into the gully. Everyone is always killed. I’m surprised that it is not more often. Anyway, you can’t drive up or down the mountain. There are steps which join the road loops around it. So, it’s mainly walking for most people. It’s much further to take the circling roads. We finally arrived at the hospital and I was waved ahead of a longish queue. I walked to the front, apologising to the folks, who simply smiled and pointed the way forward. The lady at the desk, a very efficient woman, who had it all ‘in hand’, said she was surprised that I was ‘a senior’. She then became my new best friend. I got the paperwork done and we (the three of us) sat down to wait. It wasn’t too long before we got to see a doctor in another building, who sent me off to have some tests.
We walked back home. Our host had been with us for some hours, a kind man. Today we returned and I had my very first Indian ultra-sound. Kinda cool. The radiologist himself was operating the thing….a wand? He dictated to his assistant the whole time and told me what he saw. ‘probably not appendix’ I have a really sore spot on the right side, which is some sort of infection, ‘needing further investigation’ when we return. Oh well.
The hospital ‘ground floor’ is actually the 7th story. So you can enter from here. Then you go down to the 4th floor (where the ultra-sound room is) and step out the back. When you look down it’s the roof of another 6 or 7 story building. The building seems to be anchored somehow to the mountain side.
The other day we took a walk in the other direction, following a very narrow path cut into the mountain side; the same deal. A massive drop to one side, and the steep side on the other. It’s so steep that you can hold you hand up to it to steady yourself. I keep my eyes on the path. I can only look around when I stop. It truly freaks me out. As we progressed, the path got narrower and I had to stop and head back. Terrell was completely comfortable with it, but not me. On the way back, we were greeted by a man sitting outside his house, which basically sticks out over the valley. We had a friendly chat, and he asked us in for a cup of tea. It was really nice. The couple are both retired, speak English well, and it was interesting. One of their grown-up kid’s lives in Chicago, the same as the son of our host. The house is heritage listed, 100 years old. He told us that the forest is also protected, 100-year-old pine trees filled with black faced little monkeys. It really is very beautiful.After our month in Kerala (see our Kerala blog) we stopped in Delhi for a couple of days. As usual we stayed in the Paharganj area in the Main Bazar. We have posted enough clips of that bustling area in previous blogs. We stayed at Hotel Hari Piorko with a fish tank in our room.
Our first room didn’t meet our requirements; i.e. the TV didn’t work, the bed was too hard, we couldn’t plug our computer into the powerpoint… so we got them to change our room – something which happens surprisingly often. We enjoyed our stay; the next room was good. I did worry about one of the fish in the tank – it looked depressed, didn’t swim around with the others, and kept to herself. Narda said it was a ‘bottom-feeder’ and that was perhaps its normal behaviour. It did move about a bit but she did not respond to my tapping on the glass. Maybe I should reassess my communicative style with females.
The rooftop restaurant was good both for the view and food. We had an Ayurveda massage and I got some Ayurveda crap for my hair; allegedly makes it grow thicker, longer, healthier, and perhaps will awaken my brain-cells clustered at the foot of my hair follicles.
Kalka is a town in the Panchkula district of Haryana.
We arrived on the train from Delhi at 11 pm, staying at the $16 USD/night, Kalka Hotel Dharam Villa, which was a good hotel. They made us a great omelette breakfast the next morning. The room was clean and the shower sort of OK. I think it was our cheapest place in three months of travel. We paid $22 USD for it on the way back a week later due to it being high season for tourism.
We grabbed a smoothie on our way to the train station in the morning,
Got a tuk tuk to the train station and got on the toy train.
On the way to the train I saw a very distressed horse with a sore foot. I spoke at great length with him and Narda and I went out to find an apple for him, but as we do, we got side-tracked and when we went back the horse had disappeared. He was obviously in pain. Someone had put on a plastic bag and tape, but the poor thing was not happy.Solan
The trip from Kalka to Shimla is about six-hours. We went for four hours, stopping at Solan.
Solan is our first venture into the state of Himachal Pradesh (listen), literally “snow-laden province” which is situated in the Western Himalayas with such groovy borders as Tibet and Kashmir. See the map that I borrowed from Wikipedia.
Folks have been enjoying the cold and heights for heaps of time, for example, the Indus valley civilisation flourished here between 2250 and 1750 BCE – so after more than four-thousand years one would think this is one of the more advanced areas of civilisation in the world. This is what we are in a quest to find. Is there an advanced civilisation in the world or are we all just muddled bystanders to the winds of fate? We Westerners like to think we are the top of the pile but watching the news I think we are the bottom-feeders. To read more about Himachal Pradesh check out Wikipedia’s article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himachal_Pradesh.
Folks have been enjoying the cold and heights for heaps of time, for example, the Indus valley civilisation flourished here between 2250 and 1750 BCE – so after more than four-thousand years one would think this is one of the more advanced areas of civilisation in the world. This is what we are in a quest to find. Is there an advanced civilisation in the world or are we all just muddled bystanders to the winds of fate? We Westerners like to think we are the top of the pile but watching the news I think we are the bottom-feeders. To read more about Himachal Pradesh https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himachal_Pradesh Wikipedia’s article.
We stopped at Solan at a height of 5,000 feet (1,600 metres) so I could climatize to higher altitudes before hitting the 8,000-foot mark in Shimla. Years ago, in Quito, Equator, at ten-thousand feet we had to get off the mountain due to my not being able to breath. Of course, even in small towns Narda finds things we ‘need’. Solan is a city that reminds me of a medieval European city with narrow streets and oldness, a bit more mildew and more trash about the place with a few cows standing in the middle of the street looking overwhelmingly content and people speaking Asian, Solan is tops for us. One night, two days is not enough to hang out here. In the evening from about 6 – 10 the main street is blocked from traffic so the locals all go out for a stroll; so cool. We stayed at the Mayur Hotel Bar And Restaurant, http://www.mayurhotelsolan.com/ an adequate space at $26 USD/night. There were no fish tanks in the room but good just the same.
India is known for its sweets – and once again I gave my sugar-free diet a rest… as well as Narda did so likewise,Narda has posted about the toy train to Shimla. The only downside was that there was a narrow path to the train station, so we were unable to get a tuk tuk from the town of Solan to it. The night before we really struggled to get up the hill with all our crap, plus it was raining so we were on the bit of a self-pity side of life when we finally did get to our hotel.
Coming back was fine with it being down a steep hill to the station. There are more than one-hundred tunnels between Kalka and Shimla – this one is next to where we were sitting at the station. People pass through them, I suppose as a shortcut, which explains why the train sounds its horn when it gets to each tunnel. For those of our multitude of readers (I think we have four or five family members who feel obliged to skim through these long winded things) who are familiar with the children stories about Flat Stanley http://www.flatstanleybooks.com/ I am sure one could think of that being the result of folks who do not obey the train whistle warnings.
The train made several stops and we all piled off. At one of the stops, children lined up to have their photo taken with Narda. Not sure why she is always so popular (more than me – but I am not complaining – just wondering what I can do to get as much attention) – this has happened for many years in many countries. A selfie with Narda is just so cool for folks. I know I do it too. The carriages are smaller than regular Indian trains as they are on narrow gauge tracks. There are toilets in the front and back of each carriage. The distance from Kalka to Shimla by rail is 97 kilometers with several bends, 102 tunnels, 988 bridges and 917 sharp curves. It takes more than six-hours to make the trip up.Last year, the train had met with an accident near Dharampur while it was travelling at a speed of 28 km/hour. The driver was dismissed for speeding. The one we were on went considerably slower, making leaning out the window to take photos and video easy, though Narda gets nervous as I go out the window or door to get footage. Our favourite sign along the way at one of the stations on the way up to Shimla. Now, a week after Shimla, in Amritsar, the centre of Sikhism (that story is next) we are learning this is the crux of what the Sikhs have to say.
Shimla ( listen), also known as Simla, is the capital and the largest city of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The climatic conditions attracted the British to establish the city in the dense forests of the Himalayas as the summer capital, from the 1940s. The main shopping area is Mall Road in the centre of the city. It is closed to traffic except for emergency vehicles, making walking rather pleasant. There are many monkeys around the place – I liked this bold one.
And of course, Narda got more folks rushing up to her to get a selfie – no one asked me.We had a nice Airbnb, Narda wrote about this above. We were on the edge of a forest area and often monkeys would be everywhere. The photo below is moneys at our house – one was licking the wall. Narda captured one of their capers this morning; I had put out a bag of trash, hearing lots of noise, a monkey was taking a few prized possessions out of the bag – we didn’t record much, so it does not show that there were six or seven soon after at our door. They are very bold and used to humans. Narda’s sister, Caroline, was bit by one a couple of years ago in Indonesia and had to have shots.
See the short clip of our monkey-thief
Narda has written about our stay in Shimla. I will just add that it is one of our memorable places we have visited. We would not do it again as it was a bit difficult for us. The narrow roads, steep drops, climb down and up to where we lived, and our flat; two-bedrooms, two bathrooms, large lounge area, lots of English news stations and easy to plug in our HDMI cable to watch our latest series of our computer, ‘The Last Ship’, and the Netflix documentary on the Rajneeshees, ‘Wild Wild Country’ – we were just in Pune for a week, even stayed at an AirBnB run by a couple of their devotees and last year we were in Oregon, their US Centre – so we are quite interested in their stuff. Of course, you can reread the ‘Pune’ blog about this. And the other difficult part for us, the elders, was that there was no heat. It would be five-degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit), cold for us, warm for our New York family and friends, in the morning. There was no shower, as we have done in other places, we used the bucket provided and got enough warm water to dump over our shivering bodies. During the day it was warmer, outside, but for a week, we never got warmed up in the house. We wold wrap up in blankets in front of the TV. The other minor complaint we have had before is that beds are incredibly hard. Luckily there were enough quilts to pile under our sheets to make it bearable.
These houses are built not only on mountainsides but in areas that are not accessible by vehicles, every brick, window, roof tile, everything is carried in. We have seen men with washing machines on their backs, 50-kilo bags of cement mix, and so much more. When we left our flat we were unable to carry our suitcases up the hill and paid a man to carry them; he took two suitcases and a bag of our not-needed crap (hey family we bought you each something) all together on his back.
KSR railcar on The Kalka–Shimla railway
We took the railcar – a single carriage train back down the hill. 8,000-foot drop in four hours. As it left Shimla at 5 pm we only had an hour of daylight. After dark I spent a few hours catching up on our writing and video editing, all the things I seldom have time to do as we keep adding more experiences to our trip. There was only one stop along the way and we all ran to the toilet and grabbed a bite to eat then we were on our way. We stayed at the same hotel in Kalka that we stayed at coming up.
See our clip of the Shimla to Kalka Rail Motor Car – about two-minutes
We only had a few seconds to see the sunset as the mountains covered the setting sun most of the way. This was not touched in Photoshop. Do the Shimla trip once in your life.