Delhi to Shimla
Welcome back to a new edition of me waffling about my goings on ‘on the road’ here in India. The last one was just to get me started really, I’m notorious at starting one thing and then doing something else, but I promise I’m definitely gonna try and keep this blog going.
I was only in Delhi for 1 night and the next day I met my Indian friend Sunny and some of his family and we drove for about 3 hours north to the province of Haryana to his family’s home. Sunny hadn’t been back for 4 years and had a lot of catching up to do, but he made time to introduce me to his huge family over 2 days, including a party on the 1st night with Bhangra drums and dancing (no booze though). His father has 9 brothers and 2 sisters, with children, grandchildren and with family friends there too there was a lot of people to meet. His family are Sikh and I can confirm firsthand that they are some of the most hospitable people around (I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything for 2 days!!).
So after an amazing introduction to Indian family life I took off on a packed bus north towards Kalka where I’d get the ‘Toy Train’ through the mountains to Shimla. When I arrived in Kalka though I started to feel the effects of some street food I had in Haryana. According to lonely planet 30-70% of people get ‘Delhi Belly’ within the 1st 2 weeks of arriving here, its safe to say I’m in that category.
So a few antibiotics and 2 days later I went and booked onto the Shimla Toy Train, but there were no seats available only a first come first served carriage. Luckily I got there an hour and half early and got a seat for the 6 hour journey. After all the seats were taken people came in their droves and squeezed onto the train for standing. At one point I expected some guy to jump out from Guinness book of records and say the record had been broken for the number of people packed into a train carriage, but no we took off, and to be fair to the people standing they didn’t seem too bothered, they were laughing and smiling, although after 4 or 5 hours understandably that changed. I couldn’t complain to be honest, like I said I had a seat and that only cost me 33 rupees, which is about £1/$1.70!
The toy train route is classed as a UNESCO heritage site and it didn’t take long to see why. The track was built by the British when they were in control of India as a way to access Shimla, which was to become their summer place of governance, because of the cool mountain air. Along the route you wind around mountain after mountain, through 103 tunnels to the dizzying height of 2,205 meters (7,234 feet), halfway to Everest base camp which is 5,545 meters (18,192 feet). The views more than enough to forget your sharing a carriage with half of India, although not for one little girl who was sick on mine and her dads legs :-(. He was less than happy, she was just happy it was out!
Eventually we arrived at Shimla train station about 6pm. I’m always a bit funny arriving at bus/train stations/airports. Usually there’s a million and one taxi/tuktuk drivers/touts trying to get your attention, your tired but have to be alert to make sure not to make a wrong decision i.e. dodgy taxi/hotel etc. This is probably the most vulnerable you are to thieves and tricksters as well. I literally fought my way through and got a taxi to take me to the YMCA, and yes I know “young man theres a place you can go…”, but despite that it was a nice place and most importantly clean! That’s something that often eludes you when you’re here is a clean environment, it really makes you appreciate what we have at home, clean water/streets/air etc.
Apart from a clean room and bathroom, the other things the YMCA offered was a great breakfast and an amazing view of both Shimla and the valleys below and beyond. A perfect place to sip on some Chai, Indian tea mixed with lots of sugar, milk and spices such as cinnamon. Shimla itself is a cool little town, founded in 1822 by a Scottish Civil servant called Charles Kennedy. It’s a tourist town set in the mountains, where Indians and foreigners come in their droves for the cool air and amazing views. I was hoping to see some snow topped mountains, considering I was in the Himalayas, but the weather was a bit too hazy and they never materialised. My next stop is McLeod Ganj, home to the Dalai Lama and further north, so hopefully I’ll get to see some real Himalayan mountains then. Catch ya then ;-)