Every once in a while our hearts overtake the thought process and we start questioning what we are doing. Such are the times when a vacation comes in handy to calm the heart and ensure a steady flow of income continuing in the drudgery of daily work life. We were planning a break for ourselves for past few months and time of the year suggested an escape into the hills of North India. (South India being under the grace of rain gods was not a great option). We looked at many options between Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal but owing to the habit of last minute plans we could only get confirmations for travel tickets and hotels for ‘Shimla’.
My heart immediately sank on the thought of Punju crowds sipping Barrissttaa Kofi (Barista Coffee) and enjoying Mak Donaalds (McDonalds) burgers at Shimla (Disclaimer: I am a Punju myself). But then it was like God’s will and we decided to bow.
Shimla was established by Britishers as a summer capital. No wonder they were pissed off with India’s hot climate and needed an escape themselves. Thanks to them, Shimla is now approached by a beautiful ‘Toy Train’ journey that takes about 4-5 hours from Kalka. It is another matter though that tickets are hardly ever available.
On my way to Shimla, I was confronted boldly by all that I was trying to escape. I saw Dollar Stores proudly selling stuff for more than a dollar, Famous Coffee shops like CCD and Barista at even the smallest of towns on the way and of course eateries like McDonalds and Subway. Good for foreigners whose stomachs do not share the enthusiasm of traveling in India. But it made me wonder if Shimla had retained any of its original old world charm or had just let the new world take over.
After a 3 hour car drive, we reached our hotel and settled down. After much research we had booked Baljees Regency hotel and it turned out to be a good choice. Room was good and offered a nice view of the valley. Not wasting a moment further we freshened up and landed at the happening Mall-Ridge road. As I had feared, it was full of people and there was some shopping fair going on. Being a woman, Vipula obviously ignored why a shopping fair was not a good thing and jumped into the crowds to shop. We came out buying socks!
Having said so, I was surprised to see the old world charm in the British buildings and was busy imagining life in the days of Raj. If you can ignore the crowds (very important) then you can actually enjoy Shimla and see an old world still surviving between the new globalized world. Most of the British buildings are being used by government offices and so we can’t go inside but from outside you can enjoy the architecture. The best was Viceroyalty Building that is converted into centre for advanced studies.
Also, most important thing to do to enjoy Shimla is to avoid taxis. These taxis will show you some fixed touristy points which I find to be complete waste of time. I personally do not see a point in seeing suicide point unless I am serious about committing suicide. Walking through the roads of Shimla is tiring but gives a great chance to enjoy the beauty and some breathtaking views. Hike to Jakhu temple is an excellent way to know how healthy you are. Apparently there is a board on the way that tells you your health status based on time you take to climb. I was fit. We pretty much walked everywhere and really enjoyed it too.
Now some helpful things for planning a trip to Shimla:
You can take a train to Kalka from where you can continue journey in toy train or take a taxi to Shimla. Toy train tickets are difficult to get so you need to book them in at least a month advance. Taxis would cost you Rs 1200/- one way in peak season. In off season you can get it for less. We travelled from Delhi to Kalka in the Kalka Shatabdi that takes 4 hours and was quite comfortable. Else you can take overnight trains too. There are many Volvo bus services that operate to Shimla. You can check about them at HP tourism website. Jagson Airlines operates flights to Shimla as well.
Staying at Shimla
I would suggest staying at a hotel that is close to Mall road. Far off hotels also offer free rides to and fro to Mall road so you can try that as well. We stayed at Baljees Regency which we found to be comfortable. Do your research before booking a hotel. You will find hotels in all budget ranges so there is not much problem.
Take walks. Must see are viceroyalty Building and other heritage buildings. Climb to Jakhu Temple but take a stick to keep monkeys away. Don’t carry any food. Shimla is good for a 2 day trip.