Shimla, Chandigarh and Being Exotic

Well, off we went to New Delhi Railway Station to catch a train up to Shimla, in the hills. The station is predictably busy: the sheer press of humanity in the urban areas impresses us every time we see it.

After a quick change in Chandigarh, we arrive in Kalka to pick up the Kalka/Shimla Railway to the hill station. During the days of the British administration, those who were able would decamp up to the hills to avoid the summer heat in Delhi. One Scottish administrator, Charles Kennedy, built a home here in the early 1800s, and seeing the advantages, many others followed. Now, it’s the capital of Himachal Pradesh, and the central part looks a bit like Stratford-upon-Avon, boasting Victoria buildings, an English Church, a pedestrian street called The Mall, a theatre called The Gaiety which stages amateur and professional productions, and a railway to get everyone there. The railway is an amazing thing: it’s a narrow-gauge railway, known as the Toy Train, which rattles and clanks up the mountains for five hours to reach Shimla.

Which brings me to exoticism. For many years, we have travelled to foreign parts and taken photographs. We think “gosh, look at that sight/person/animal” and snap away, making sure to get permission if it’s a person. Well, now the boot is on the other foot: we have become “gosh, look at that” material ourselves. It started in Delhi, and now, on the train, there are some teenage scouts travelling to Shimla for a camp, who ask us to pose with them for photographs.


The KSR has as it’s mascot an elephant wearing a railway-man’s uniform. One of the scouts, mustering some English, says to me “That’s you!” as we pass one by. I know I’ve put on a bit of weight lately, but my nose is never that big.

We’re staying at the Hotel White, about five minutes walk from the Mall. It has a top view over the valley, but the sun never reaches it, so we have to break out the down jackets for the first time this trip. Never travel without one 🙂 Fortunately, we’ve arrived on World Toilet Day, but the management at the India Coffee House, where we have breakfast every day, appear not to have got the memo, from our observation. Great food though, and coffee.



During the day, the weather is lovely, so we head off closer to the Himalayas, which are visible from town. After a couple of hours driving through little mountain towns, we arrive at Hatu Peak, at 11,000ft. There’s a temple on top and great views of the mountains. We’re on the cusp of winter now: snow will start to fall in the next couple of weeks, and the temperature will drop, but right now, it’s pretty good.



On a hill overlooking the town is a temple sacred to Lord Hanuman, familiar from the statue next to Jhandewalan metro station in Delhi. He is a monkey god, and there are many monkeys on the walk up to the temple. We are advised: not to wear hats or glasses, they will snatch them from you; not to let them get too close; and to rent a stick to wave at them should they approach. We do all of the above, but in the end the worst thing that happened was somebody shouting at Diane to look after her glasses as the monkeys will steal them, with an urgency akin to a deck evacuation officer shouting “get in the boats” on a sinking ship. Here’s a placid monkey with a shoe which she has stolen from the shoe area outside the temple.


We decide to stop in Chandigarh on the way back, en route to Amritsar. We’re normally paying about fifteen quid a night or less for accommodation for the two of us, but here we push the boat out and pay thirty quid. For this we get a round bed.


A big attraction hereabouts is the Nek Chand Rock Garden. This was built by stealth over many years by Nek Chand, and features canyons, bridges, waterfalls and statues all made from rubbish, which formerly occupied the site. It is fascinating. Lonely Planet advises visitors to avoid weekends and afternoons, but we fail, arriving at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, along with several hundred school children. They, predictably now, want their photographs taken with a slightly portly white chap and his wife. By the hundred. It’s tiring after about half an hour or so; here’s one we took of some of them.


Here’s some of the sculptures: there are thousands of them.


After a night or two in the round bed, we’re off to Amritsar on the Duronto Express.

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