Monday, 20 February 2012

Sunday 19th - Up, up and away.

We awake in darkness to the sound of luggage being removed from the next door compartment. A time check showed that it was almost 4.30 a.m.- our due arrival time. D does a quick recce and the panic is over - we are at Chandigarh with two stops to go. it is all go at Kalka with three trains waiting to set off to Shimla. We locate the Shivalik Deluxe and find our allocated coach and seat which is occupied by one of a party of young men. They suggest that we occupy the forward facing double behind them and the conductor is happy to confirm this when he checks the tickets. The other occupants of the coach are young couples - Shimla is the honeymoon capital of India.

R is really enjoying her morning. Neither grumpy nor irritable really does her justice. Paraphrasing PG Wodehouse "It is seldom difficult to spot the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsperson with a grievance" D attempts to placate her with chai which turns out to be tepid. Just time for a quick snap of our loco - a ZDM3 class before it is time to go.

Straight away we are climbing while the line twists and turns. In the darkness we can see the loco's headlight beam moving from side to side as we progress. Our fellow travellers turn out to be noisy and addicted to taking photos of everything and everybody. They are very keen on opening the windows which makes R even grumpier as this lets in the cold and the diesel fumes. The Shivalik Deluxe is classed as a Shatabdi premium train by IR so we qualify for morning tea and a newspaper to be followed by breakfast in due course.

By now dawn is breaking and the extent to which we have climbed is apparent. This trip must have been spectacular in steam days although there wouldn't have been much clean washing in the area. The Kalka-Shimla was built in the early 1900's and is a 2'6" gauge line. In contrast to the Darjeeling, which looks as if it was built as cheaply as possible, it is heavily engineered with many tunnels and viaducts but no spirals. D risks R's wrath by taking some video out of the window.

After about 2 hours we stop at Barog station where breakfast is loaded. Everybody except R piles off the train so they can indulge in that great Indian pastime - walking on the railway tracks. D participates enthusiastically. Back on the train breakfast consists of a square cut out of an industrial omelette, two slices of sweet white bread, a butter portion and a tomato sauce sachet. We have had better but having been up for over 3 hours we are hungry and devour it. Most of the Indian passengers eat theirs as a sandwich.

The sun is now definitely up. R dozes while D chats to the chap sitting opposite. He is a Punjabi with very good english and he and his wife are going to Shimla to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. The party of young men start to sing songs including Mere Sapnon Ki Rani, the jeep song from the Darjeeling railway. R wants me to go and tell them that they have the wrong railway. D takes the chance do some open door riding, a little scary through the first tunnel, but great for videos.

Eventually we pull into Shimla. With our lightweight luggage no porter is needed and we soon find a taxi who drives us a break neck speed to bottom of the Clarke's Hotel steps. As if by magic a porter appears to carry the rucsac up the stairs - Rs 50 well spent in D's view. Clarke's was the original Oberoi but is no longer in the group. A bit old fashioned it still oozes quality. We were shown to the lounge where registration formalities were completed and then taken to our room. We were both pretty shattered so after showering we had an hour's zzzs.

D woke up hungry so we went out to explore. Shimla is at almost 7000' above sea level and the atmosphere is noticeably thinner. It certainly does strange things to bags of crisps. Fortunately the main parts of the town are relatively level so walking about is not too difficult. As today is Sunday a good few of the shops are closed but many are still trading. our first impression of the town is excellent.

There is no traffic except emergency vehicles, very little litter and smoking anywhere in public is illegal. The law appears to be observed. There are special Traffic Prevention Police in very distinctive uniforms, an idea that could be taken up elsewhere in both India and the rest of the world.

After samosas and pakoras at Himani's we had a leisurely wander along The Mall, Shimla's mainstreet, and also along the ridge, past Christ Church. The town was the main hill station for Delhi and in the days of the Raj the government and the army high command fled the heatv of the plains and came here for a few months. There are still many administrative bodies and military installations dotted around the town.

The weather up here is distinctly cooler than in Delhi and eventually even D was forced to admit that it might be wise to don a sweater. R decided that her diet was lacking fresh fruit so we purchased a pomegranate from a vendor - they can't do much to those. he wrapped in newspaper for us and we set of back to the hotel with R carrying the swag. We were immediately confronted by a rather large monkey which was not going to be fobbed of with part of the wrapping. As D slipped the object of desire into his pocket the monkey took a swing with its front paw. D dodged this in a manner reminiscent of Jinky Johnson and the day was saved. There are monkeys evrywhere. Our India Mike pal, Drews60 reports that his hotel are blaming monkeys breaking the wire for his most recent hotel's lack of wifi.

One of the olde fashioned things about Clarke's is their extortionate internet charges. The receptionist recommended that we use a cyber cafe on the mall. Rs 30/- per hour and a chance to keep you all informed as well as pick up e-mails. if the hotel had offered inclusive wifi for 2-300 rupees we would have taken it. Not good business. the cyber cafe we choice were very accommodating. There was no wifi but they unplugged a cable for us and we were cooking with gas - simmering rather than boiling but nevertheless on line.

We had researched a number of supper options in Lonely Planet and went to look at Goofa first. This turned out to be fine so we had tandoori chicken, with spicy mushroom mix, daal and rice. Very tasty. Back home to watch highlights of Australia hammering India (again) in the ODIs.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you almost got in a fist fight with a monkey...!