Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Tuesday 21st - Not Shrove Tuesday.
When we woke it was raining quite hard and the clouds were low over the city. Business had picked up at breakfast - there was one other customer. We had porridge again to fortify us for the day's rigours and the poached eggs were a distinct improvement on yesterday's omelette. we packed and took a taxi to the station where we were mistaken for part of a tour party who had hired the spare rake of the Shivalik Deluxe and who were getting the full greetings and garlands treatment with a short length of red carpet on the platform. We were offended. Do we look like package tourists? The sun had started to break through and there was a soaring flock of eagles to watch.
R and the luggage occupied a corner of the waiting room where she had to shake hands with lots of small girls who called her Auntie. Uncle D went to take pictures and videos. The special pulled out with one lucky so'n'so getting a ride in the cab. Before long the regular passenger came in, followed by the railcar. What a fabulous piece of kit - we must come back so we can ride on that. Our train's coaches were shunted into the platform. The Himalayan Queen is not a luxury train - a coach on the Shivalik seats 18, the same sized coach on the HQ seats 30. Luggage space was at an absolute premium as teh coach filled. At least we had two seats together and they were forward facing. Sitting over the aisle from us were some very upmarket English tourists - Sheratons and Oberois all the way, but they were pleasant enough company.
There was no chance to door ride as the luggage was piled high blocking any access but there was the chance to shoot some video out of the window, including some shots of the spectacular hairpin bends that the line uses to climb. There was a lot of maintenece work being carried out on the track and the formation of the line, a big contrast to the DHR where the policy appears to be one of barely controlled decay. We came to the conclusion that proximity to Delhi is the saviour of the KS. Our train stopped at several stations and we crossed three northbound trains on the trip.
There was another spectaclar series of hairpin bends just as we dropped down into Kalka, around 4,000 ft below our starting point. We got a very brief glimpse of the surviving Kalka-Shimla steam loco as we neared the station - no chance of a photo sadly. Kalka was sunny and much warmer, but undoubtedly the least noisY Indian railway station that we have yet seen. There were plenty of people but absolutely no announcements or hustle and bustle.
Our waiting train was not well indicated and the chair car was displaying yesterday's charts. Allegedly an A/c Chair Car it was like a hothouse inside. D went up to the end of the platform to take pictures of the loco where there was a treat in store. There were three KS coaches on broad gauge transporter wagons, looking like they were newly outshopped and being delivered. Our short ride to Chandigarh was painless and the hotel courtesy car was there to meet us.
Chandigarh describes itself as "The City Beatiful" but we saw little evidence of this in the bit we saw. It was planned and built as a new town in the 1960's with input from le Corbusier. The only thing we saw to differentiate it from elsewhere in India was the separated cycle tracks built at the side of the road and inevitably being used as short cuts by car drivers.
We had booked a hotel called the Lemon Tree but had received an e-mail to tell us that although the building was finished they had not yet got their licences and that we had been rebooked on the same package at the Chandigarh Ashok. This was alongside the main highway to Delhi and handily opposite the "As Scotch as its contents" off-licence. We checked in and were shown to our room, which we were told was an upgrade. It should have been called the "Flightpath Suite" as every few minutes a turbo prop would fly past the window close enough for us to see what was on the pilot's sandwiches.
The Ashok is OK, although a bit battered at the edges and the carpets could certainly do with a clean. R was so offended by the rug in our room that it had to be hidden under the bed. She was very taken with their Ganesh, but as it was in plain view of reception and probably weighed half a ton she decided against liberation. As we have come to expect the free wifi wouldn't work in the room so we had to go to the bar (shame). This, we were informed, was closed for a private party - an odd concept in a room that is basically a glass box. We had a beer and wified in the restaurant where the service veered between excellent and totally OTT. As we had a meals in package we also dined here, basically getting what the waiter chose for us but it was very good and included our first taste of butter chicken, a Punjabi speciality. For pud we had galoob jamun, if that's the right spelling. The private party was a group of Sikhs. Every one of the men had a different coloured turban but there wasn't a green one. Why?