I needed some relaxation!
Enter: Shimla “Queen of the Hillstations”.
Snow capped moutains, fresh Himalayan spring water, bubbling creeks, apple orchards serving up fresh apple juice (the best I’ve ever had), and beautiful green lawns, flowers, and forests together make the beauty of this hill station unbeatable.
don’t like the sign confuse you; like many signs in India this one tricked tourists into paying for nothing with sneaky advertising ;) No Harry Potter here.
After all the chaos in Delhi trying to find tickets, we ended up getting a bus for 250 rs each and took the 10 hour (380 km) winding ascent by bus up 2,000 meters into Himachal Pradesh’s capital city, Shimla.
If you come from the West, you’ll be lucky to take the Kalka toy train up!
Shimla is known as a beautiful place to vacation, ever since the Brits used it as a summer getaway. Because of them, the buildings are a beautiful Victorian/colonial style. Another claim to fame is the Kali Bari temple and the tallest Hanuman statue, which is quite a hike to get up to.
It has a high risk for earthquakes as well being ranked a risk 4/5. It already has poor infrastructure and frequent landslides. The city itself can’t handle the amount of tourists coming- making it lose its charm over time. Just another reason to go sooner rather than later ;)
As a backpacker, Shimla was an escape from all of India’s chaos. No pollution, no cars honking (they weren’t even allowed up)! Fresh air! It was cold finally; I’d spent a month in Rajasthan sweating so much I needed 2 showers a day, sometimes 3! It was like a dream here.
There isn’t a lot you need to see while in Shimla. It’s more about chilling out and enjoying this break. There are just a few places to check out.
To see the Hanuman statue, you have to walk up Jakhu hill (2 km) up to 8,000 feet above sea level. What awaits you are hundreds of little monkeys! We thought they’d be nice and laughed it off when our guesthouse owner told us to take a monkey-hitting stick. Luckily, we never had to hit any, because I don’t think I could even if one was climbing on me, but they were very feisty! The statue is the highest in the world, even higher than Christ Redeemer in Brazil!
This walk was especially hard. Your red blood cells carry oxygen, and with Dengue you’ll have low RBC and platelets, making it easier to get short of breath. Add on high altitude and I was struggling! I just thought I was out of shape at the time.
We stayed at the YMCA, which is just a little trek uphill and the cheapest place in town (photo further down). After making it up the hill, breathing like I’d just run a marathon (not that I’d know what that’s like) we settled into our new room which had a shared bathroom.
As for food, the colonial influence is clear when you try the cakes and bread! It was my first break from traditional Indian food.
Tip: wear layers! While hiking, you’ll end up wanting to be in a tank top!
Reading: The Alchemist
Shimla has a lot to offer if you look for it. Bubbling hot sulfur springs and ice cold lakes to skate on along with carnivals and concerts.
Worth checking out is the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (Viceregal Lodge), built in the 1800’s. It wasn’t the most amazing tour I’ve taken, but the gardens outside had the first bits of grass I’d seen after being in the desert and cities for a month.
I would have laid in it, but they signs told me no.
If you want to do a little souvenir shopping, at the “mall”, the perfect gift from Shimla are wooden boxes and trinkets made from the local Pine and Deodar trees, as well as blankets, rugs, and traditional jewelry. The mall is a cute outdoor strip of shops and restaurants. It’s a small town; you can’t miss it. You can do it all by walking. Cars aren’t allowed in these areas.
I didn’t get to, but there is a railway from Kalka to Shimla, which has in less than (100 km) the highest ascent by train anywhere in the world. I’d love to take this toy train the next time I’m in Shimla. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and takes months to get a reservation.
Overall, it’s a cute little town to relax in before you head further North on the tourist trail. I can’t say that I would go back, but I’m so glad I have spent time there. It’s worth checking out for 1-2 days even if only to get acclimatized to the altitude before you go further north.
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