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Rishikesh to Shimla

INDIA | Thursday, 25 September 2008 | Views [2096]

22/09/2008 - 25/09/2008

Rishikesh to Shimla

I won't bore you again with the trains... Our journey to Ambala Cant was all good, and we managed a cheap dodgy hotel on the edge of the very busy town. Due to the waiting involved, this particular train journey is not tourist friendly - most tourists would get an A/C bus. We are pretty used to the stares we get and the spectacle we create in such places, and Ambala Cant was certainly no exception. We shared an evening with the rats, mosquitos and cockroaches of our prestigious abode, made the trek to the station in the morning, and boarded our next train. To Kalka, then onto the small guage cog train for the spectactular journey up the hill to Shimla. The train was built for the British in the early days of the occupation; when Delhi got too hot, the entire administration would relocate to Shimla and the cool hills. It's 96 kilometer track has more tunnels than any equivelent stretch in the world, and it takes the poor little Himalayan Queen 5 hours to cover it. With a smile on my face, i was ready for the journey.

But alas this is India, and things will always go wrong. This time however, it was a natural disaster. Before leaving Rishikesh, we had read the paper, which had reported 44 deaths in Shimla due to landslides caused by a 46 year record rainfall. It hadn't however mentioned that the train line had been buried in sections. And of course Indian Railways hadn't mentioned it when i bought the ticket... But these things happen. Faced with the choice of a night in Kalka in the hope the tracks would be cleared by the 'morrow and getting on the next bus, we chose the bus. And as it turned out, the bus ride was pretty spectactular. Of course i was left standing, which gave me a fantastic view over the edge. Occasionally, i swear it looked as if we weren't driving on anything; our wheels within a foot of a catastrophic plummet to the valley below as we passed trucks on tiny exposed corners. Himachal driving should really be considered an adventure sport - and that's just for the passengers. The bus drivers are infinitely crazier than anywhere in India, treating the mountain roads (just dirt paths and tracks at times, littered with rocks and holes) like the Nurburg Ring. And trust me, the Nurburg at 200km/hr in a BMW would be safer than a Himachal road in a Cummins powered TATA at 45..

But needless to say, we arrived safely. These guys are professionals, and no matter how many times we locked up the brakes at oncoming trucks, no matter how often we were forced to reverse towards sheer cliff faces to let other buses pass and no matter how white my knuckes were, we reached Shimla by 4 o'clock. Knowing nothing of Shimla bar it's precarious location on the side of a mountain, i got off the bus ready for anything. Except the proposition of having to walk too far up that hill. Wow, what a city! Really perched on the side of a very steep incline, it's no wonder there were landslides when so much rain was dumped on them. Indian building regulations aren't what you would call stringent, and some of these places look as if they should slip down if you spat near the footings....

We eventually found a decent hotel not too far up the hill, with the assistance of a couple of porters. There is something strange about letting someone else carry your things. Or maybe it is just me, cause i'm not used to it. Both Didi and i avoided it, but after treking all the way to the first place to find it dodgy and expensive, we couldn't help but kindly ask them to help. For a mere Rs.20, the carted our heavy packs up to the hotel for us. But these guys are incredibly tough, and our packs would have been like nothing to them. A lot of goods can only get to the low side of Shimla, so porters are used to carry everything up the steep hill. There were guys carrying the equivelent of 4 of our packs, lashed to their backs with hession and rope. From concrete to steel, washing machines to fridges and beer to milk, these guys are the couriers of Shimla.

For 2 nights we enjoyed the lower Ram Bazaar; bought some thermals, shoes, socks, jumpers - all that we might need for the cold of the hills ahead. Shimla itself was still very warm in the day, but night time was certainly a taste of what was to come. Happy with our purchaces, and with a small hand drawn map of the Parvarti Valley, it was time to venture again to a bus stand, and see if we could work out the system. With vague directions to the Lakar Bazaar bus stand we started walking, laden with packs up the hill toward the ridge. An extreme stroke of luck found us talking to a strange man named Virender. He had stopped to tell me he liked my hair, then proceeded to ask all the usual stuff. It turned out that he was also going to the bus stand, so could walk us there. He led us through a tunnel we never would have found, waited for us to buy cigarettes and water, and before long we were there! While we were still in shock as to how quickly we had got there, and with so little uphill walking, he continued to tell us how to reach where we were going, and chatting about his paragliding business in Dharamsala. He was recommending we stop at a place called Tatta Pani for the night; it was on the way, and very beautiful. With only vague plans and a month to spend in Himachal, we thought why the hell not. We said our good byes to Virender and boarded our bus, all within an hour of leaving the hotel. Because it is so rare in India, it is a fantastic feeling when things just work. And to meet people who genuinely want to help; people who are proud of their country and are eager to tell of the good bits. It was a great start to our Himachal journey.


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