My company had a guesthouse in Shimla long back. It was my dream to visit it. It was in Jan 2016 that the dream came true.
I took the paschim express to land in chandigarh. some copassengers tried to convince me that it was better to alight at kalka, but i was not convinced. I feared that kalka was a small town and feared getting stuch at night at kalka. my train was 2 hrs late and reached chandigarh at 6pm.
I was not in woolens, i had planned to buy them at shimla. Chandigarh was chilly, about 16c. the autowala told me that the only place i could get a bus to shimla was at housing board bus stop. i agreed to go in his auto though the charge seemed high at rs 100.
This was a new city for me.
At housing board bus stop i had to wait some 15 mins by the time a hrtc bus to rekong peo came along around 7pm. i hopped in, there were no seats initially.
I was mentally bracing myself for the long journey standing upto shimla , after pushing my bulky backpack somehow onto the siderack. fortunately, half an hour later, someone vacated the seat near me. my good fortune. I noticed that I was the only one not in woolens.
one half hours later, the bus stopped for snacks. it was 0830pm, and out side a cold wind was blowing, of a magnitude i never experienced before. I wondered if i would freeze on landing in shimla in shirt sleeves.
somehow i grabbed a bread pakoda and climbed back into the comfort interiors of bus.
Further up the road we passed solan, maybe half an hour later. I was impressed by the driver, who almost never honked while on the road, though there were twists and turns every 100m or so. the only time he honked was when a slow vehicle didnt give side for long. I recalled kerala, where the twists and turns were far less, but the drivers had a habit of honking religiously. Here, I suppose, careful driving was second nature.
The bus stopped finally at shimla ISBT half past ten, the interstate bus terminus. I had to go to the Ridge. Someone advised me that i should not get down here, but at old bus stand , which was nearer. The bus took another 10 mins to reach there.
Number of taxi drivers approached me . When I was told i had to pay 500rs to be taken to the ridge, i was shocked. but i agreed, since it was late night and i didnt want to be out in the cold any further. Any price for a warm bed.
The taxi took me along tortuous roads around the hill that was shimla for about 6-8 km and dropped me in front of the guest house. Later I came to know that the distance is actually walkable, but due to traffic restrictions and the mayors house there the taxi is forced to go down hill and up again from the other side.
The caretaker boy took me to a cottage with three rooms. T told him I didnt want dinner and wished to go straight to bed. He showed me where abundant supply of woolen blankets were kept.
The floor was so cold I could not hope to remove my footwear. In this season , the temp hits such lows one cannot lie in the bed without covering oneself with blanket, yet if one touches the blanket, it feels like wet cloth; one is at a dilemma what to do. To become comfortable inside the blanket, it had to be warmed up with the heat of our own body. the long and short of it being that going to sleep was a challenge. The room temperature hovered around 5c and the outdoor temp as per reports was-3c.
I got up at 0700 and went to the doorway to get my maiden view of shimla. it was SUPER COOL. my cottage was perched at the side of a hill with just a six foot walkway in front . at the edge of the walkway, beyond the handrail, the hill descended steeply.
Opposite was another hill with numerous red tile roof houses dotting it. in the distance, the bluish hills presented a mesmerising view.
I have a habit of bathing daily morning. It was a routine i could not stop. When I went to the bathroom, for brushing, i realised how painfully cold was the tap water. it could not be put in the mouth. fortunately, there was geyser. I had to take a lightning bath, as the warm water i poured on my body cooled down in seconds and started stinging me. SOMEHOW i applied soap and washed it away. felt as if i accomplished a feat after drying myself and putting on a thermocot .
I phoned my caretaker and suggested breakfast. he said he would rustle up aloo parata and milk. he brought it on time, by 0830, as promised.
I had just two days in hand. it was saturday and My return train was on monday. I had two clear days to explore shimla and surroundings. I realised I had to plan well to make most of it.
After the breakfast, I set out to explore. I wanted to do two things on priority: 1. buy some woolens 2. to find out the shortcut to bus stand so i dont have to take a taxi again.
Not far from the Ridge, there is a street called mall. This is a long row of quaint shops that sell a variety of things that suit the tourist taste. Woolen shops were in abundance, and most were offering end season discounts.
After meandering a few shops, I chose a hilfiger sweatshirt from a shop that cost me 750.
I then asked my way to the old bus stand. I was told that i had to walk down the hill through lower bazar to reach the old bus stand.
I fingered some of the items on sale at lower bazar(my caretaker had suggested me to try the shops there for woolens) but they were kind of lower quality so i dropped them.
The unique nature of the streets in this part of shimla was that they are lining the side of a steep hill, and to cross from one street to another one had to use stairs to climb up(or down) . From the mall the lower bazar is reached by climbing down zigzag flight of steps, and if you take more steps down you reach old bus stand.
From the old bus stand there are frequent buses to the inter state bus terminal. I took a bus to isbt and back to get feel of shimla. The isbt has a counter for prebooking hrtc bus seats. I took a mental note of it as i might need it in future to get back to chandigarh.
While climbing back to the mall , I was left breathless. The light air of high altitude, combined with the below 10 temperatures, reduced the ability of body for sustained effort. I had to stop for rest every few steps or so.
To recharge myself, I went for a leasurely meal at a multicuisine restaurant at the mall.
most of the evening I was wandering around the mall, windowshopping for what i even didn't know, got a bottle of apple cider for Rs 60 , it probably would help me warm up in the night. There is a lift operated by the tourism corp, that can be used to take oneself down to cart road down the hill or vice versa, for Rs 10/- . It was helpful to people who wanted to avoid arduous trekking. Soon I found myself savouring ice cream at a parlour with others, surprising but true, even in height of winter ice cream can charm people.
As dusk settled, I found myself at the hptdc counter. I wanted to make use of next day to full advantage, explore the snowy hills if possible. I asked whether they could take me to kinnaur, but according to them, the road at this season was wet, tricky and not negotiable . They had a day trip to narkanda, i could join them. the cost will be Rs 310. There i will find snow and sport as well. I signed on. I had to report next day 10am.
I went to my cottage and had a a la carte meal. The caretaker gave me loads of aloo gobi, rice, parota and dahi which was more than could eat. I asked him how i could bear another night without warming or AC. He said the hotels here have no AC(I didnt believe it) and he could arrange me a heater for 100 a day. I agreed . I kept the heater on for an hour to warm the room and creeped into the blankets for the day.
After breakfast , I set out for the boarding point of my hptdc trip. I was guided to trek downhill from the otherside , to what is known as lakkad bazar bus stand, as no bus was allowed up hill. To my surprise , I spotted my first glimpse of snow along the way. at the bottom of the hill , there is also a snow skating rink with a number of people playing the sport. It was sunday, and all the tibetan stores along the way were closed.
The bus took time to come, when it departed it was 11-30. the bus was full of couples. As the 12 seater bus left shimla, patches of snow started showing up on the hillsides. Our first stop was Fagu, a small resort along the way. The tourist guide was neither educating nor entertaining type, I felt he regretted being out on work on a sunday. all along the route he sat like one of us, except when the bus halted on occasions at important spots. and then he would briefly explain the highlights and go back to rest.
Fagu has a hptdc hotel that was well maintained. There is a terrace with good views.
Next , the bus stopped at Narkanda. It was past noon and we were taken straight to the hptdc hotel which was under renovation. This hotel was also good but with less open space and no views.
Lunch over , we went to Narkanda town . The bus parked and to reach the skating rink, we had to tre along the woods. There is a large open space that is set on a hillside where the snow appeared permanent. There were a few kids offering skating boards . I learned that hptdc conducts skating classes here during season. As I was a novice, I didnt take any risk. People who didnt skate were playing in the snow for fun. I took cautious steps, making sure I was treading on form ground, and made it up to top of the hill. Then I came down from the far side, taking some photographs on the way.
-to be continued-