With our relaxed days in Tosh at an end we made our way back to civilisation. We hadn't had any internet for a week and so we hadn't researched how best to get to our next destination, the capital of Himachal Pradesh state; Shimla. We took a taxi along to the next village of Barshani and then waited with locals for a bus, when the bus arrived everybody crowded round and there was a bit of a scramble to get on. We trundled down the long winding road, past Kullu to Bhuntar, the bustling hub that we had stopped in briefly before. We left the bus not having a clue if and when there would be a bus to Shimla or even how long the journey would take. After wandering around the dusty market place chatting to locals we found out that the next bus was late that night or the following morning. We contemplated waiting around for the bus but it was so hectic that we decided to check into a hotel and wait till the morning.
The hotel we found was basic and a bit mouldy but for one night it would do. It didn't have wifi so we had to wander around in search of an old-school internet café, it felt like our first backpacking trip before we had iPhones and when barely anyone had wifi available; we'd sit for hours at a time in a dingy computer room talking to home via Skype and catching up on all the news we'd missed. We logged on to message home and left it at that, the connection was painfully slow. The next day we caught a minibus to Shimla, the journey was long and uncomfortable and we got stuck in a few traffic jams on the narrow roads thanks to local festivities. Eventually we got to Shimla, without any clue as to where we would be staying. The bus station was down a hill, we found a taxi to take us to 'the lift' which is an outdoor elevator that takes passengers to Shimla's traffic-free centre named The Mall. After queuing for ages we zipped up in the lift to a bustling scene, neon lights, shops, market stalls, men walking around selling bags of popcorn, restaurants and hotels all with 'no vacancy' written in the windows. Oh dear.
Craig had read that there is a YMCA in Shimla, we crossed our fingers that there would be space available and that it wouldn't be too expensive either. We climbed up the hill, bags in tow to the YMCA which overlooks Shimla and the surrounding landscape high on the hillside and luckily there was a room available and for a bargain price too! For a YMCA we were very impressed, the building was huge and historic and our room was big with a window looking out to the church and rooftops.
The next day after our free Indian breakfast we took a walk to Scandal Point, just minutes from the YMCA to see the yellow church and views. The surrounding landscape was blue in appearance due to the mist and low clouds. In years gone by, Shimla was the home of British India in summer, where dignitaries would spend their days in office to avoid the heat of Delhi. For this reason Shimla had a distinctly 'British' feel to it, the buildings were made from stone, signs were painted in a way that reminded me of times gone by in English towns and The Mall itself had a bit of a 'Edinburgh Royal Mile' feel to it. We found a cute café to retreat into where I found English Breakfast Tea which felt like a real treat. It was somebody's birthday so after singing happy birthday the café staff handed cake out to all the customers. We went for a stroll, there were packs of stray dogs slumbering in the streets and local families treating themselves to sweets and ice cream. Shimla was a bit of a tourist trap but still retained its quaint feel.
The following day we walked up a steep hill to the highest point in Shimla where there is a temple surrounded by monkeys and a huge monkey statue. The views as we walked higher were breathtaking and the walk with trees either side of us was a breath of fresh air too. The temple was small but the monkey statue was huge. The monkeys were sat at the base of it, chasing off any person who got too close. At one point we witnessed a monkey trying to steal a scarf from a mans neck, nearly strangling him in the process. It was a little bit intimidating, the monkeys were so aggressive it felt like you could be assaulted at any minute. In the evening after dinner we tried lots of varieties of Indian sweets that we had picked out, each were an acquired taste but we really loved the coconut flavoured ones, just like the inside of a Bounty chocolate bar.
We booked a bus for the next day but it wasn't to leave until the evening so we decided to walk across town to The Rashtrapati Niwas also known as Viceregal Lodge which was the home and office of the British Viceroy. The walk was lovely and not too strenuous with beautiful views, we ran into the girl we had met in Manali too and spent the morning talking about our trips so far and what we had been up to since we last saw each other. The building was impressive, made from grey sandstone and built in a style reminiscent of a Scottish castle. We didn't have time to go inside the lodge as it was by guided tour only but the highlight for me was the spectacular gardens filled with wonderful colour. The hydrangeas were out in force accompanied by daisies, poppies and a myriad of wild flowers. On the walk back we noticed a child and toddler on a blanket on the side of the road, strapped to a piece of machinery. The mother was hard at work on a building site and had left her children to play while she got on. A reminder of how hard the women of India work in order to support their families and how different their lives are to ours at home.
We fetched our bags and caught the lift down to the road where we grabbed a taxi to the bus station. We waited at the bay we'd been pointed to, and waited and waited. Buses came and went and we got a bit anxious, where had our bus got to? There had been a bus a few bays over that left when ours should have, we'd asked and been told to wait where we were but I suddenly got a sinking feeling that we should actually have got on it. After asking around we found that we'd been mis-informed, it was indeed our bus! We ran to the office, a man called up the bus driver and ran with us to get a taxi, we threw our bags in and in a panic rushed after the bus. It was like a scene from a movie, our taxi driver weaved in and out of traffic, in the darkness, on blind corners, beeping and shouting while simultaneously talking with the driver of the bus on the phone. It was madness. After 15 minutes we caught up with the bus which had thankfully pulled over. The taxi driver had been a life saver and his fare was so reasonable too, I could have hugged him! With our bags stored below we ran on apologising profusely to our fellow passengers who were already tucked in for the overnight journey, the bus driver wasn't impressed and gave me a bit of an annoyed look as I passed.
Only we could miss a bus that had been sat in front of us the whole time! But alls well that ends well and we were on our way to Rishikesh where we'd finally see the mighty Ganges river.
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Have you been to Shimla? If so, what did you think? Maybe you're planning a trip? I've got tonnes of advice and tips I can share. Let me know in the comments below.
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