After weeks of dealing with one of the most populated cities in the word we were ready to spend some time in nature.We traded the hot and humid weather of New Delhi for the cooler temperatures of the north. Our journey begins in Shimla, the beautiful mountainous town, famous for it's spectaculars views, friendly and hard working people and delicious organic apples. The Tipsy Gypsies are on a journey to explore the spectacular Himachal Pradesh, and more....
Delhi to Shimla
On an early morning, we boarded a train from Delhi to Shimla. This was our first long distance train ride, and we cautiously decided to sit in an AC cart with reserved seats. We almost missed the train because we got into a car accident with a crazy uber driver, which you can ready about it here
Still shaken up after the uber drive we ran into the station a few minutes before 5:15am and just in time to catch our train. The ride was very pleasant and comfortable and perfect for catching up on sleep.
After a few hours we arrived in a town called Kalka and boarded the Himalayan Queen "Toy Train" to Shimla. This train was very tiny, hence the name, and operated on a different, smaller track. Before we boarded the train, we were able to buy lunch and eat before we starting our long journey to Shimla.
The journey on the toy train is spectacular. You get to soak in the views for about 6 hours so get comfortable and enjoy the ride.
The train makes short stops along the way so if you get hungry there are plenty of opportunities to eat food: delicious hot samosas, snacks, and sweet chai. Food vendors will also come onto the train with chai and fresh snacks like chana chaat (garbanzo beans with onion, tomatoes, chilis and fresh lime juice).
The boonies of Shimla
Shimla is a popular destination, therefore not the cheapest for budget travelers like us. We decided to stay in a hotel called "Snowflake Cottage", located 9 kilometers outside the town, which turned out to be a good decision. The following day in a desperate search for beer, we explored a small town nearby, Mashobra, on foot. It was a walk worth the adventure despite the rain that got us soaking wet. Here are some things we got see while walking along the road.
The advantage of staying outside the city was that the hotel was cheaper, but the negative was that getting to the city was not so cheap. We knew that the taxi would be around 500 rupees one way, which was almost half of what we spent on the hotel. We had to come up with another plan for transportation.
We asked the front desk for help. They reluctantly said that buses do exist, but they don't recommend it. Perhaps they wanted us to use the paid taxi service (commission for the hotel) or they were just confused why two white kids would want to ride the locals bus. Of course, we decided to try the bus.
The local buses can get crowded in seconds, with people transporting all sorts of things: packages, propane bottles (totally illegal and dangerous), farm animals, but you are almost guaranteed to fit no matter how many people are inside. Seldom do tourists use public transportation. If you are a foreigner traveling on a local bus you will be the talk of all the conversations for probably weeks. We learned the the local buses are a lot fun, fast (sometimes too fast), and very cheap. Locals are very helpful so don't be afraid to ride the crazy bus.
The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: The bus will stop pretty much anywhere you want. When you are stacked in the back of the bus and you want to make the bus to stop, just whistle.
Touristing in Shimla
First things first, coffee is a must. We went to the old school coffeeshop "Indian Coffee House", where waiters wear cool outfits and the coffee is decent and you can grab some snacks before you explore the rest of the city.
Also they have a restroom and toilette paper!! It's a luxury in India.
Jakhoo, Monkey Temple
Hindus worship animals, cows being the holiest of them all. For a semi-vegan, this sounds like a great religion. We decided to visit the Jakkhoo temple, which is dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman.
Jakhoo temple is located on top of a hill. Either we are out of shape or this is a really steep climb. Before you start the walk make sure you've had some coffee and bring plenty of water with you. Once you get to the top, the atmosphere is amazing. Architecturally, the design of the temple itself is ok, but there are mischievous monkeys running around the whole place, which was the most fun part about this place.
Beware of the monkeys
Seeing monkeys in the wild was something very new to us, so naturally we got very excited. However, the monkeys are clever with the dumb tourists, so here is the thing. They are very cute and extremely smart. We "played" around with them, taking pictures and watching them, and we got very comfortable maybe too comfortable... it's hard to resist them, just take a look.
Just when we started to leave one of the monkeys tried to steal the scarf of my (Marta's) backpack. The monkey was screaming and I was screaming. Fortunately for me, my scarf was tide to my backpack so the monkey ran away empty handed.
The Tipsy Gypsies Tips: Lesson #1 put all your loose shit away (sunglasses, scarfs, phones, cameras!!) because they will try to snatch it from you. These guys are smart and once they steal your stuff they will try to bribe you to bring them food and trade for your belongings. Yes, this sounds crazy but it is true. There is a chance that if you have some tasty snacks they will return your stuff to you, but unfortunately it might be in poor condition.
Advanced Studies aka Rashtrapati
This is a beautiful classical structure built by the British in the 1800's. Don't bother with the tour of the interior because it sucks. Since there is still an interior designer in me, I love learning about the interior architecture and we decided to tour the interior. This tour was really lame. The guide knew English, but during the tour spoke Hindi language only. We spent about 5 min in each room. The guide told us to read the pamphlets in the rooms (as long as the Lord of the Rings) and ask him questions if we have any. Mhhh ok, thanks. So we recommend that you do your own research on the history of the place, and spend as much time as you can around the gardens surrounding the building.
After the hike we sure got hungry. We decided to hit as many food stalls as possible
Snack #1 Veggie Samosa burger from SITA Ram and Son
Snack #2 Chana Tikka
Snack #3 Chai
Snack #2 Gravy and Ghawna (pancake) from SITA Ram and Son
Snack #2 Chinese noodles Indian Style
After Shimla, we originally planned to travel to the Ladakh region, but winter was approaching rapidly and we weren't prepared for the snow and freezing weather. We decided to journey through the Spiti Valley loop instead, but there was one catch. Foreigners need a permit to visit this region. The bureau of tourism in Shimla said they couldn't help us with the permit, and we needed to go to Manali. So guess where we are going next? ...Read part 2, Manali and Inner Line Permit coming soon...