Chandigarh, the capital city of the state of Punjab was where we flew into from Delhi and it’s essentially the closest entry point to Shimla, capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Google Maps estimated the journey to be just 3 hours and 24 minutes, but in reality the drive from Chandigarh airport to Shimla took us approximately 7 hours, with an hour wasted just meandering through the heavy traffic in Chandigarh. It was noon time when we eventually left Chandigarh but we didn’t want to stop for lunch as we had a long journey ahead of us, plus none of us was really hungry.
Along the climb up the Himalayas, there were intermittent downpours and a couple of landslides, but by the grace of God nothing untoward happened. It was, by the way, the monsoon season in Himachal Pradesh, which we knew about but couldn’t have avoided. Nonetheless, what lies beyond the gruelling journey was the magnificent beauty of the Himalayas that made this trip all the more worth taking.
Our drive along National Highway (NH5) brought us through the colourful town of Solan, which is perched on the hillslopes. Interestingly, the “toy train” track from Kalka to Shimla (5-hour journey) also cuts through this town and we had the opportunity to witness it passing through. If time is on your side, you might want to consider taking the “toy train” and enjoy the spectacle of the Himalayan valleys. Reaching Solan meant we were already halfway through our journey. We just had to endure another 3-4 hours before reaching Shimla.
It was close to 5pm when we finally arrived at Shimla, being welcomed by a thick mist. The lethargy on our driver, Sanjay’s face was understandably apparent as he had driven all the way from Dharamshala to Chandigarh that same morning. I wouldn’t even dare imagine how long that journey itself took, perhaps 10 hours?
Our first point of interest before checking into the hotel was supposed to be the Viceregal Lodge (Rashtrapati Niwas), home to the British Viceroy of India. Unfortunately, Sanjay wasn’t very sure of its location, much less heard of it. Despite enquiring some local folks, his efforts still proved unsuccessful. Couldn’t really blame him as he had already done his best. Our mistake was, we didn’t research more into it or at least save a picture of its building in our mobile. Not until later did I find out that it’s now known as the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Sigh!
Amidst the disappointment, we didn’t allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it. All was not lost as there were a couple more places of interest for us to explore. Above all, the rain had stopped and that itself was a blessing for us, to be able to walk around Shimla. But before that we had to check into our hotel first. Sanjay called up Hotel Vaikunth (located on Mall Road) for us and confirmed that the only way up there (approximately 50 metres elevation) was via the lifts. Apparently, tourist vehicles are not allowed at Mall Road – most happening street in Shimla where most shops and hotels are located. We had to pay ₹10 (RM0.60) per person/luggage to board the lifts, the first lift brought us up midway and the second lift from midway all the way to Mall Road. The queue was long as that was the only way up.
Our itinerary was planned rather last minute and as such, hubby couldn’t book the preferred hotel – Hotel Combermere that has its own complimentary lift, running 24 hours. The only other decent hotel still available on Mall Road was Hotel Vaikunth. With the 5% discount code (HTCHAIN5), we got our rooms for RM190.18 per room inclusive of taxes via HotelTravel.com.
Taking advantage of the evening after the rain had stopped, we proceeded out to Mall Road. It was a long weekend as the Indian Independence Day was on Monday (15th August), therefore, the entire place was crowded with people. From Mall Road, we hiked up to Christ Church, an icon of Shimla that was bequeathed by the British. The Ridge, which is the square in front of the church is the hub of all cultural activities of Shimla. It’s also where tourists gather to get their most memorable photographs, selfies and wefies. If you love horse riding, here’s the perfect place for you.
For your information, Shimla is a smoke-free town, so you’re guaranteed to breathe in fresh air. Not many people realise this but it does snow here during winter. This is very well illustrated in Bang Bang, the Hindi remake of the Hollywood film Knight and Day.
Since we skipped lunch earlier, we thought of treating ourselves to a sumptuous Indian dinner, the best Shimla had to offer. Along Mall Road was Jashan Restaurant, which looked decent and attractive with perfect ambience. It has a patio which overlooks the valley and the town beneath, offering one of the best views of Shimla. So, we decided to give this restaurant a try. We ordered various northern Indian items on the menu, some of which were alien to us, but they were all awesome.
Having pampered ourselves to a great meal, we continued walking along Mall Road doing mostly window shopping. Well, experiences from the past would teach us that items at any tourist-crowded places are always more expensive. Next, we headed towards the Municipal Corporation Building (Nagar Nigam), adjoining the Gaiety Heritage Cultural Complex, both of which still retain their beautiful colonial architecture.
We retired to our beds early that night as we had an even longer journey to Manali the next morning. Since the lifts only start operating at 8am and we had to leave by 6am to avoid the heavy traffic in Shimla, we had no choice but to hire a porter from the hotel for ₹120 (RM7.20) to help us with our luggage while we walked all the way down through the steep staircase to meet Sanjay where he left us the day before.
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