Travelling in Himachal in June – 2007
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Finding a budget hotel in Shimla in the peak of the season is an ordeal you would not want to endure. Not that they don’t exist, but they come with their compromises. A few that I checked reeked of cigarettes, toilets stank and was not fit for normal people. Some more had no windows and no ventilation of any kind and had carpets releasing a dank smell, where the shameless hosts graciously offered to get rid of the odour by spraying antidotes which was nothing more than an equally unbearable perfume. A few clean budget hotels were far from where the action is but I wanted to be in the middle of it since it was my first, but a very short visit. Someone had told me that they do exist close to the mall but I never managed to find any. And our driver would tell me later with a mischievous grin that he knew a few good places but would not bother to tell me where. ‘Forget about finding a budget hotel near the mall,’ my friends who dropped me in Shimla had told me, and I think they said it right.
‘Splurge,’ I finally told myself myself after an unsuccessful search, and splurge I did. The hotel room I took in Shimla cost me exactly 22 times more than the cheapest accommodation I enjoyed in Himachal. But then, the cheapest acco was real cheap, a dhaba in a remote village – Batal – where we were one of the first tourists to arrive this summer. And then if I may add, we probably had 22 times more fun in Batal than in Shimla.
Sit back, relax and watch the world go by. That’s the best thing to do while in Shimla
That doesn’t mean Shimla is a bad place. On the contrary it is a place with a feel-good to it. And if you have come there from super heated Delhi of summers, you will jump with joy and love its pleasant air to no end. A 25 degree weather is not the only attraction of Shimla. It has an easy going and charming atmosphere where no one is in a hurry to go anywhere. Unless of course, you are travel agent or a tout with a target to hassle at least a few dozen tourists in a day. The mall road–the center of all attractions in Shimla–is (fortunately) closed for vehicles, which means people walk there merrily munching ice creams and candy floss, eating in one of its numerous restaurants or occasionally even singing and dancing right on the road. And the ridge, just above the mall often turns festive with tiny groups gathered watching a play, listening to a singer, watching Himachali women dance or indulge in the greatest ‘time pass’ of the entire country: munching something nice and warm sold by a street vendor. And when people have had enough of all that there are always benches laid along the road to sit and watch other people lost in indulgence.
Staying at one end of the mall road, I spent no more than a day in Shimla doing little more than walk to the other end of the mall and back, and then repeating the same walks a few times over. I would squat in a coffee shop or an ice cream parlour when I wanted a break and move on further looking for… well, looking for nothing in particular. The morning breakfast happened at the India Coffee House sitting next to a window overlooking the valleys of Shimla. The Coffee House’s dosas, idlis and coffees tasted precisely as they did in India Coffee House back in Bangalore. I was left wondering if they had it air-delivered from there. Further, I walked around the scandal point and up the ridge and found many more people walking aimlessly just like me. Gaiety Theater on the ridge, which William Dalrymple described as ‘unaltered since the last British sailed home’ is finally under renovation. A few buildings here and there do remain from the colonial era but the evidences of this being the summer capital of the British are not many.
The India Coffee House in Shimla. Yes, I was eating dosa with a fork and knife, because I was writing my journal through the breakfast
Further on the mall road, a few people are selling litchis, peach and a few other English fruits of which I would have probably heard of, but can’t associate the name with shapes. Many of them grow locally and I have a go at a few of them. A tall deodar forest appears bang next to the road beyond the secretariat, where, if you are brought blindfolded, you will definitely presume being in a forest and not a city.
It is evening before I know and it is time for me to move on. As I pack my bags and head out, I go with good feelings of Shimla but nothing to carry with me as memories. It is not one of those places where I feel sad to leave, even when it does have its charm. It is the deodars of Chail and Mashorba that are refusing to go away from memory and remain etched forever.
Shimla’s vicinity to Delhi, Chandigarh and Punjab makes it a popular summer retreat to beat the heat for people from these places. Shimla again sees tourists coming in large numbers in winter whenever it snows. There isn’t much in terms of sightseeing within Shimla, even when travel websites and brochures make a desperate push for a church or a temple here and there, the mall and the scandal point as places of interest. It is a place where the best thing to do is to hang around and kill time.
How-ever, there are many places around Shimla that have excellent vistas of lower Himalayas. Go to Chail, Kufri or Mashobra to enjoy dense deodar forests and some good views. There are more such places, like Naldehra, Narkanda and Kasauli, all within 2 hours drive from Shimla.
There are many hotels and resorts within Shimla and all around it, but finding an accommodation that is value for money at any range is difficult in peak season. So planning ahead is advisable.
Continued at Discovering Manali