Up at 4:45am, packed up quickly and caught an auto rickshaw to the station. The streets were strangely peaceful at dawn. Of course the station was busy though – we found it very difficult trying to find our platform, carriage and seats (in that order). Somehow we managed to find the right spot though, and it turned out to be a pretty comfortable ride.
Writing now from the next afternoon at the Hotel Victory in Shimla. There wasn’t much to see out the windows of the train, since they were covered with a thick layer of brown grime. We had some confusion with a Norwegian couple and their young child who had only booked 2 seats and took up 3, but after a bit of juggling several times during the trip we were quite comfortable. I chatted with a young Indian guy who had a good read of my Lonely Planet, and later with a turbaned guy called Bilbur (or Bill) who insisted we come to see him if we go to Chandigarh, and wrote down his phone numbers.
About six hours later we got into Kalka and changed to the tiny, appropriately-named ‘toy’ train on the narrow gauge railroad up to Shimla. We were a bit freaked out by the discovery of a bag under the next seat but as I started to move it onto the platform, a young guy rushed up to claim it – he turned out to be a complete jerk who couldn’t sit still and was up and about at every opportunity.
Fascinating 5 hour trip up steep hills to Shimla, getting colder and colder as we climbed. Occasionally we stopped at a station where people sold tea or snacks. A great trip and at last a chance to take some good photos.
We arrived at Shimla as dark was closing in and immediately a pack of porters/touts slammed against the windows and the incredible hassling began: the roughest we’ve had so far, people following us as we struck up the steep roads, short of breath due to the thin atmosphere. They just wouldn’t leave us alone. We’ve been hassled a lot here – there are packs of sack-clad young men who just hang about ready to pounce on you with offers of cheap accommodation.
Totally lost and confused by the layers of streets cut into the mountain, we stumbled upon the Hotel Victory which has turned out to be quite good. The view from our room is spectacular. We’ve landed on our feet!
Had a crappy meal from room service that I felt sure would make us violently ill, but we’re still both fine.