I wasn’t really in town long enough to judge the place but what I saw of Shimla was nice. A hill station where the British ran the government from in the summer because of the heat on the plains in Delhi. It is now a holiday town but not really for backpackers. Middle aged tourists and Indian Honeymooners dominate and weirdly we found it impossible to get breakfast before ten. On our only night there we wanted to find somewhere with a view over the valley for sunset but all of the restaurants somehow didn’t have windows facing out that way!
The main reason I came up here was to take the Toy Train down and that was, indeed, a cute experience, although maybe it could have been an hour or so shorter. We stopped off so many times on the route, sometimes for a considerable amount of time. The Indian family in my carriage didn’t waste a single stop, rushing out and buying every possible available snack at every one. The scenery was spectacular on the way down and the little stations with their London Underground signs and fire buckets were very cute.
After the relaxing Toy Train I had a connection to Chandigarh and met a guy who helped me find the right train. Everyone else on it seemed rather confused though as a huge group settled in and then on hearing an announcement all got up and rushed off. I was confused and almost got off myself but then I found out that they were on the wrong train and wanted to go to Delhi.
The short ride to Chandigarh was nice but the peace was shattered on arrival at rush hour. I got my bag on, said goodbye to my new friend and then as I approached the doorway, realised that there were hundreds of people on the platform, fighting to get on the train before it had even stopped. I was immediatley overwhelmed by a sea of people, struggling to get out of the way of the crowd with limited manouverability due to my rucksack.
Eventually I fought my way off but my introduction to Chandigarh would kind of match my overall impression of the place. The hotels listed in the Lonely Planet had hiked their prices up so I got the rickshaw driver to take me to somewhere cheaper and ended up in a right dive of a place, playing to much for a dingy room. Walking around the “grid system” streets was a bit of a nightmare as well, with crossing roads hazardous and difficult but I made it to the City Centre (Sector 17) and walked around the shops looking for somewhere to eat. I eventually found a nice but pricey thali place after walking around the whole plaza to try and find one of the two eating places they have there. It was a very good thali I have to say but much more expensive than I had been used to paying and I began to think that the city was out of my budget. I wanted to find out about busses but the internet closed early and the information I managed to gather suggested that there were no Rishikesh buses in the afternoon when I wanted to go so that I could check out Nek Chand’s Rock Garden in the morning. The Rock Garden is India’s second best attended tourist attraction after the Taj Mahal and supposedly contains many sculptures made out of recycled materials. After all the Mutate Britain stuff I’ve seen back home I was hoping to see the Indian version but it wasn’t to be.
With this information and realising that I would either need to stay another full day or just get out, I was up and away early the next morning.
That wasn’t exactly smooth either as the conductor and driver were smoking bidis the whole journey, right next to where I was sat at the front. The conductor also decided to entertain the bus with really loud Hindi music from his mobile phone. Loud enough that I couldn’t hear my own music through my headphones. As well as this discomfort, and of course the driver beeping the horn extremely loudly every 5 minutes we also stopped for some bus maintainance half way through.
We were parked up by a dusty stretch of road for nearly an hour as someone first hammered the side of the bus repeatedly and then drilled before a bit more hammering to be sure. At Haridwar where I needed to change bus I met Julia and David who had set off two hours later than our bus.