The end point of our trip through the Indian Himalayas was Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh province and the most populated city we had visited since leaving the wedding in Kanpur. Shimla is the former summer capital of the British Raj in India and now somewhat of a resort town. A place to escape the impressive heat of the Indian plains. We knew that the few days in Shimla would be the last ones we would enjoy in bearable weather. Even Shimla, sitting at an altitude of over 2000m seemed muggier and hotter than what we would have liked.
We descended into Shimla on what would be out last "scary mountain bus ride". The view is one of a thousands of colourful homes clinging to the mountainside with the cities prominent historic colonial buildings looking down on them. These historic buildings, most noticeable the bright yellow Christ Church sit along what is known as "The Ridge", a wide road running on the very top of city. The Ridge is the heart of Shimla's tourist district. It is lined with restaurants, hotels, gift shops and packed with visitors. Shimla is a disorienting maze of steep, criss-crossing streets and staircases. Our climb from the bus station up to The Ridge was endless, especially since Yann had somehow gotten control of the map. We were so tired by the end of the climb, that we followed a hotel tout to his "great cheap rooms". Surprisingly, they actually ended up being "great cheap rooms" with clean bedding, hot showers and even televisions. After dropping our backpacks, we immediately went into veg mode. Our sight-seeing in Shimla was limited to anything that we could see from the Ridge, as we couldn't bring ourselves to do anything that would involve a climb. My main task in Shimla was going to be doing laundry. But our clothes were absolutely filthy, and even with the hot water in the hotel, I wasn't able to get them very clean. But my efforts went completely to waste when I decided to hang the clothes to dry on the balcony of the hotel. When I went to check on their progress, I noticed that someone had been tampering with my underwear! As I vocalized this, "hey I think someone's been tampering with my underwear" I heard a hiss and turned to see an ugly monkey holding my turquoise pants.
The next ten minutes were a blur of my yelling and chasing the monkey along the balcony. I was joined by James, Yann and Antonia and we all watched as the monkey hopped from roof to roof with his turquoise streamer flying behind him. Other monkeys attempted to get in on the turquoise pant action, but this monkey was highly defensive of his winnings. He came back to the hotel to taunt us, by dangling the pants right above our heads from the roof above. The incident ended with the pants being ripped into pieces, with the tattered turquoise shreds scattered on the neighbouring roof tops. We consequently opted out of a hike to Shimla's "monkey temple".
We left Shimla by "toy train". One of three narrow-gauge mountain railways of India, the Shimla-Kalka railway was built by the British to connect Shimla to the regular India rails system. It is a beautiful train ride, through the lush scenery forests of the Himalayan foothills, crossing almost 850 bridges and passing through over a hundred tunnels. The train moves so slowly that doors are left open, and passengers can jump on and off the train when it slows down. At one point we even stalled on a steep incline. Most of the passengers got off the train and joked about pushing it up the hill, which seemed like alarmingly insightful commentary. Arriving at the Kalka train station in mid-afternoon was a shock. We had no onward ticket, the heat was stifling and the crowds were pushy. I dove into the ticket line and fought my way to the front shamelessly exploiting the "ladies first" rule in effect at Indian railway offices. Within a few minutes we had tickets to Chandigarh and we were running to catch our train. We were back in India.
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