woensdag 30 oktober 2013

Stories From Shimla

It took me 22 hours and a night at a shabby hotel in Reckong Peo to get here, but finally... Shimla.
Wait. This is the bus station, but where's the town?

With some help, I figured out that this was the new bus station (really? new? unfinished yes, but new...) and I needed to get from here to the old bus station. By the time I figured this out the gentleman who sat next to me during the trip from Reckong Peo, had apparently decided I needed help (I still did, crowded bus stations are extremely confusing) and starting acting as my interpreter to figure out where I should go next. Within five minutes me and my bag were in a bus (duh) from the new bus station to the old bus station. Thank you kind sir!

So, the old bus station, great. From there it turned out to be a steep (in Shimla the roads go two ways, up and down) twenty minute walk to the centre, Scandal Point. In India there usually are taxis, Riksha's, tuk-tuk's available to cover those nasty distances to your hotel, but Shimla has a traffic-free, pedestrian only centre. You love it once you're settled, but you curse it when you're still carrying that big backpack.

While the Lonely Planet promised porters which would offer to carry my luggage, there was nobody yelling 'sir-sir-please-let-me-carry-your-bag-yes-sir-sir-sir-yes-sir-please-sir'. There was one guy who told me that the hotel I was going to was full, but since that is the oldest trick in the book (they tell you this just to bring you to their hotel), I ignored his remarks and kept on walking. I had a reservation so I was pretty sure I had a room. Pretty sure. That wasn't good enough. In an attempt to make up for things, Lara had offered to make a reservation for me, which he did. But for tomorrow, not today. Today they were totally packed. Sigh... Just keep on breathing and try to remember what the Dalai Lama said about kindness, peaceful things and such... Luckily, they knew a hotel nearby, which had decent rooms available for a decent prize.

And the tout, the one who told me that the hotel was packed? Not only was he speaking the truth, no, in the end he even turned out to work at the hotel! This is so confusing. He should've been telling me a lie and work for a different hotel. Isn't there really any statement you can make about India of which the opposite isn't equally true?

Anyway, all is well that ends well. Time to enjoy Shimla.

Check out Wikipedia for a more correct description of the town, but to me Shimla was the place where the heritage of British colonialism mixes with present - in terms of people, middle and upper class - India. Buildings in the old English style lacking in maintenance, a lot of (relatively) well-off Indians most of whom carried a digital SLR camera, small overfullgeneral stores and Hilfiger/Adidas stores in the same street. Contrary to other Indian cities, the streets here are very clean: there is only a little trash lying around and no cows, so no cowshit! Also, spitting (a terribly annoying habit here) and smoking was prohibit in the centre of town. As mentioned earlier, there's also no traffic here, which means no honking. Wow. I'm impressed. Is this really India?

I only intended to pass through the town, but after Spiti and the long way here, a break was very welcome. The pleasant vibe made Shimla a ideal place to kick back and relax.

Sure, I went to see the Hanuman statue on the hill, but a just a slow stroll, not the Spitian hiking pace. Slowing down also helped me to not trip over the countless monkeys that wander around here, which apparently can become quite aggressive when you have food (Indians generally have a sweet called prasad with them as an offering to the gods, monkeys love it). I carried some small stones just in case, but generally just threatening was enough to clear the way.

While kicking back and relaxing, I also found a perfect place (thanks Lonely Planet!) for breakfast: The Indian Coffee House. They serve a excellent sweet, cacao topped variation on the cappuccino (oddly, they call it an espresso), which together with an omelette and some toast was the perfect way to start the morning. We (me and the people working there) even had our own little routine. Each morning I would order two portions of jam toast and each time I would only be served one. Then, after finishing the toast and my first 'exspresso', I'd order another two pieces and the second time I always got them both, three days on a row. Loved it. Maybe I'm an autist, but those are the little things.

On a side note. You come to India with no change, which is a problem for everyone almost every time you want to buy things (especially the small, cheap stuff). But then you get it and you start saving change. Even more so, you get so fixed on saving change that you don't give it even when you have more than enough and they're (apparently genuinely) running out. You still play the I'm-a-foreigner-and-the-ATM-gave-me-this-500-note-so-please-give me-change card.


Viceregal Lodge, now an Institute of Advanced Studies (Social Sciences!), where you were not allowed to walk on the grass (three guys with whistles made sure everyone knew the grass was off-limits).

Yes, I like sunsets. On the right: Shimla (or at least part of it since the town is strung out across the entire hill for miles)

Below, the Town Hall that looked like a House of Horrors. No maintenance since the British left has resulted in a building that still has it former grandeur, but is slowly degrading.

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