There was almost a chill on my arms as I stood in the sunshine at Scandal Point. I had arrived in Shimla the previous evening on the train from Delhi. It was a welcome relief to find clean streets, space to move around and an escape from the stifling heat.
Shimla became the official summer capital of the Raj in the 1860s and I can understand why, even though I was there in November and it must be twice as hot in Delhi during the summer. Perhaps it was the British influence, but even the countryside around the town was reminiscent of home, and the need to bring an extra layer to put on “just in case” was certainly familiar to me.
Perhaps it’s something to do with being a hill station that makes the atmosphere work for me. At each different level there is a different ambience, from the intriguing markets of the bazaars that draw you in with brightly coloured fabric and smells of home-cooked food to the holiday town feel of the Ridge. And views everywhere – up to the Jakhu temple, with Hanuman watching your every move, or across green fields to the valleys.
Arriving in Shimla on the toy train is definitely an experience. This was my first train journey in India and the initial train ride out of Delhi was a delight, mainly due to the introduction of morning tea and breakfast served by polite waiters. This didn’t prevent the train from running late so there was a danger that I would miss my onward connection up the hill. The inability to change things or take a different route and so relax and enjoy the journey seems to be common on trains wherever I am in the world. Fortunately the toy train waited for us at Kalka station – mainly because most of the passengers were on the Delhi train. These carriages were a little less comfortable, but the open windows gave opportunities for taking photos and really being able to see the world as you passed by villages and stations and through the 100 tunnels that make up the journey. It was an introduction to the mystery of knowing how long a train would stop at a station and allowed me to appreciate travelling alone – but I’ll save the story of the missing pensioners for another time.
My advice: visit Shimla for a different perspective of India. It will take you back in time and bring you back feeling refreshed.