Heading for the hills – Delhi to Shimla

We were up at 4 am for our travel day to the foothills. First step was to go back to the Parcel Office with our bike boxes and get them registered for the train trip. Despite assurances we stayed with the boxes and supervised their transport across all the railway lines of the New Delhi Railway Station. it was a relief to board the train knowing the bikes were safely aboard.

It turned out we were travelling first class to Kalka (4 hr trip) – comfy seats, bottled water, snack and lunch even. Of the passengers we were the shabbiest. As we neared our destination it was exciting to see some hills and forest as a change from the plains. It was very hot in Kalka (prob high 30’s) and 2 narrow guage trains that go from Kalka to Shimla were at the station.

Our plan was to ride from Kalka to Shimla over 2 days, but who can turn down a 5 hour $1 ride, on a toy train that, over 98 km, has 102 tunnels, 988 bridges, 917 curves, a gradient of 1 in 25 and climbs to 2200m from less than 500m. It is a UNESCO World Heritage facility and we didn’t think there would be seats as it is high season for local Indian tourism. But it was no problem getting a ticket.

We squeezed our bike boxes in the small carriage and joined the other eclectic, non reserved passengers including 4 honeymoon couples, 3 young Hindi students and 2 young freeloaders who sat on the floor. The reserved carriage was empty but we had to use the non-reserved carriage – for $1 each we were not going to argue about it.

Despite the heat it was a great journey winding our way up the sides of the hills, through numerous tunnels, with brief stops to let the downhill trains go past. We were due to hit Shimla after 6 and we would have to put our bikes together and then find accommodation so we opted to ‘jump train’ at Barog half way into the jouney. We were at 1600m so it was pleasantly cool and we had plenty of time at a quiet station to get sorted. Of course the other train passengers were perplexed. We had a downhill cruise to the large town of Solan where we crashed after our long day’s travel from Delhi.

We left at 6.15 next morning to get some mileage before it warmed up and the roads got too busy. The road was in good condition and like many Indian roads had a very pleasant gradient. At times traffic was busy but because the trucks and busses are shorter than in South America, they were not so intimidating and they all gave us wide berth. Lots of toots and calls of encouragement as well.

We had some chai stops, enjoying the small cups of sweet thick cardoman flavoured black tea. The last 7km up to Shimla were the hardest – the gradient pitched up and the road was busy. We had climbed about 800m over the 47km journey and we were starting to flag. Shimla is at peak tourist time, with most hotels full but we found a room – perhaps more suited to a Bollywood set with round bed and many mirrors.

Shimla was developed by the English in the 1800’s as a hill station to escape the heat of the plains, so many grand old hotels and British architecture. It is now very popular with local tourism – we have seen very few westerners in our time here. Even though it is at 2200m it is very warm during the day but pleasantly cool at night.

We will have 2 nights before heading off. We may not get good internet connection again for up to month