The four-hour bus ride to Shimla climbed high into the mountains. They call this a ‘hill’ station, but it’s at 7200 feet above sea level, with higher mountains all around. During the time of the British, the whole colonial government would come here during the hot months, bag and baggage, and govern from Shimla to escape the heat of the lower areas, like Delhi.
Now the town was overrun with Indian tourists and reminded me of the state fair. Since it’s built on the side of a mountain, one was either walking steeply up or steeply down, and at this altitude, that was a problem, especially carrying a backpack. Also the taxis could only go to the edge of the central city and there were no tuk-tuks, so this was strictly a pedestrian town.
Many of the hotels were full but I finally found one and settled in with private bath and hot water–no top sheet—only a blanket. When I was attempting to open a window, the man said I’d better not as monkeys would come in—they were all over the place! Later after walking nearly to exhaustion, I found a restaurant and had a nice dinner, a vegetarian combination platter.
The following day, after a good night’s rest, I felt better and did enjoy seeing the Shimla Victorian Theatre, which opened in 1877. It was restored a few years ago and has a wonderful collection of photos from productions from 1894 onwards (no photos before 1894 here in India). I also found an internet and other restaurants. Still, this place took a lot of energy, and I made my plans to move on the following day. I see that this old bod has a few problems with slinging on a backpack and charging on to the nearest bus. Maybe I’ll have to modify my mode of travel in third world countries. However, this time a set of circumstances conspired to cause problems: I had had house guests for eleven days so I was tired before I left; then I twisted my hip in some goofy way a couple of days before leaving; then slinging the pack caused a slight reinjury to my right shoulder—but all quickly improved and so did my outlook! And my next town, Mandi, was only at about 2600 feet above sea level.
Wednesday morning I asked about a taxi to go the 7 km to the bus station—there weren’t any. So I was directed to walk down, down, down to the local bus stop and get a bus to the bus station, which I did. I got my ticket and departed for Mandi. The six-hour bus ride seemed very long as it was hot and ran total hairpin turns the entire way. We did have a nice lunch stop, though. When I arrived Mandi I got a hotel and had dinner.
The next day I visited the Indira Market, which is around a sunken pretty plaza. What a good idea for a town center. There are hundreds of little shops on three levels surrounding a pretty courtyard. The hotel where I’m staying is just a few steps from the plaza. This hotel, called the Raj Mahal Palace Hotel, occupies part of what was a palace complex.
I spent much of the day on ‘traveling infrastructure.’ I reworked my plans again to eliminate some of the towns that I had planned on visiting. I need to go more slowly and spend three or four nights in each place. Also I eliminated Srinigar as I had several reliable reports that there were terrorist activities there. Too bad, as there is a lovely lake where you can rent pretty boats to sleep on like a hotel.
When I was on the internet I was booking a flight directly from Jammu City to Leh to avoid some really long and arduous bus trips. I was at the point where it says, “Don’t press any keys while it is making the booking,” when the electricity went out! OK, so I started over. Finally I was at that point again; then I got a message that I couldn’t use an ‘international’ credit card but would need an Indian card! When I was paying for my internet I told the young man my problem and he said that he would book the ticket for me as he had an Indian credit card and I could pay him cash! He would charge me a fee of the equivalent of $3.00—-OK! So I finally made my booking, paid him, and then headed for an ATM machine, but one was out of order and the other (only two in town) wouldn’t give me any cash. That often happens in India.
The other thing I did was to buy a SIM card for my international cell phone. I thought I’d better call ahead for hotel reservations as they seem to be pretty busy these days. I noticed the young man hunted through a pile of papers that seemed to each have ‘passport’ photos attached. He chose one of a woman, pulled off the photo and affixed it to my application. There did seem to be something irregular about this but in a jiffy, I had my new SIM card installed and was on my way. Later when I needed it for the airplane flight booking, the tape with the new number on it that I had put on the back of my phone had blurred so I couldn’t read it. The internet man cleverly suggested that I would call his phone with mine, and then he would have the number, which I carefully wrote down now! All these high-tech pitfalls!
Mandi has 81 stone temples! I made a morning tour of several of them with a tuk-tuk, starting with the brightly colored 7th C. Bhutnath Mandir. In India the people worshiping are always so nice and encourage me to take photos.
One lady was honoring Nandi, Shiva’s mount, and a family group was having prayers said. In fact, even if I don’t particularly want to take their photos, I do anyway or they would be disappointed!
On to the Akardash Rudar, a really beautifully carved temple. One could spend a lot of time examining all the art carved into the walls, both inside and outside. These temples all seem to be dedicated to Kali, the Destroyer Goddess, a really fearsome deity. She was behind bars in each temple (a precautionary measure?)
Of course no view of India would be complete without comparing some of the housing that was right near these beautiful temples. This was some of the worst I’ve seen. But that’s India! India is tough but enjoyable!