Visiting The Seven Hills Of Shimla, India
From Leh, Ladakh, we flew very early in the morning to Chandigarh, via a connection in Delhi.
The security people at Leh airport confiscated our packed breakfasts, which our hotel had prepared for us, and also made us check in our backpacks, saying that we are not allowed any carry-on bags, just a purse.
A bit later we saw that a man who had also stayed in our hotel managed to get past security with a huge rolling carry on and a large backpack.
I guess he had a more authoritative attitude, which allowed him to carry on whatever he wanted.
Not that I cared about being forced to check our backpacks, but if the “rules” apply to one, they should apply to ALL, and special allowances should not be made for those who have a pushy attitude and are more demanding and difficult.
In Chandigarh, we hired a taxi to take us to the British-era hill town of Shimla.
The drive took about five hours on a narrow two lane road, that was mostly under construction.
Our driver overtook and passed every single car and truck, sometimes on blind curves which left us facing upcoming trucks and needing to squeeze all the way to the far side of the wrong lane!
Needless to say, he made the otherwise scenic drive unnecessarily stressful.
But truth be told, all the drivers were just as irresponsible, and the funny thing is, they seem to think that they are good drivers.
On the side of the road, I saw the remains of cars that were involved in serious accidents.
The whole way to Shimla, the road was packed with noisy, exhaust belching cars, buses and trucks, all of them swerving around potholes and overtaking one another.
The houses built on the hillsides are colorful, with multicolor combinations of paint that are very charming.
All the houses are built as if they’re draping down the very steep hills, which means that if you go into a house from the narrow busy road, you park on the roof of the house and walk down steep steps of stairs, to enter the house and then keep walking down to the other parts of the house.
Most of the houses are built from reinforced concrete about four to six inches thick.
They’re covered in soot from the road, and many of them are in various stages of chaotic construction or demolition.
When we arrived in Shimla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, we were happy to see that cars were not allowed into the center of town.
The “Mall Road,” the main artery of Shimla, is a pedestrians-only road.
It is a wide and long street that is lined on both sides with shops and simple eateries.
Below the Mall Road, there are the middle and lower Bazaar roads, which are also only for pedestrians.
The Bazaar roads cut through a busy and colorful sprawling market, selling clothing, fabrics, text books, souvenirs, shoes, jewelry, fruit, herbs, fresh juices and all sorts of street food.
Judging from the shops and from the people strolling, I would say that the Bazaar is a market designed for both locals and tourists from other parts of India.
There were not many European tourists to be seen.
We arrived in Shimla in the late afternoon.
Our taxi driver stopped at the garage of the Oberoi Cecil hotel, down a steep hill from the hotel, and from there, the hotel’s car came and transferred us up to the hotel.
The Oberoi Cecil is a wonderful heritage hotel, located in a meticulously restored British-era building.
The service is at all times both personal and very efficient, so if there’s anything at all you want, if the staff doesn’t anticipate it, you just need to ask once, and the task is immediately done.
Nearby, there is another beautiful old building that has not been restored, which is now used as Oberoi employee housing.
The concierge at the Oberoi emailed us before our arrival and asked if we were celebrating any special occasion.
We told them that it was our 17th weeding anniversary.
When we arrived, our room was upgraded at no extra cost to us.
We were given a beautiful suite, tastefully decorated with period furniture and the most fluffy bed imaginable, with high quality bedding.
On the bed, they had arranged swans from white towels, and covered our bed with rose petals.
Two dozen roses and a small cake saying “Happy Anniversary,” waited on a table with a lovely card wishing us a continued happy bond and marriage.
The shower in our room was another wonderful treat.
After the alternating cold and hot drizzle that the best hotels in Ladakh offer as a shower, it was so nice to feel really clean again.
The next day, we donated our cake to the employees of the hotel to share, and after a wonderful breakfast, we went for a long walk around Shimla.
The resort hill town enjoys wonderful cool weather, and most Indian tourists were out walking around in their winter coats.
The Mall road was chock full of monkeys, jumping from the buildings and the trees, mixing with the people
At one spot, I photographed a family of monkeys, and the large male looked at me nastily, as if he were saying: “What are you looking at?”
He even waved his fist at me as I quickly scampered away as fast as I could.
The Mall Road in Shimla was full of people, walking along the wide street dotted with old British era buildings.
It would’ve been even more scenic if the area was kept cleaner than it was.
There was lots of trash on the grounds of the forest and on the side streets.
Many of the houses had their water tanks and balconies encased in metal grids, as a protection from the menacing monkeys.
During our full day of strolling from one end of Shimla to the other, we ate ice creams, sweet boiled corn, fresh-squeezed juices, and other street food.
At the center of Mall Road, there were proud white horses lined up under the shade of several huge trees, waiting to take children and adults on short rides up and down the road, and of course to pose for photographs.
We stopped into a Christian church which had songs and prayers and a very welcoming congregation.
We wanted some fresh juice, so we stopped at a kiosk that was serving juice made from what looked like large oranges, but which had dark green skins.
A customer who was accompanied by his daughter told us that they were sweet limes.
No sugar was needed, just the fruit’s natural sugars, to make a delicious juice.
In fact, you can add a dash of salt to the juice if you wanted to.
We enjoyed the salty sweet lime juice, and despite our protests, the man paid for us.
Farther down the road, we saw a local man giving alms to two poor people who sat by the side of the street.
Following his example, we also stopped and gave alms to them.
With a graceful air, he told me:
“The man on the right is blind, and the woman on the left is suffering from old age.”
The lower Bazaar was full of local people and school kids shopping, eating street food and drinking banana shakes.
I had a pomegranate juice which was served with a touch of salt.
The most popular street food is no doubt the Chaat, which is a small piece of fried dough served with a topping or sauce, sweet or salty, “as you like.”
Tons of school kids gather around the Chaat sellers and gobble them down.
I saw another kind of street food that looked more interesting to me.
A man sat with a huge copper bowl into which he cut fresh vegetables with an expert’s movement.
Holding a cucumber in the air, he peeled and sliced it into small chunks with a huge knife, without touching the peeled part of the cucumber with his hands.
He did the same with a tomato, an onion and radish.
To the freshly cut salad he added freshly squeezed lime, and some boiled chickpeas.
Then he sliced in the air a boiled potato, and added the cubes to the mix.
He squeezed a lemon in a wooden squeezer and added herbs and spices and chilly to taste.
We asked for “not spicy,” while a young woman next to us asked for extra spicy on hers.
The amount of red chilly he added into her dish made my eyes water in psychosomatic anticipation of how spicy it would be…
The dish is served either inside a grilled bun, which he grills on a little cast iron cooker that he carries around, or in a tiny plate made from layers of recycled yogurt containers.
These recycled plates are used by all the street food vendors.
They are made from recycled plastic-coated thin cardboard.
From another street vendor, we bought scary looking Ayurvedic massage oil, and fresh saffron from Kashmir.
He also sold an even scarier looking snake oil, which we stayed clear of.
At the Cecil Hotel, we got massages from Bhutanese girls who told us that they were sponsored by the government of Bhutan to learn a skill and to practice it in India, since Bhutan does not have many five star hotels, and not many opportunities for massage therapists to work.
They live at the employee housing along with other girls from Bhutan or other parts of India, and they go to visit their home once per year.
Our therapists had already been in India for several years, and were not sure how much longer she wishes to stay.
Shimla is spread over seven hills, and after a couple of nights at the very comfortable and clean Oberoi Cecil located just above Shimla town, we moved to the other Oberoi hotel on another of the hills, about thirteen kilometers away, The Wildflower Hall Oberoi Hotel.
Surrounded by a forest preserve, Wildflower Hall is a lovely resort and Spa.
The building is in some need of maintenance, but it is so comfortable and well run, that soon you don’t notice that last season’s snows have cracked the stucco exterior in a few places.
We spent our days lounging in the atrium pool deck, with its outdoor infinity jacuzzi.
The poolside beds were very comfortable and we ate lunch by the pool, read, did trip planning and rested.
From the large infinity jacuzzi, you can do bird watching and monkey gazing.
The monkeys were swinging from the tree branches, but did not approach the pool area, which was spotlessly clean.
We were told that the monkeys are very intelligent and that they watch the room cleaners as they restock the mini bars and clean the rooms, and take the opportunity to snatch snacks from the carts.
At Wildflower Hall, they also presented us with red roses and a small chocolate cake as a gift for our seventeenth wedding anniversary.
This time we ate the chocolate cake during high tea, and it was a rare and delicious treat.
I got two more massages from other Bhutanese girls.
The massage room was elegant, and the treatment included an aromatic stream shower and great head and hair oil.
Because of the remoteness of the hotel’s location, we ate our dinners at the hotel.
We especially loved the green risotto made from locally harvested pine nuts mixed with some pine needless to create a very unique taste.
The Vegetable Biryani, which was baked in a clay pot whose lid was lined with bread dough as a seal, was also wonderful.
At our last dinner at the hotel, we were presented with gifts, including a colorful scarf woven in Kullu, a Himalayan town famous for its scarves and shawls made from local wool.
We were also given local hats, worn by most men in the region.
From Shimla, our next stop is Manali.
It was nice to lounge during the last few days, wearing nothing but white robes and bathing suits all day, looking at the Himalayas in the background and reading books, but now it is time to move on.