With a pre-dawn start required in chilly Mcleodganj, I said auf wiedersehen to Mannfred, then waited a frustrating while for the jeep to Darramsala to fill up. With only one bus a day to Shimla I thought I had to have missed it by minutes but it was still there, it left as soon as I stepped on board, phew! Upon descent to the plain below I got my first view of the suitably stunning snowy Himalayan range. It was just a rickety local bus which traversed small country towns such as Hamirpur, it was amazing to think that in a country of this population there had to be literally a million and one such towns which you had never heard of, yet for many it was all the world. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere we passed by people all draped in a standard yellow cloth, as though performing ritual washing in a doubtless freezing river by a Hindu shrine. A road tunnel also looked suitably dodgy with no concrete lining as one might have expected anywhere else. The rock was agglomerate and could have collapsed inwards at any time it would seem. On board the bus a friendly Tibetan monk offered me his newspaper, I had seen him earlier in McLeodganj but his jeep was full and he was obviously surprised that I'd also made it to the bus on time. It was a pity he got off at Hamirpur, that would have been an interesting friend to make. Of the 8 hour trip to Shimla, 7 hours was on tortuous narrow mountain roads, the drivers hands never stood still as he constantly threw the bus around blind bends and dodged oncoming traffic right up to the cliff edge. The 244Ks counted down very slowly until eventually Shimla materialised very big and very hilly, sprawling down mountainsides with the odd colonial den immediately apparent. Much larger and more orderly than grungy McLeodganj, Shimla very quickly grew from a small native village into another hill station after discovery of its situation by British cartographers. It became the de facto winter capital of all India no less, as the colonials sought escape from the summer heat of Delhi. As such it is richly inbued with colonial architecture, most notably the canary yellow painted cathedral and the line of shops which follow the main drag "The Mall", of notable mock Tudor style in the main. Even now, it is perhaps the most unlikely choice for a current state capital. In turn it has done its best to remain up-market, now serving as a holiday resort for middle class Indians, many wearing western garb and speaking to each other in heavily inflected English. As part of the theme, I was happily surprised to see the incredibly enlightened approach of banning smoking in public, even outdoors, and all plastic bags are banned throughout Himachal Pradesh.
Pretty bushed after my all day trip, it was enough just to wander the 2 main streets and the bazaar, the second main drag known as The Ridge was only 200 metres distant and in parallel with The Mall but probably 200 metres lower too, there were countless flights of steep steps between them. I rode the lift which served the hill at one end of the ridgeline, it was actually 2 lifts set apart in order to negotiate the slope but it seemed to serve nowhere in particular except an incongruous Hindu shrine stranded in a car park. My somewhat dodgier and dearer hotel still had the ubiquitous unrestricted verandah view across the mountainsides, though being even higher than McLeodganj if you werent stuck in the cloud layer you were getting rained on from just above.