This is probably not the blog post you were hoping for regarding Shimla. I will preface it by saying that during the winter I can understand it may be a majestic escape from the cities, and for those who never really experience a winter otherwise there must be a novelty-factor to it, but on my visit during apple season in September I found it to be congested: with people, with diesel fumes, and with desperate over-development.
I had seen photographs of Shimla that show it as a winter wonderland, snow-capped and green, filled with fir trees and warmly hugged by the yesteryear charm of the British Raj era. I pictured a few adorable B&B’s, some sturdy, stately British buildings leftover from years past, and, since it looks pretty remote on a map, only a few tourists. Unfortunately with increased demand, Shimla has adapted to accommodate and the integrity of the environment and natural charm has deteriorated.
It’s not all bad, however, I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t go. In fact, I spent a day there and took a fantastic walking tour with a guide named Mohiddin from Hotel Dreamland. He took me around to the Hanuman Temple, the Vice Regal Palace, and the Mall where I saw the charm of Shimla. There was the British architecture I had been looking for, and we nipped into one of the street shops for some delicious chana bhatura with puri, and local specialty.
If you are planning to go to Shimla, I have some recommendations:
1. Bring Comfortable Shoes! This is first and foremost. You will walk, a lot, up and down and all around…do NOT underestimate the amount you'll walk and don't take shiny new shoes or else you'll get blisters! In one day, I walked 21,000 steps according to the Pacer app on my iPhone. Shimla is a true hill station and you will miss a lot if you limit yourself due to your choice of footwear!
2. Take the Toy Train from Kalka. You can make a nice long weekend out of Shimla by flying into Chandigarh; it’s a 3.5 hour journey on traffic-y, mountain roads by car or you can take the toy train from Kalka (max price I think is Rs. 600), a 1 hour drive from Chandigarh. Friends have recommended NOT staying overnight in Kalka. Chandigarh is a better option and you can do sightseeing there in a day. I paid Rs. 3500/- for an Innova to get to Shimla. I’ve heard the toy train gives awesome views, and unfortunately I didn’t have time to do this, but I hope you do!
3. Stay at the Radisson. I stayed in the Radisson for a night and if you’re looking for a 5-star, this will do nicely. They have beautiful, well-appointed rooms, and some excellent local items on the menu. Also, there is no walking required to reach the hotel, unlike many others in Shimla that require some rigorous uphill trekking.
4. Leave Shimla if You Have Time. I was offered a 4night/5day tour package out east to the Kalpa and Sangla Valleys by the tour guide I had from Hotel Dreamland (a cute budget hotel at the top of the hill – walking required). This ended up being one of the most amazing experiences of all my world travels. Mountain roads, villages I’d never have heard of otherwise, cool weather, and the unspoiled beauty of the Himalayas; a truly excellent adventure.
5. Take a Walking Tour. As I mentioned, the walking tour was a great way to see Shimla and burn off some of the yummy Himachal food I had at the Radisson. I recommend calling Hotel Dreamland and inquiring if they have a guide. Mohiddin is great, if he’s around.
6. Eat Chana Bhatura/Chole Bhature. This is a Punjabi dish, popular in Shimla and perfect for cool weather. Chickpeas stewed in a huge wok, served with puffy bread. Can be eaten anytime of day.
7. Carry a big stick if you go to the Hanuman Temple (Jakhoo). The monkeys are cute but they don’t play around...they can be real jerks and having a stick to wave at them is a good deterrent.
8. Keep a hanky with you. Because…diesel fumes.
9. Take your own toilet paper. Most restrooms don't have any. I may have had to wipe with my hand and the sprayer once or twice.
10. Pack Woolens/Sweaters. Even if you think you won't need them. At least pack a sweater or light coat.