about anything under the Sun!
So the Missus and I decided that a break was long overdue and it was my turn to do the planning this time around. After a lot of research, given the time of year and our objective of a completely relaxing vacation, I picked the Wildflower Hall just north of Shimla. Based on everything I had seen and heard about the resort, and the reviews on TripAdvisor, it seemed like a fairly safe bet. The place deserves its own write-up, so more on that in the next blog maybe – this one is dedicated to just getting to Shimla. I had decided to keep our destination a secret – the little bit of mystery was driving the curious wife nuts, and I have to admit, the cheap thrill of keeping the secret made the painstaking efforts very worthwhile. As we sat on the plane to Delhi though, she was leafing through the Horoscope section of the in-flight magazine and guess what it says for her Zodiac – yep, it actually called out that a surprise trip to Shimla was in the offing! Go figure! They manage to get these predictions right once in a lifetime, and this is the time they had to pick?
From Bangalore, there are multiple ways to get to Shimla and all of them involve Delhi as the hub – unless you believe in the world is round theory, of course. From Delhi, one option is to do the 8-hour (or thereabouts) road trip to Shima via Chandigarh. If you decide to take this option, make sure you time it around the traffic jams that haunt the Delhi border. Apparently, trucks are allowed into the city only between 8pm and 8am, and they generally start queuing up outside right before – and can halt traffic for up to 2 hours. Folks I talked to said the Delhi-Chandigarh road was great, so once you get out, it should make for an easy drive. The summer up in the north is brutal this time of the year though, so I can’t imagine the drive being a lot of fun. Heck, I thought our flight was warm, so imagine the road!
Another option is to fly or take the train to Chandigarh – there is a Shatabdi that gets you there in 4.5 hours if I remember right but the timing of the train makes it a little challenging to coordinate, unless you have time to kill in Delhi of course. We decided to fly to Chandigarh and then drive up to Shimla. The Chandigarh airport is a make-believe arrangement, I am sure. The runway is actually a long stretch of road and no room to turn the plane around. The captain had to literally spin the plane on its axis to make the u-turn to taxi us to the terminal. The plane parks itself in what looks like someone’s backyard and the terminal is a large room with something that resembles a bench serving as baggage claim. And Jet Airways actually flew us down there in a spanking new 777 – there were 9 people on the plane, and yes, I am including the 5-member crew in my count. The most stressful part of the journey was actually picking which of the empty seats to take – window? aisle? emergency row? left of the plane? right? Just an endless dilemma for a 35 minute flight.
We had decided to spend the night in Chandigarh because we wanted to ascend the mountains in daylight – and that turned out to be a wise decision because we had left home at 5am to get on our 7am flight, and were completely beat when we got to Chandigarh around 3pm. The Taj Chandigarh was an excellent option and the service was great, just like you’d expect from a Taj property. If you do decide to stay here and happen to like sandwiches, I highly recommend the Mozzarella Pesto sandwich – was divine!
We did consider the option of taking the Himalayan Queen (a heritage train) up the mountain to Shimla. It takes 5 hours and goes thru a bunch of curvy mountain passes, tunnels etc as it makes the 6000 ft climb but was discouraged as the train was not the most comfortable (it is heritage for a reason, you know) and usually too cramped with people. And they were right, even though the train was making 3 trips daily, they were all completely sold out for the next several weeks. So driving up was our only choice, and in the end, it seemed like the most convenient. Rent a big car if you can though – as with most mountain roads in India, the uphill climb has several curves, a lot of them blind and the traffic was actually busy. A lot of trucks on the road, way more than I’d have expected . Where were they all going? In any case, a bigger car just feels more comfortable and secure. One warning – the drivers of Chandigarh just aren’t just good judges of time. No matter what you ask them, the answer always seems to be 3 hours. It actually took us around 4.5 hours to get to Shimla even though it was only 90kms away, so plan appropriately. And if you are looking for a good place to rent cabs from, Chandigarh Travelz (92160 32805) was a great option. They charged us Rs 2500 for a one-way drop in an air-conditioned Innova, and that seemed like a decent bargain and made it a very comfortable trip in the end.
There is also the option to fly into Shimla – Kingfisher has one flight everyday from Delhi but this flight is apparently very unpredictable thanks to the weather patterns in Shimla. If you do lucky to get on though, I can only imagine how pretty the flight path would be. The drive was beautiful and the view from up in the air can only be better. Maybe next time!