Nobody else found this extraordinary.
I did not know that cows could climb stairs. As a youngster I think I saw an episode of Mr. Ed where he used an elevator and those horses in 'The Long Riders' galloped through a general store making their getaway but I never saw a cow climbing stairs until yesterday.
We are in Shimla, India. An old British hill station town north of Delhi. We are tucked into northwest India an area bordered by Nepal, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are at an altitude of about 9,000 feet. The days are temperate and the evenings refreshingly cool but walking up a hill here can make you feel like you're one lung short and there are nothing but hills here. Big beautiful green ones that run all the way to the Indian Himalaya. We cannot see K2 from here but it's out there to our north. Our favorite haunts in Shimla are all above us so we get our exercise twice a day with quad-crushing pushes up inclined streets and long stone staircases. The rewards are well worth the work.
After our overnight train ride we arrived refreshed in Kalka at 8:30 AM. I had been awake for a
And Away We Go
Nice ride through the forests.
few hours by then. Laying in my rack watching the world of India stream by my window. I examined all of the train stations as we passed through them. People slept on the various platforms with sheets pulled over their heads giving them the look of shrouded corpses laid out in neat rows. Sometimes small children would come aboard during the stops seeking handouts from the passengers while the car attendant's back was turned.
In Kalka we transferred to a small, first-class, narrow gauge train. There were ten big-windowed cars in the train and each held about 20 people who were comfortably ensconced in large, red-velvet seats. I filled Karen's infamous morning caffeine needs with hot, tasty, milk-tea sold by smiling men from track-side carts for fifteen-cents a cup. The day was sunny as the little red and gray engine that could, pulled out of Kalka for the 4-hour climb to Shimla. This particular line was opened in 1906. We rumbled through over a hundred tunnels at 20-kilometers an hour. Huge pines filled the thinning air with their fragrant scent. Below us we could see the roadway twisting in a series of switchbacks up the steep slopes as we
Baby Monkey Burglar
Tagged us for a bar of soap. I hope it tasted good.
rode the ridge-tops. Big monkeys watched us from conifer perches.
We were served an Indian lunch on-board. A moveable feast. Our steward was a most attentive fellow (tipping) throughout the ride. Delhi became a fading memory as we finally pulled into tiny Shimla station. After a false start we ended up at the Ashirwad Hotel just below the 'Ridge' or town center. Our $22 room is a bit dated but the view through the window at the foot of our bed is breathtaking. We are near the top of a high-ridged valley that runs northwest. In the distance we can see the snow-capped Himalaya wall. It is a remarkable place.
Shimla was inadvertently founded in 1822 by a Scottish man who thought it a great place to build his summer home away from Delhi's heat. It caught on and soon Shimla became a major administration center for the British military. The original town was built at the top of a domineering ridge, hence the name of the old town. Since then the city has spread hither and yon. At dusk the hills are rhinestoned with brilliant white lights marking the domiciles of the natives. There are no vehicles
Our Train To Shimla
Lots of fun though the other passengers pretended that we weren't there.
allowed in the Ridge. All of the town's supply needs; The propane gas bottles, the luggage, the food, the detergents, the furniture, the linens, the lumber and so much more must be delivered by porters of all ages. Today we followed two elderly men who each carried a boxed washing machine and we had trouble keeping up with them. The various levels of the town are interconnected by a ziggurat of ramps and inclined streets and covered staircases. It was while we were returning to our room that we encountered the stair-bound Bovine. Oblivious to everyone around her she slowly made her way up the stairs pausing to take in the view. We're surprised by very little nowadays but that one was worth a picture.
This is a favored vacation spot among the Indians. People of all kinds come here for a stay. Their costumes vary from small nut-brown women wearing Harem pants, gypsy scarves and ornate gold-chain, nose ornaments to tall, beautiful, Sari wrapped, light-skinned northerners. Many of the men are Sikhs and they wear beautifully colored turbans and sport full, luxurious, black beards with the mustaches waxed into Snidely Whiplash curlicues. In the evenings the main street
through town, called The Mall, is clogged with folks enjoying the views and eating from sidewalk vendors selling roasted ears of corn, hard boiled eggs, and ice cream. There are about a dozen beautiful horses available for people to ride along the promenade.
There are only a smattering of westerners here. When we catch sight of each other we smile as if we're seeing a long lost relative. When Karen and I take our walks we receive a lot of attention. Many of the natives we meet ask if it is OK to have their picture taken with us and we always acquiesce though one photo never seems to be enough. We encountered a gaggle of young girls who must have take a dozen pictures before they were satisfied. At an overlook we could not help but notice three, tall, handsome Sikh men who were dressed in silver tunics, black turbans and Rasputin beards. At their sides they wore small decorative silver daggers. They stared intensely at Karen and myself, throwing us shy smiles and every once in a while their right hands would start to levitate into the beginnings of a wave but they were unable to commit
KJ Celebrity Moment
These girls couldn't seem to take enough photos of Karen. Me; Not so much.
as if they knew us but couldn't put their finger on where from. They visibly relaxed as we walked towards them to talk. We shook warm hands and started a conversation. They are a part of the Golden Temple singers and they had just returned from their first Stateside tour. We asked them how they found America and they just gushed over it. Said they had just gotten back from their last performance in San Francisco the week before and couldn't wait to go back. We took each others' photograph and parted as friends. Sometimes it all comes together here.
There are large troops of monkeys roaming the streets. I've seen three different species. All of them fearless of man. All of them sneaky. We have a group sitting outside our room looking for an opportunity to snake an arm through an open window and snag a snack. The other day Karen yelled when a very big boy tried to climb into our room. I dumped a pitcher of water on him and he skedaddled but the look on KJ's face was absolutely priceless. In town the punks run wild over the buildings. In the mornings the Ridge looks
Old British Built Building
19th Century. One of many in the Ridge.
like monkey island with baby monkeys practicing their climbing techniques or trapezing from electrical lines. The natives take morning walks armed with heavy 'monkey sticks' in case a they run into a bolder than usual simian.
It is Monsoon here. Yesterday morning we took refuge in a warm, tiny eatery while rain and hail fell outside in a black torrent. The ice pellets pinged off the corrugated metal roofs in high-arced bounces. Inside we drank finger scorching glasses of milk coffee and munched on flat breads stuffed with herbs cooked on heavy iron, black griddles. In these tiny restaurants people sit anywhere there's a seat so you're always meeting somebody altogether new. There are 1.8-Billion people in India and every one of them has their own story to tell.
We usually eat breakfast at a narrow vegetarian restaurant which looks like it's schussing down a Seattle-pitched street. The food is wonderful and the price for the two of us comes to $3. It is frequented by Indian tourists with meager means. They will pile into the place in groups of a dozen. Indians appear to travel with their extended families when they do travel. Most are illiterate and
These are full propane bottles heading up to the Ridge.
the big, bearded, bear of an owner tells them what is available to eat. Most have never seen a white person before. The children will hang off their mother's backs to ponder the meaning of us. The family men sit separately from the women and pay us no mind while the women furtively chatter and cast us sidelong looks. They are simple-minded and take delight in catching us committing some dietary faux pas like not tearing our bread properly or dropping a fork. This sends them into paroxysms of laughter. Reminds me of sitting next to the 'Cool Kids' table back in High School. When they act this way we simply look at them and smile until they feel ashamed and go back to feeding their babies. It's a daily thing here. No biggie.
The owner likes us and his English is very good. We talk about the food and the world. When we first met him he asked us where we were from. We get this question all of the time. I used to say that we were American to which the questioner always responded with an "Oh" and a shoulder shrug as if dismissing us out of
The best Indian food we have ever eaten and it's right on the main drag.
hand. And so, now, when they ask, I stand at attention and in my best and sincerest Texas drawl I boast; "I am from the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!" And I smile a big-ass smile at them just to make myself feel better and them less so. When I said this to the owner of the restaurant he looked at me and said, "You are so lucky my friend. You live in a wonderful country while I am forced to live here in this dishonest place with no future." And I felt badly about my boast and the way it had made him feel but he was right in his assessment.
We are so very lucky to live in the US. Sometimes it takes a stranger and a trip like this one to help you appreciate that fact.
Notes: Internet in Shimla is abysmal as are the computers available in the few internet cafes that exist here. I was using Windows 3.0 yesterday. Odds are 5 to 1 that the computer you will be given will be unable to read your flash drive. Some of the internet cafes have WIFI but not many. The
A throw back to colonial times.
best internet we found in Shimla was at Great Escape Routes greatescaperoutes.com They also offer dynamite personalized tours to the Himalaya area. Nice folks. Ask for Raman Steta. Good dude. Restaurants with WIFI are non-existent. Plan accordingly. If staying in Shimla get lodgings near the 'Ridge' Shimla is spread out over 12 km of mountain so location is paramount. Shopping is meager at best. Food is very inexpensive. If you're not into the train rides you can get a taxi to and from Chandigarth for 2,500 Rupees or $42.
We are finished with India. In many ways our experiences here were worse than what we encountered in the Philippines. We were shocked at India's lack of Internet service, an item that is a primary tool for travelers like ourselves since we do all of our own bookings for hotels and transport and these blogs. The country is beautiful but the infrastructure is sorely lacking. As far as the natives are concerned we are mystified at their inconsistencies in dealing with foreign visitors. It's either feast or famine here with famine winning out. If you want the flavor of India without the hassles then go to Nepal and enjoy. Even
Vendors clog the streets.
with the electrical issues Nepal is still preferable.
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