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February 19th 2015
Published: February 25th 2015
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Free food and tea was supplied constantly on the morning train from Delhi to Kalka, which was most welcome! From Kalka we took the famous Toy Train up towards Shimla. The train was very busy. Our carriage had an extended family travelling, with very excited children who enjoyed screaming every time we went through a tunnel. Passengers jumped off at small stations along the way to buy teas and snacks, as there was no onboard buffet. The train stopped in its tracks for about an hour at one point, so arrived late. We were lucky that our airbnb host found out about the delay, and still managed to pick us up from the nearest station, and bring us to his place in Shogi (which is a village a little further down the route from Shimla).

The wonderful thing about the hills here is that the air is so clean and fresh. We really enjoyed breathing deeply of the fresh air, and feeling a bit healthier. (In Delhi there is a constant smog and the air is dirty and dusty). The airbnb has an amazing view over the hills and valleys. It is winter here, so the fruit trees in their garden are not yet in blossom, but we can see colourful birds like parrots in the trees, as well as a big blue magpie. There are lots of eagles soaring above in the sky. Have not seen any cows wandering around the streets or railwayline here, but seen dogs and monkeys. Monkeys are a pest here, and our hosts, Manish and Prerna, keep a gun to frighten them off! As elsewhere in India there are groups of stray dogs wandering around the street. The host's dog comes out for a walk on a lead and gets very overexcited when he sees them. Although this is a mountainous area, there are lots of houses all over the hills and valleys. The first couple of days in Shogi it was not good weather, infact there was thunder lightening and rain. We adapted to this by taking it very easy....lazing about in bed, eating the nice home cooked food provided, and having a couple of very nice walks in the hills closeby when the weather permitted.

The final day the sun came out, and so the views were even better. This was a day worth going into Shimla to see all the sights. Our host does reasonably priced sightseeing tours, and drove us around the sights for the day before we had to get on our train. First we went to Tara Devi temple, which is high up on a hill with spectacular views towards Shimla and the snow capped Himalayas beyond, and lots of monkeys. Next he took us to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, which is housed in the former British Viceroy's house. It is a commanding victorian mansion which looks very British, even though it is built from local bricks. It was here that the negotiations pre independance took place. (The guide spoke first in Hindi for everyone else, and then in English for just us two.) After this we went to the Himalayan bird aviary, where we saw peacocks and wild chickens. Finally we went to Shimla Mall. There are 2 lifts to take you up there. It is a shopping street with a couple of churches and amazing views over the town and hills below one way, and the snow capped mountains in the other. Shimla feels completely different to the other places we have visited so far in India. It feels almost as though it could be in Europe.

We were dropped at Shimla station to get the evening Toy Train down to Kalka. A very different experience from the trip up.... This train had first class, where we were given a constant supply of food and drink in comfortable seats, and we arrived in Kalka on time. Then it was onto the overnight train to Delhi (yet again) and back to the dusty dirty air.

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