24.03.2012 - 26.03.2012 20 °C
The journey from Jibhi to Shimla looked daunting on the map and it turned out to be just as we expected. The distance covered between the two is not huge compared to some of our journeys, but going over the top of the Jalori Pass in excess of 10000 ft and changing at a small town called Sainj to cross the valleys of southern Himachal is enough to take the journey time to well over 10 hours. The first 12km from Jibhi up the pass took 70 minutes and as with all the bus journeys so far the bumpy nature of the road caused some unsettling of our stomachs. The road was mostly cleared of snow but there was plenty on the mountain above and below and there were a few hairy moments when we met busses coming down the hill and neither bus seemed willing to reverse along the single track road. Fortunately we both survived unscathed down the other side of the pass and along to Sainj, eventually arriving in Shimla Interstate bus station (several kilometers away from the town centre and considerably lower down the steep hill) that evening. Shimla is a good example of very poor town planning. It was built as a hill station for the British to escape the heat of Kolkata and Delhi and was originally a long, thin town spread along a ridge. Since then the town has expanded across but also downwards on a hill that is so steep that an outdoor lift is the most sensible way of getting from one level to the next! We made our way up to check in to our hotel and after going out for tea at a recommended restaurant were pleasantly surprised to find a really good chicken saag and egg curry at the end of a long day's travel.
The speed of our trip and the timings of the trains meant that we only spent one full day in Shimla, though we made sure to fill it with as much of what the town had to offer as we could. The half timbered town hall was reminiscent of Chester and the parish church with, allegedly, the best stained glass windows in India, could have come straight from any British town. We walked down this mile of old empire and round to the Himachal Pradesh state museum. This had interesting displays of temple sculpture from all around India, wooden carvings, displays of traditional Himachal textiles and the obligatory weapons gallery. Possibly the best gallery was one dedicated to the work of Gandhi who spent time conducting meetings with various other important figures during the independence negotiations, many of which were held in Shimla. From the state museum we went on to the former Viceregal lodge, now the Institute of Advanced Studies. The lodge was the summer seat of power for the raj and another building that is a little piece of Britain abroad. After a samosa and chai, we went for a guided tour around the parts of the inside which are open to visitors (many are reserved for the students of the institute). The main hall is clad in Burmese teak, all imported, the chandeliers in the dining room were brought in from Belgium and many other parts of the lodge were taken from other corners of the former British empire. The conference room was where the independence documents were signed and there is a table which apparently split in half when the partition deal was agreed. As with many tours we had been on in India there was a throng of Indians who seemed quite disinterested in what the tour guide had to say but took some pictures and then sped off ahead. After a stop on the way back for coffee and chocolate cake, and a quick look around the church we packed our bags again for the journey down from the mountains the following day, taking the viceroy's toy train down to Delhi.