Riding the toy train to Shimla
Having survived our memorable power cut night in Kalka, on 12 June we took a tuktuk in the morning back to the railway station (not far from the Lotus Grand, as you can actually see the railway tracks from its windows!). The toy train was due to depart at 12.10 so we were there beforehand with all the bags. I had booked our tickets in Delhi a few weeks before so we had a reservation, but it is possible to ride this train on an unreserved seat ticket. It was pretty funny when the toy train pulled in and right before our eyes there was a bundle for the unreserved seats with people running beside the carriage and jumping in the windows (something I did, back in the day too!).
We, in contrast, and much more sedately made our way to carriage C1 seat 11, the ticket having cost 370 Rs (£4). The only slight issue was that I couldn’t see any porters to help us board the train so I had to stagger on myself with all the bags… probably only 50m or so however so not too bad.
When we first got on the carriage it was fairly empty but soon all seats were filled up. Now, the only issue about the toy train was that there was no AC so it was pretty warm until we reached the mountains. Most of my pictures of Tiger are of her looking hot and bothered! It was a tad challenging especially changing around three nappies in the five or so hours it took us to wind our way up to Shimla. I did the first one simply on the floor in front of everybody before I realised that there was actually a loo, it was tiny but I did the other two in there (somehow!).
We made various stops on the way up for snacks and Tiger was passed around to loads of people both in the carriage and on the platform... I am sure I’ve written this before but she really is the celebrity of us both now… the star of the selfie and I try not to get too jealous of my demotion! As far as I could tell on my train I was the only white foreigner but the train was packed with Indian tourists on their holidays as it was the start of the school holidays.
In Shimla itself, we checked into Green Valley Home Stay which was some 20 minutes from the centre of town by car so we got a porter as we got off the train and then we got put into a taxi. We stayed two nights and the cost was 3998 Rs plus taxes which equated to around £51.
Last time I visited Shimla it was 1999 and I had flown in from Frankfurt to meet Robin there – that time I had flown into Delhi and taken the bus – then stayed fairly central. This time we chose the Green Valley Home Stay and booked it on booking.com as I thought it would be better for Tiger, and I was absolutely right. It was spot on and the family who run it were amazing (in fact whilst we were there a group of Indian “bachelors” rocked up on Enfields and were turned away as it was on for families)! We had two adjoining rooms, one of which had an en suite so actually when she went to sleep I could go in the other room and have the lights on and watch Netflix on my computer etc, before returning to sleep in the room with her.
On the Friday 14 June we went into Shimla itself, and we were driven into town by Mr Gopal Sharma, the owner of Green Valley for half the cost of a taxi. We had a wonderful day visiting Mr Sharma’s son’s EBR Café, getting my hair cut (whilst Tiger slept in the Ergo 360 carrier!), walking up and down The Mall (Shimla’s long shopping street), figuring out the next stage of the trip with travel agents – ultimately booking a car to Manali, and having our photos taken at sunset dressed up as Maharajas. We had a slight hiccup getting back to the guesthouse as I didn’t quite appreciate it wasn’t easy to get a taxi (parts of Shimla are car free) but managed to arrange Mr Sharma to pick us up again. He completely went out of his way to pick up his stranded tourists so once again, hats off and great thanks for such wonderful hospitality.