I took my seat. This is much nicer I thought. A semi-deluxe bus! It even had a head rest! Sat to the right of me was a frail elderly lady. She won’t be a problem, this is going to work out just fine.
My new friend however turned out to be a little over bearing with her demands. From the start it was clear that she was disappointed with my lack of Hindi but that didn’t stop all types of request flowing. For the whole trip I got to play a version of charades as I tried to work out exactly what she wanted. I never got it right. Bag up, but not in the right place, bag down, but no, she only wanted a drink, window open, no it’s to cold and so it went on. That is not forgetting the classic what’s the time? But she neither understood it verbally nor could she read a digital watch. In her eyes I had failed.
Eventually the bus pulled into Shimla at a slightly more sociable time of 5:30am. I grabbed my bags and legged it out of the station and away from any more request and the inevitable welcoming committee. I’m getting quite good at that! One massive advantage to arriving in a city in the early morning is that you get to see the sunrise and with it the city wake up. It was beautiful.
I was less than enthusiastic about going to Shimla. It was an obvious stop on the way but I had got it into my head that I would not like it. As it turns out I loved it. There wasn’t a lot of attractions but it was great just to watch. In total there seemed to be no more than 3 westerners there. Everyone else was either a local or an Indian tourist visiting the old British hill station. It reminded me of Weston Super Mare or Southend. Sure it didn’t have a beach but everyone was doing classic tourist activities such as riding donkeys, eating ice cream and posing for family photos. Everyone had a smile on their face. At one point I came across five middle aged Indians in what resembled private school blazers. They chatted next to a Victorian greenhouse whilst they played a game of croquet. They played wrongly, it clearly wasn’t old Etonian rules but i doubt you could find a more classic English scene anywhere in the UK.
As Manali had been ruled by dogs, Shimla was by Monkeys. The critters were everywhere but as annoying as they are, destroying things, throwing objects at you etc I still can’t get past the “oh it’s a monkey how cool!” So a proper monkey temple got me excited. I just hoped there would be more monkeys than ducks.
Not only did I get to see monkeys, the Himachal tourist board had turned it into a fitness competition with very specific timings on how long it should take you according to your age. What a great idea in the full heat of the day! Half way up the hill I noticed that every Indian family carried a large wooden stick. At the top I understood why. The monkeys were everywhere! People were having their glasses stolen and shop keepers were running all over the place as the monkeys helped themselves. Quickly I armed myself with a water bottle from my bag. I don’t think I will ever enter another religious site carrying a weapon with full intention to use it.
With nothing obvious to steal they largely kept off of me and I began to wonder about the temple. As it’s dedicated to Hanuma and people shower the monkeys with ‘holy’ food then shouldn’t they be more tolerated rather than being chased around with sticks? At times even these pests did not seem to be the most primitive beings up there.
I found a great little seat at the top and watched a family of monkeys playing and relaxing. I make no apology for the amount of photos in the picture album (link to the right).
Shimla was great for two day but feeling like I had got as much enjoyment out of the holiday town as I would get I made my way to Rishikesh. It seemed only fitting as I took my seat, to plug into the Beatles discography, to play me through the twelve odd hours journey.