Cycle Touring India. Chapter 4: Shimla

Shimla, the capital of the north Indian state Himachal Pradesh is situated atop a ridge at 2,276 metres above sea level. During the time of the British Raj, news of the somewhat “English weather” had spread, popularity increased as Officials and their families temporarily relocated to escape the stifling heat of the Indian plains during the summer months. Thus, it was officially declared the summer capital of British India in 1864. Remnants of British occupation during the colonial era remain evident when exploring the city. The main square is host to a number of buildings including the General Post Office dating back to 1882 and Christ Church of 1857 to name a few, the city is also dotted with red post boxes. Whilst walking along Mall Road it felt not too far from meandering through a historical English town, that is until you reach the square where the ever impressive Himalaya sit perched on the distant horizon.

Shimla General Post Office and Christ Church

Jacob and I enjoyed three days wandering the streets and recouperating after the tough ride to the state capital. The fresh mountain air, vast views of surrounding hills and forests and the surprisingly clean and litter-free city centre was refreshing. Other towns in north India that we have cycled through should take note and organise a mass clean up operation. Unfortunately, waste management is one of the few negatives experienced during our time cycling through Indian. In my opinion there is a dire need of educating the Indian populace in the art of refuse disposal, recycling and sanitation. Sadly, we have witnessed litter being dropped, thrown into local rivers and heaped into a pile and set fire to on a daily basis, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of stray dogs and macaks enjoying their pick of the scraps.

Mall Road Square

As Shimla is perched on the mountain ridge, to get anywhere there is an inevitable short hike. Despite the tranquil setting of the Annadale View Guest House where we were staying, it meant every day we had to hike back up to the city. We hiked to the Jakhoo temple where Jacob, naively thought eating a banana in the presence of a family of macaks was a good idea, this ended in a Tom and Jerry style chase around the temple until he found a suitable bush to ditch the skin, hilarious on my part. We hiked to the Rashtrapati Niwas, also known as the Viceregal Lodge to witness the spleneur of the grand, 19th century architecture, wander the grounds and watch the sun set over the hazy Indian plains. We also visited the Christ Church, wandered the tight streets of the bazaar, we ate in absolute abundance, drank coffee and devoured cake with ice cream (our newfound, favourite past time besides cycling).

Rashtrapati Niwas (Viceregal Lodge)
A Macak Sunset at the Rashtrapati Niwas

Amongst our cycle touring admin jobs was to resupply our fresh ground coffee stores, often a time consuming task. Astonishingly, we found the Indian Coffee House on Mall Road. Imperatively, we stopped by for a coffee, believed we had ordered black “Espresso Coffee” from the elaborately dressed waiters, though after sampling the somewhat watery yet creamy liquid, we realised that there must have been some miscommunication as we were served “Special Coffee” which turned out to be a cup of weak instant coffee with cream. However all was not lost, the Indian Coffee House had fresh ground coffee for sale. As a self-proclaimed coffee snob I asked to sample the aroma before committing to a purchase and oh my, it smelt good. Two minutes later half a kilogram of the good stuff was whisked away. Mission accomplished.

Indian Coffee House, Shimla

Mutually, we had decided that we had been pushing ourselves a little too hard on the bikes. We both sadistically enjoy an arduous challenge and the accomplishment of completing a mega day in the saddle, but we agreed that we would both benefit from easing off slightly. Frankly, the climb to Shimla had taken it’s toll, our legs were shattered. We planned the next sub-stage of the tour that, to avoid major cities, would take us higher into the Himalayan foothills before descending to the valley floor and then right back up onto a ridgeline in the foothills, in a hope that slightly shorter days and a more gentle approach would be kinder to our legs.

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