Backpacking India: Shimla

Our time in Shimla might be the low point of our trip through India, and one of our few places we regret even visiting. All three of us got sick (luckily not at the same time), the weather was miserable with thunderstorms and frigid temperatures, and we spent more time getting to Shimla than we did touring around. It’s a shame because the city is quite beautiful – much more charming than Darjeeling, but we never got to appreciate it fully.


Shimla was the summer capital of British India, a mountain retreat to escape the unbearable heat in Calcutta, Bombay, and Delhi. As such, there are a lot of beautiful old buildings. It reminded us a lot of Darjeeling, with plenty of twisting roads and steep staircases, but more pleasant to explore. Many of Shimla’s streets feel like they haven’t changed in the past 50 years. The main tourist areas like The Ridge, The Mall, and the Upper and Lower Bazaar are all car-free. Dan thought we had travelled back in time, with the old buildings, school boys in suits, horses instead of cars, and lack of good internet. When we went searching for a wifi hotspot, the tourist info centre honestly sent us to the telegraph office (which, for the record, still exists but doesn’t have wifi).

Shimla - Beard Trim
There isn’t a lot to do in Shimla, especially when the weather isn’t great. We walked around in the rain, Dan got his beard trimmed, we enjoyed the gruff service and authentic charm at the Indian Coffee House, we ate momos from a street vendor, we did some souvenir shopping, and we took turns being sick in bed and on the toilet. Fun times, but nothing we couldn’t have done in any other Indian city.

Train from Rishikesh
The journey to Shimla was exhausting. We left Rishikesh at 6 am and didn’t check in to our Shimla hotel until after 9 pm. In between there were three rickshaw rides, two trains, an interstate bus, a local bus, and a long uphill hike in the dark. Our first train was 90 minutes late and we barely caught the second one. Our journey took us through Chandigarh (the capital of Punjab and Haryana), the cleanest large city we’ve been to in India. We wanted to do some sightseeing there, but we didn’t have the time or energy. We got in after lunch and still had a 5 hour, stomach-twisting bus ride before we got to Shimla.

Kalka Shimla Railway
One of the reasons we wanted to visit Shimla was to ride the narrow-gauge toy train, which we did on the way down. It was slower than the bus, but it made the return trip to Delhi much more enjoyable. I took more photos on the train than I did in Shimla. Our moods brightened considerably when descended the mountain and the sun came out. The dark part of our trip was over.

Kalka Shimla Railway

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