Shimla – with its majestic mountains and beauty is a popular tourist destination. The routes were closed in January 2017 because of heavy snowfall. So when we decided to visit it in February, we did not expect it to be packed with tourists since it was off season. We were still trying to pick a hotel a week before we had to travel and before we were ready to make our choice, all hotels around Shimla were sold out! Thanks to Valentines’ day!
We were left with just one hotel option – Shimla Havens – luxurious but outside the city. We booked it and kept our expectations low.
Getting to Shimla
To travel to Shimla, we picked a route with minimal road travel. We decided to fly to Chandigarh, spend an evening there and then rent a car to drive us to Shimla the next morning. The drive up the scenic mountains would be four hours long.
Tourists in Chandigarh
Chandigarh is a beautiful city – clean, planned and with friendly residents. We arrived at Chandigarh around 4 pm and sadly did not get a chance to visit the famous rock garden. We used uber cabs to get around and managed to visit Sukhna lake, which was beautiful!
We also made time to visit the market to buy some sweaters. Chandigarh did not disappoint! We enjoyed the evening shopping and were able to find great deals. One thing that surprised us was the lack of chai-stands even at the market place. We did manage to find a few but it took a lot of asking around and surprised responses from shopkeepers. The chai that we found was milky and warmed us up on that cold evening.
We had planned to try some local lassi (a savoury yogurt drink) but were advised not to since it was still cold and lassi would most likely make us fall sick. Thanks to the uber driver for the advice!
Drive to Shimla
The drive to Shimla was scheduled to start at around 9 am the following morning. Our hosts at Chandigarh served an amazing breakfast and we were ready to be on our way. So grateful for families – near and distant! 🙂
We stopped at Pinjore garden on the way to Shimla.
There were roadside vendors selling fresh fruits and we couldn’t help but stop to buy some oranges. We made it to Shimla around 1 pm and stopped for lunch at a dhaba. The himachal thali that we enjoyed was delicious and vegetarian. That was another thing we would need to get used to during our time there – more vegetarian options and less varieties of meat. But every dal and sabji was delicious!
Tourists in Shimla
The drive down the hill to our hotel was a little steep but Shimla Havens is luxurious with great staff and service. We enjoyed complimentary breakfast and dinner there, which were large buffet spreads. What we were most pleased with was their unlimited chai option along with meals. It’s possible that chai was not meant to be unlimited but we were not billed for any of our drinks. The rooms were comfortable and fitted with all modern amenities. They would turn wifi off during the night but that did not bother us much.
The views outside our windows were majestic. We were surrounded by mountains and the cold air was refreshing. Temperatures stayed between 3 – 14 degrees Celsius.
We were warned about monkeys roaming around freely in Shimla and we saw many! Most of them populated areas where food vendors were set up. We managed to stay out of their way and they stayed away from us.
In Shimla, budget enough time to visit the Rashtrapati Niwas (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies). The history of the location is rich and the mountains that surround it are breathtaking. It’s a great location for photography. Photography inside the niwas is not permitted.
Mall road is another place you need to make time for. It’s essentially a market street but it has other attractions as well. To go up to Mall Road, we had our car drop us at the entrance and we would take a lift to go up to the destination. Each lift ride cost Rs. 10 for each person.
Mall road is filled with small and branded stores offering sweaters, wooden items and food.
A little walk upwards and you can visit Christ Church, which is the second oldest church in North India that’s still open for services. The church is located near the Ridge and was surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Our driver decided to drive us to a spot up the mountains that had options for adventure sports that we were not interested in trying with our parents. Since it was expensive to enter and we did not want to spend the afternoon there, we turned around and headed to Kufri instead.
Horse ride at Kufri
In Kufri we were encouraged to try their horse rides up the mountain. We were apprehensive at first but then decided to give it a try. The horses were small and very muddy. We picked the ‘cleanest’ horses and climbed on. The ride felt unsteady at first but soon we got used to the rhythm. The road led to a steep, muddy narrow path crowded with other horses and tourists. We stopped enjoying the scenery and began worrying about our safety. The horses were being pushed and pulled around and as feared, one of the horses got excited and started running haywire, thus jeopardizing the ride for everyone. The narrow path had no boundaries on the sides and the horses were tied together in pairs. If one horse fell down the hill, it would take several others down with it. We decided that the ride was more dangerous than exciting and asked to turn around to return to our starting point. We don’t recommend the ride to anyone unless other safety measures are established.
We were also encouraged to visit the zoo next to the horse riding place. The zoo had four animals and some snow on the ground. It was not worth the time. We decided to head back to Shimla for the rest of the evening.
Dry fruits and sweets from Himachal
The next morning we left Shimla Havens after a fantastic breakfast. We drove up and down the mountains and dozed most of the way. We stopped at a store (Haveli) to buy some dry fruits and sweets from Himachal and made it back to the airport in time to board our flight. Since the Chandigarh airport is small, we made it through security in a matter of minutes.
We made it back to Calcutta with new memories and some great photographs!
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