Wednesday 3 October 2007


This morning I had to make an emergency unscheduled stop to the toilet. Is the indian water finally getting to my stomach?

We hurried up the packing and had a bit of breakfast in the restaurant. While Wala finished drinking her tea and paid the bill, I collected the bags from our room, checked out and ordered a taxi to the Main Train Station, where our tiny toy train to Kalka was waiting for us.

Bit of a shock to see the reduced rail track and the size of the seat and the lack of storage space for luggage, but as it turns out, not many people ended up travelling in our car, since it was the highest class available, costing well over ten times more than standard class, totalling a mind-boggling 160 rupies each (roughly 3 euro).

The train ride was extremely enjoyable. Lots of great views and green scenery. The breeze coming in from the windows worked a pleasant and refreshing effect on us.

The train was very slow, travelling an estimated (by me) 20 km/h tops. The stops at the many train stations were long and frequent, which also accounts for the 5 hours required to cover a distance of 90 km.

But this is a small price to pay for the thrill of seeing the landscape change from a mountaneous to a drier, warmer climate and the thrill of going in and out of more than 500 tunnels along the way.

We saw a few beggars racing to catch the train in one station half-way through Shimla and Kalka. They raced towards one of the front (low class) carriages and jumped on while the train was leaving station and rode the whole way on the outside of the carriage, clinging to the foot board used to climb up into the car. It was after seeing this that the sign saying that foot board riding of the train was prohibited.

Once in Kalka station, we mined the tourist office for information on how to get to Chandigarh. The helpful man told us we could get a bus for 20 rupies, but the though of having to ride in one of those crammed and broken buses didn't entice us.

We enquired about taking a taxi, and the man replied it would be very expensive. Just how expensive he told us after checking the official goverment regulated taxi fares list. A ride to Chandigarh would cost us 500 rupies (less than 10 euro).

We headed straight to the taxis, and were approached by a man in plain clothing inquiring whether we needed a taxi. Once again, it was all but apparent that he was the official taxi officer. He fetched us a taxi and I asked him whether we paid the taxi driver directly.

He replied that I would have to pay him and then he would pay the driver, pointing out that "We have rules in India", which is conforting to know. He gave the money to the driver shortly after I gave it to him.

The ride back brought memories back, since we recognised the road we were stuck in traffic on the way to Shimla and other sights.

The hotel proved to be top class, which is no less than you would expect given that it cost us 2650 rupies (or the equivalent of more than a quarter of the salaries of a sales consultant, as I gathered from a newspaper during the train ride).

We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, oddly situated past the stair leading up to the hotel rooms from the reception. We very much enjoyed the spicy Paneer (soft cubes of cheese in a spicy sauce) and Aloo Zera (seasoned spicy potatoes) with Naan bread and Chapati bread.

Not too far from our table stood a computer with a sign saying "Free internet connection". It was calling out to me. It wasn't the urge to check out slashdot that drove, but rather the hope of sorting out our onward flight to Kolhapur and book hotels in all our remaining destination.

Just when we were at our coffee, someone started using the internet. However, we quickly gathered by his interaction with the rest of the hotel staff that he too worked there, so we kindly asked if we could use the internet and were reverely offered the seat.

We collected more information about hotels in Mumbai and Kolhapur, and on flights from Mumbai to Kolhapur, and sent an email to reserve a room in a Palace in Udaipur. Unfortunately, we did not get much done.

Though very luxurious, our room turned out to be quite noisy, due to the never ending incessant beeping and motoring from the roads. We both put in our trusted earplugs and tried to ignore the noise.