Himachal Pradesh

Christs'church in Simla.

My cycling route took me from Amritsar across the hill country near Dharamsala, popular with Dalai Lama and Buddhist pilgrims, over to Simla, the summer capital of British India so revered in Kipling's writing. This hill station--and indeed the roads to Simla are remarkably steep and sinuous ones-- is popular in summer for avoiding the intense heat and rains further south.

*I* arrived in Simla a few days before Christmas, however. The nights were very crisp and the afternoon air cool, under a bright warm sun. Much as an October day in my native New England. From the park downtown one can look to the steady procession of ridges north to the Himalayas, or to wooded hills and the mists of India's great plains southward from Chandigarh. I took a full day cycling up to ..... to get a better view of the mountains, but in fact the view from Simla is as good as any.

It was in Simla that I began to enjoy the British style of english patter and courtesy that left its mark on the Indians, who already were and remain a pleasant and polite people. I was called 'sir' so often I felt like Colin Powell. And though for Indians English has been their second tongue for many years, the traveler will always get a great chuckle out of their awkward Briticisms and faux pas then they speak or write in English. Consider this paragraph from the Simla tourist guide on the Yahoo search engine:

Shimla in itself is a very small town and is very well maintain and neatly kept city. In central part of the town is Mall which almost divides the city in two parts. In the center of the city is the famous scandal point which was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling. From Christ Church to the Scandal point is the Ridge area. The Ridge is a place where all tourist flock and spend time. From the ridge one can hire a pony to other places in Shimla. Just below the ridge is the Tibetan market where one can purchase foreign items which often are fake. Shimla has got a big but very unorganized bus stand on the cart Road. A lift has been provided from the Cart Road to the eastern Mall road. This lift carries people from lower to upper Shimla. The rest of Shimla is connected by unnamed and steep lanes and steps.

Hills and steps indeed. Peter Hopkirk's "Quest for Kiplings Kim" will show you many of the lanes and old shops where the intrigues of the great game were played out in this town..even if he is not successful in finding all of them..the town, after all, has not stood still!

Also, there is more to this region than Simla! I hopped on my bike for a day and rode northward towards Fagu and the valleys between Simla and the himalayan foothills. It was late december so the air was cold and alot of the road was covered with ice. Snow had fallen the previous week, still visible in the forests. Not wanting to push my luck too hard, i only went about 70 kilometers where I stayed overnight in a large field by the roadside. It was cold enough that I even lit a small campfire, which was very rare thing for me to do. The photo here gives you a good idea of the sort of clothing you want to wear when riding under these circumstances. Since it was chilly but sunny, dark clothing can be used to gather warmth; but a sleeveless vest leaves your arms free and cooler. I still needed a long sleeved shirt, though. I tried to figure out a way to slip my helmet over that wool cap, but the tassle (have to have a tassle!) made it impractical. Many riders use a skull cap to keep them warm. I had one when I was posted in Siberia, and although I was not riding my bicycle at the time, it kept me very warm even to -40 degrees Celsius.

Before I arrived in Simla I relaxed and enjoyed a snack and drink at this small refuge. You cannot tell from the picture but the small wooden shelter overhangs a steep cliff; you can see some of Simla in the background. I mention this not just because it was a welcome respite.. There was scenery I had not bargained for: the side of the hill was used by many of the vendors and locals as a place to dump pile after pile of garbage, not just paper but cans, bottles and trash of all sorts. I was surprised to see such obvious lack of concern for the environment this close to an area where tourism--and presumably concern for natural beauty would be greatest-- is such an important part of the local economy. This repeats a theme I often return to on this cycling website. Many countries are neglecting aspects of conservation that would be very very simple to implement. In this case, recycling and proper disposal/burning of the trash would have been very simple, and provided not only a better environment but employment to those involved in the disposal industry--neither high tech nor high skilled, and thus available to the average Indian.