The View from the Top

So, when last we wrote, we had refreshed ourselves in the clean city  of Chandigahr, ready for a trip into the hills. We took the toy train to Shimla in the mountains… famous for being the most popular hill station for the British during the days of the Raj. The journey took 5 hours and meandered up through mountains with spectacular views… stopping at small stations for hot cups of Chai and photo taking. Andy struck up a game of Gin Rummy with some Indian Tourists… which became very serious.

all aboard........the toy train

On arrival in Shimla, we were very confused… surrounded by snow capped mountains and very European looking buildings, this was a world away from the India we had experienced thus far. Slightly out of season the hotel rooms are cheap as chips as well and we paid 400 rupees for a room [about 6 squid] with a stunning view of the Himachal Pradesh sunset. Definitely glad we brought sleeping bags and warm clothes… as it is significantly colder at 2200 metres.  We spent a pleasant couple of day in Shimla taking in the local hikes [believe me hikes is the right word… there is no flat land here!] and eating good food. We even found time to check out our first Bollywood film in the local Ritz cinema… which was just hilarious… both the cinema and the film…. we worked out the plot despite the language barrier and the seats in the cinema even reclined!

Andy and school children

So then we decided to take a 5 day tour with a local operator run by Kashmiri guys…. really knowledgable and friendly and quite persuasive! So off we headed for 5 days into the Sangla Valley with tours guide Zahour and driver Vihendra.

Now when we were told we would be travelling by Taxi/Mini Jeep… we didn’t expect a Suzuki Alto to pull up outside our hotel… I mean how the hell is that going to get us up mountain passes?

mimi jeep??

not to worry though as we were on our way… after a brief encounter with a Monkey who decided to enter our room via the balcony and try to steal our snacks!

First day was spent meandering through some of the most stunning scenery we had ever seen… snow capped mountains, plunging valleys and huge rivers… some of the roads were beyond hair-raising. We spent the evening in Sarahan visiting the very holy Bimakali temple where ANdy and I recieved a Hindu blessing and ate some prashad [blessed food]. We had a meal of Tibetan Momos [or dumplings] then played a game of carrom with the local family who ran the hotel.

I win, I win......ooops. In off the black.

Up early on day 2 we had a long walk and Andy had a race with the guide to see who could cover 100 metres the quickest [male bravado…hey…] Andy lost by a small amount… mostly due to his footwear [he says]. Again very scary roads were navigated and we saw some HUGE hydroelecric projects, which sadly ruined the landscape… but are a necessity for the state. We stopped and had thali for lunch at a tiny roadside shack where the owner just keeps filling the plats up with rice, chappati and daal… totally delish! At this point in the journey we headed up to over 3000 metres on what can only be described as a dirt track with a sheer drop to the bottom of the valley… all I could think was how awful coming back down was going to be.

the view

The people in the villages were so beautiful and friendly…. little kids running up to us to have their photos taken [with no asking for cash] and giving us apples, which are the most famous export from this corner of the world. By the time we got to our hotel in Raackcham we were feeling serene and chilled and another gorgeous view awaiting on our balcony.

Day 3 dawned and a BIG walk was planned… so 5 hours hiking up into the valley by the side of meltwater streams… sitting amongst donkeys and cows and snacking on masala crisps… a stunning day in a stunning place.

Hard times require hard rocks

We then drove up an even WORSE road to the last village in India called Chitkul… a mere 30 km from the Tibet border and a very simple small place. We stayed the night in a local family guest house and it was FREEEEEEEEZING. Sleeping fully clothed was the order of the day and lots of hot chai to keep us warm. The local hotel had the most bizarre menu ever… luckily we were not hungry as I am not sure what Babeen Tost, Pog Eg or Veg Wine Sized Soup were!

Awaking in the shadow of the Himalayas was an experience to remember and we walked within view of the army base guarding from potential invasion from China. Then it was back down the hill to our next location of Kalpa…. well at least that’s what we thought, until we discovered that the road we had come up on was no longer passable… a rock slide had taken a portion of it out… and that was the only road down!….so we had to sit out the afternoon waiting for news… which wasn’t good… we were stuck until at least the morning! Next morning we headed down with our fingers crossed and were told it should open but if not we could walk over the hills and get a bus…looking at the road it did not look like it was any where near passable… just none existent and queues of traffic of both sides of the gap! In India when you are told it’ll be 30 minutes… that can mean anything up to 6 hours, which is how long it took for the road to be ready. And when I say ready… it looked just wide enough for us to pass… Our driver careered over the road in 8th position and Andy and I held hands and closed our eyes…. we made it! and to celebrate the driver proceeded to race down the road at about 50km per hour… absolutely and totally terrifying!

Leaving the Sangla valley so late meant that we faced night driving on seriously scary roads… but we just had to go with it. As it turns out the journey was marred with more issues… including a broken down flatbed lorry and a stuck bus! finally arrived back in Shimla at 10.3pm…really ready for bed!

So next stop is Dharamsala to visit the Dalai Lama! 10 hour bus journey tonight in the dark… at least we won’t be able to see the roads!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jude
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 13:31:09

    I just love reading your bloggs….. they make me laugh…. but they’re really good, makes you almost feel that you’re there with you…. love it guys xxx


  2. Shell
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 14:33:39

    Good to see the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge was excellent hiking practice for these monster mountains!!!


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