To recap, I have spent each of the last four nights in a different city and traveled at least 5 hours each day to get to a new city (Jodhpur to Jaipur - 5 hours by train, Jaipur to Agra - 5 hours by train, Agra to Delhi - 6 hours by bus, Delhi to Shimla - 9 hours by train). So yeah, it’s been hectic.
I was glad to arrive in Shimla for three reasons. First, the crazy first half of the trip was over. 13 different cities in 3 and a half weeks and at least several thousands miles of travelling. Second, this is the first hill station I’m going to, which was exciting considered what happened last time I tried getting to a hill station (read: Ooty). And finally, the weather was absolutely wonderful. Honestly, anything lower than 110 looked pretty good at this point.
Spending three days in Shimla, I mostly wanted to rest and catch up and take in the scenic view of the Himalayas. Look here, here, here, and here. Honestly though, these pictures do not truly reflect the beauty and terrain that is Shimla.
The first day, I trekked 2km up to Jakhoo Temple. I had to freaking rent a walking stick to thwart away wild monkeys because it was recommend that you do so. It was probably unnecessary, but you never know. At the top, the view, again, was absolutely gorgeous. Like a good tourist, I went around the temple ground, prayed, received a blessing, and ultimately started asking around for free temple food. Seriously, I felt very ghetto asking several people where I could get free temple food. But the thing is, I’ve read on LP that they serve you very good food (rice, dahl, channa, curd, etc.) all for free. Obviously I wasn’t going to miss out on it. Plus I think my sense of shamelessness had disappeared about three weeks ago when I started stealing toiletries from hotels, toilet paper (not really), and looking for meals that do not cost more than $1 per day.
After locating where they would serve me food, I waited for approximately 30 minutes before they opened the doors. And wow, it was such an interesting experience. Everyone sat on the floor in rows of about 50 people. The temple staff would give us metal plate, and then food would come around served to us. Since I don’t know how to eat with my hands, I was one of the only two who asked for a spoon. The other person being Christina.
After eating temple food, we hiked back down to the main area of town, called the Mall and Scandal Point, though with a interesting name makes a lot of sense. I won’t ruin it for you by telling you about it. The area was really cool with lots of tourists and locals. I could have sworn I saw Michael Moore walking around, but then I realized it wasn’t. After that, it started raining so I didn’t spent much more time around there.
The next day, I went on a 6km trek up to see the Tara Devi Temple. It was just honestly an excuse to trek and be outdoors. It took about an hour and a half to get to the top, but the last 300 meters were by far the worst and took nearly 30 minutes to complete. It was just all steps at a very steep incline. However, the view from the highest point of Shimla was absolutely gorgeous. But of course, it wouldn’t be complete without seeing monkeys and getting some free temple snacks. Unfortunately they only served food on Sundays.
The next day, we headed out to catch our bus to Chandigarh, a 4-hour journey on a very uncomfortable bus. By far, it was the worst. And I’ve taken at least a dozen buses in India. I felt nauseated and dizzy for most of the trip.
Chandigarh was truly a European city more than an Indian city by any measure. It was designed by a French architect during the 1950s after the separation of Pakistan and was supposed to act as the new capital for Punjab. The city is divided into approximately 60 sectors, very much like arrondissment in Paris, and roundabouts divided one sector from another. Streets were chaotic, but a sense of order was present. There was even a sidewalk and a cycle lane. It was a very different feel.
I decided to have a very American time in Chandigarh, mostly because I think I’m missing home. I ate Italian food at a place called Pomodoro and then went to see the Amazing Spider-man in 3D. That was honestly the highlight of Chandigarh since I had only about 12 hours there. There aren’t a lot of things to see, and it serves mostly as a connecting point for travelling.
In retrospect, I should have spent one more night in Chandigarh. After arriving in Amritsar, I learned there were rolling blackouts. Literally every other hour, the power would go out for about half an hour. This would happen every day for hours and hours. Compared to Chandigarh, this was such a huge difference.
I went to the Golden Temple on my first day. It is the holiest shrine for the Sikh faith and it did not disappoint. I had to cover my head, wear pants, cover up, wash my feet in water before entering the ground, and wait for nearly an hour before actually seeing the temple. It felt like a very elaborate process, but it was worth it. There were people taking holy dips in the pool surrounding the temple. I still cannot get over the fact that there are about 750kg of real gold on top of the temple.
Of course, the Golden Temple is home to the world’s largest free eatery. The dining hall here serves free food to about 60,000 to 80,000 people a day!!! It was just rotis, dahl, and coconut rice, but it was absolutely delicious! I ate here twice during my three days in Amritsar. There were two floors of the dining hall with about 1,000 people eating on the floor in rows of 100 or so. There were hundreds of people chopping onions and garlic, washing dishes, handing out clean plates and cups, serving food, and just doing all sort of tasks to keep the operations going. It was an amazing site to see!
Because the weather was excruciating and I didn’t want to see that much in Amritsar, I just mostly spent my time here for the first day.
The next day, however, I went to the border of Pakistan and India (Wagah) to see a ceremony commemorating the closing of the border. It happens every day 30 minutes before sunset. There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people there. Honestly, it was just a very overwhelming, crowded, and lively experience. People on the India side were cheering “Hindustan Zindabad,” meaning long live India, while on the other side of the border Pakistanis were cheering a similar phrase. Guards frolicked around, flags went down, music played, and much more. I really don’t think I can describe it in words, so I’ll post up some pictures later.