DAY 22 - CHANDIGARH/SHIMLA
We caught a morning train from Chandigarh's artistically decorated station at 10.30, arriving at a town called Kalka 40 minutes later. From there, we caught the region's infamous 'toy train' up to Shimla, meandering our way through the mountain ranges as we gradually ascended up the narrow-gauge railway line. The views from the brightly coloured carriages made the five hour journey an enjoyable one and we relaxed and shared stories with a Canadian couple from Calgary as we slowly chugged along. We passed countless little idyllic settlements dotted along the steep mountain faces as we rattled past and I couldn't help but imagine which one I would be most happy living in, from which verandah I would watch the sun set behind the mountains, or which paddy fields I would laboriously tend to in the morning. As I pondered a life that would never be, I thought about the endless possibilities that were on offer to me and felt all the more glad that I was experiencing all I was at the age that I am. We arrived at Shimla at around 6 and, after visiting one particularly run-down hostel, settled in a pleasant and spacious room in the Dreamland Guest House. We spent the evening walking through the town, a former British hill station during the Raj era, observing its bizarre mock-tudor buildings and appreciating its great views over the surrounding mountains. We quickly noticed how clean the streets were (a result of a ban on littering, spitting and even smoking in public places), and realised that we received none of the hassle that we had done in the other areas that we had visited. We also noticed the change in climate and were quick to throw on our jumpers upon arriving (we have also had to get used to sleeping fully clothed). The Himlayan towns are generally much more chilled out than other Indian cities and tourist sites and we welcomed the change with open arms, eager to enjoy the natural scenery and relax.
DAY 23 - SHIMLA
After breakfast, we decided to endure the steep (but surprisingly manageable) walk up to Shimla's monkey temple and spent a couple of hours admiring groups of monkeys as they ran and jumped about the site, occasionally forcing a yelp from a tourist as they cheekily swung past. The temple itself wasn't as grand or impressive as others we had seen, but the trip was well worth it just for the fantastic views it cast over the whole surrounding mountain range. After gorging into a couple of large pizzas at Domino's (we allow ourselves a couple of home comforts), we spent the afternoon walking through the town's colourful winding markets, again noticing the peace that we were granted as we made our way past hundreds of stalls selling all manner of things, from hopelessly out of date electronics to locally produced clothes and food. After having a couple of interesting conversations with some locals and lapping up the last activity of the day, we retired to our room and watched some live premiership football (enjoying the novelty of a fully working tv set) as the evening drew to a close, enjoying the refreshingly slow and easy pace of life in the peaceful mountain town.