A Travellerspoint blog

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Shimla

The Toy Train

rain 21 °C

Hi Guys

I caught an early train from Delhi bound for Kalka, so I could meet up with the “Toy Train” that would take me the rest of the way to Shimla. The Shimla railway has very narrow gauge, hence its nickname. The railway was completed in 1903 and starts in Kalka at an altitude of 500 metres and after 97 kilometres, 103 tunnels, 24 bridges, 18 stations and about 5.5 hours you reach Shimla at a height of over 2000 metres.

It’s a train trip that everyone enjoys. All the young people howl as the train goes through yet another tunnel, a ritual that happens on every trip, a railway manager sitting next to me explained. Just about everyone at some stage, hangs out the train so they can wave or chat to the passengers in the next carriages. In places it goes so slow you could jog beside it and by the time you reach Shimla many of the passengers are showing signs of altitude, by becoming sleepy and nodding off. A great trip!

Shimla is the place, during the time of the Raj that the colonials would come to get away from the pesky Delhi heat and by 1864 it was designated the Government of India’s official “hot season” HQ.

It still has that distinctly British feel, with its old colonial buildings and quaint shop fronts. In the season, it is a favourite holiday destination for well to do Indians.

As you can see from my photos, it rained for my entire overnight stay. It was so cold and wet that after returning from one of my walkabouts I had the wistful notion of calling up the Red Cross, so they could stretcher me, back to my hotel. Good sense prevailed; I gave myself a good uppercut and a stiff talking to and soldiered on.

Regards

Chris Sig

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Posted by Chris Sig 03:15 Archived in India

Manali

Hippyville

sunny 25 °C

Hi

Picturesque Old Manali is set in a large valley surrounded by mountains, some which are snow capped. The air is clean, as are its fast flowing rivers. Its a place where you can eat and drink anything you like. The countryside has apples, corn and pot growing in abundance and the tourists are regularly firing up their chillums to maintain their buzz. Its a peaceful “hippy town”, a scene where people often sit round talking bollocks. As one old “travel geezer” commented “Its like Kathmandu 30 years ago”, some people stay 3 nights while others, smoke away 3 weeks.

For the more adventurous there is also treking, motorbikes, rafting, paragliding etc. I am just starting to recover from a fairly intense head cold, that I received in Shimla, that made my nose run like an Old Manali burst water main.
Its almost too quiet for the solo traveller.

Regards

Chris Sig

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Posted by Chris Sig 23:24 Archived in India

Dharamsala and Amritsar

Spiritual Focal Points

sunny 35 °C

In the last 4 days I have been to McLeod Ganj (Dharamshala), the spiritual centre in exile for the Tibetan Buddhists, since 1960 after the Dalai Lama was driven out of his homeland by the Chinese and then Amritsar, the site of the Golden Temple and the spiritual centre of Sheik faith. Both places have many similarities but I feel they have even more striking differences.

The Buddhist complex is very plain with little of the decoration that is prominent in the original temples, that they left behind in Tibet. It has a museum showing in graphic detail, the plight Tibetan refugees after China invaded Tibet in 1949. This knowledge of the museum is second hand, as the Dalai Lama was in residence during my stay and to gain access to it, required me paying for a registration card, showing them my passport and giving them two passport photos. A lot of tourists were in town to hear the Dalai Lama speak. In the morning they could be seen scurrying down towards the temple complex, armed with cushions and water bottles and latter that day returning back to their hotels. They would congregate together to talk about the meaning of something he had said or in some cases just talk about how close they had got to him. He is almost treated like a "living deity" something which I find very hard to accept, especially when Buddhism in its truest sense is "a philosophy not a religion" These "spiritual tourists” come into town and start changing into devoted followers, donning red pieces of garb, shaving their heads and sitting around cross legged meditating. One wonders whether they will still look like that when they get back to their real lives and the holiday is over.

Then there is the Golden Temple with is hundreds of kilograms of gold coatings, set in the middle of a large moat. The complex is two colours, brilliant white and brilliant gold. Its free to get in, its free to eat there and if you want to it is free to stay there as well, although giving a small donation is standard practice but money will be asked for. As the devotees walk around the moat, or wait in line to visit the central temple, verses of scripture are mezmerizingly intoned over speakers to the Muslim devotees. Its sound and delivery are very soporific and you often find yourself closing your eyes and just drifting off.

It also has a museum which should probably be named “The Paintings of the Martyred". These graphic paintings show historic devotees maintaining their faith while enduring all sorts of tortures. After the calm restful beauty of the temple and its surroundings, the museum jolted me back to reality.

I also went to Waghu to watch the nightly ritual/comedy of closing the border between Pakistan and India. This performance almost defies description with its mixture of mini military tattoo and farce. The border guards from both sides march and gesture their superiority accompanied by lot of cheering and support from both the Pakistani and Indians spectators on both sides of the border. It really has to be seen to be believed

Regards

Chris Sig

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Posted by Chris Sig 09:54 Archived in India

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