Take off, Chandigarh and unpleasant Shimla

Day 1 of Spiti trip

Got rid of the impractical rucksack

Morning on May 31st, I was busy packing up my stuff in rucksack and checking myself in the mirror to see if I am able balance myself with the camera bag in the rucksack. I frankly was very unsure about the rucksack. It kept pulling me down, literally. It was damn too heavy that I felt it even shifted my centre of gravity and made me lose balance. With the camera bag in, it was worse. I constantly had to reposition myself or change posture just to balance myself. I just could not picture myself carrying this on my back in Himalayas. However, my real big worry was periods not balancing myself. I simply cannot carry this if at all I get my periods. And the bag would be too heavy for Subbu to handle as she would have her own bag to carry. So I would get no help and have no option but to use my core to balance myself when my lower ab muscles are actually cramping! All this in Himalayas with thin air!! This seemed like a nightmare and more of self-abuse. To reduce weight, I was trying vainly to remove some t-shirts and a small tripod. I had already removed lenses that I do not need and definitely could not remove any more of my lenses.

That’s when Subbu called and asked an important question, “do you think we are doing the right thing?” I initially could not figure out what she was talking about. When she said it was about rucksack, it was the “eureka moment” for me. She said that she is contemplating carrying a trolley suit case as we can simply drag the luggage instead of actually carrying it. After all, we were not trekking. With that one suggestion from Subbu, I took a swift decision and quickly transferred all my stuff from the rucksack to trolley. It was such a relief! I can happily just drag this trolley and carry only camera bag. Even if I did get my periods, it would be far more easier dragging trolley. This approach was definitely more practical and way less laborious. I put back the t-shirts and tripod I had earlier removed. Mom was super happy with this. According to her, rucksack is something we give to porters 😀 . She was happy we would not return home with our backs “deformed”. Yes, she actually said that.

With the rucksack worry off my head, I did some last minute office work as quickly as I could and started to airport. Subbu missed flight once earlier. So I was little worried. I reached airport before her. I am not sure if it is the travel excitement or what, but I fumbled a lot in airport. Thankfully, Subbu gave instructions on phone and that helped me. While checking-in luggage, I saw Subbu and I was happy to see her. She will not miss flight this time 🙂

We boarded our Indigo flight. Before that, we took some selfies on Subbu’s Google Pixel. The take off was rough as if it was not flight but an ordinary bus on mud road. Subbu humorously remarked “does he know driving” 🙂 . Later, it was all fine. All excited and happy, we again took pictures.

Clouds looking like ocean of cotton 🙂

Hot Chandigarh

Two hours had lapsed during which we had some preserved food for lunch. Then it was time to land. The landing announcement came and informed that the temperature in Chandigarh is 43°C. I winced. I was traveling away from the 43°C heat in Hyderabad only to find myself about to get roasted by the same in Chandigarh. From up above, Chandigarh definitely seemed more organised and there was definitely more greenery when compared to Hyderabad.

Chandigarh airport is also a defence airport so technically, we are not supposed to take pictures. I obeyed the rule until I saw several people flouting it openly. Security personnel also seemed to ignore it.

We used the washrooms. Surprisingly, the washrooms in this tiny airport were very dirty that day. Then, we headed to the information centre to know information regarding how to reach Shimla. We were told to go to ISBT 43 and catch bus from there to Shimla. Apparently, the bus frequency is very good and there is a bus to Shimla every 30 minutes. We took an AC bus from airport to ISBT 43. The bus fare till ISBT 43 was very less; just Rs 30. In Hyderabad, the fare would have been definitely Rs 100 or more.

Confusion @ ISBT 43

We asked some people at the bus stand regarding where to find buses Shimla and we were directed towards appropriate platform. Later, we noticed that destinations and their respective platforms are all listed clearly on boards at several places. That was very helpful. Upon reaching the platform from where the Shimla buses start, we tried to find out where to buy tickets. At one place, we saw men in conductor khaki uniform surrounded by people. I approached them and enquired regarding Shimla bus. I asked several questions as to bus frequency, time it would take to reach Shimla, if we should buy tickets from them or conductor in the bus, and some more. But I missed asking one important question even though I actually thought of it; if ticket bought for a bus is valid for next bus. I took tickets and we boarded the bus that was at the Shimla bay. Assuming we were settled, I got down to get cool drink for Subbu while she was guarding our luggage. Within minutes I got a call from Subbu. Apparently, the bus we boarded was Himachal Road Transport Corporation bus. We took ticket of Haryana State Road Transport Corporation bus. To summarise, we were sold tickets of the bus that was already leaving the bay. Apparently, the bus number is expected to be written on the back of the tickets. But in our case, no bus number was mentioned. The conductor was rude asking us to just get down and provided no alternative or suggestion. One elderly gentleman working there suggested to go to some office and get signature of some official. Search for that office took time. Nobody, neither passengers nor shop keepers, seemed helpful. Nobody was giving directions or offering help. All the shop keepers were interested in was to sell their goods. Finally, I somehow made it to that “office” that was nothing but a tiny room. During my interaction with officers, all kinds of ideas started flying in my head. They were kind enough to offer me a chai but I was too sceptical to accept chai from strangers, especially when I am in a small room that’s in a busy noisy bus stand where everybody seemed far from being helpful. By the time I talked with them and got the signature, it was time to rush and catch bus. I literally ran to the bus. Also, I had called Subbu and told that I got the signature. As I hurriedly boarded bus, I could not find Subbu. I freaked out for a few seconds. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw her coming from behind the bus. She was putting our luggage in the bus storage. While I was away getting the sign, the conductor was constantly asking her to get down all this time. Subbu strongly defended her ground and almost avoided us being thrown out. I frankly did not like the conductor’s attitude. I even asked him as to why we were sold tickets of bus that was already leaving or why he did not suggest alternative. He had no answer. The least he could do was to talk politely with us.

These are my recommendations to ensure that this wont repeat:

  • Check with bus conductors regarding tickets, they provide accurate information.
  • Ask specifically which state transport bus tickets are being given and when the bus leaves.
  • It is better to board the required bus and buy tickets inside the bus.

Journey to Shimla

Luckily, we had grabbed and occupied the first seat; right behind the driver so that we have the best views. It was approximately 5pm when the bus started. The journey to Shimla was long; almost 5-5.5 hours. There were couple of loo breaks but the washrooms were disgusting. We bought some bananas for snack. Oh God, it was the blandest banana I ever had. I could not help but grimace the moment I took a bite of that banana. Raw potato would definitely taste better. Subbu, who has a voracious appetite, by this time did not eat a proper meal for several hours. I was surprised and little concerned to see her not say, “Oh I am hungry. I think I am gonna die now.”

We kept trudging along the narrow roads and the driver kept spitting out of window. The driver’s manoeuvring skills were amazing. At several places, it looked as if there was going to be an imminent collision. But he always harmlessly moved away. The bus was damn cramped initially. With one standing passenger’s butt near my shoulder and Subbu cramped between me and elderly man. I leaned forward to avoid contact with the butt. Subbu suddenly placed her long arm on me. I knew it was definitely not out of affection as she is shy with all these expressions of love. I looked at her curiously and she replied “I am just trying to stretch my long body”. Poor Subbu!

Somewhere en route Shimla

While the driver was manoeuvring and spitting deftly, me and Subbu started looking for accommodation in Shimla. We noted down couple of hotels that had accommodation available. We thought to reach the hotel, see rooms and check-in.

By now, the sun had started to set. The twilight was beautiful. We spotted several real estate ads en route. I was surprised to see such real estate boom in those difficult to access regions. I wondered if that was because of tourism. After darkness had descended upon the hills, the view of distant lights in the valleys was very beautiful. It looked as if constellations had descended to earth. Most of the views were on the right side. We also saw forest fires at couple of places.

A long winding traffic congestion gave us a warm welcome to Shimla. I guess, it foreboded of what Shimla is. Somewhere here we saw the Haryana Road Transport we missed! Despite starting an hour late, Haryana Road Transport bus reached at the same time as that of the Himachal Road Transports bus.

After sometime, we entered Shimla. Passengers started alighting. We then started talking with the driver regarding what would be the best place to get down. Conductor joined the conversation. He, now, seemed very amiable. He said he would drop us near Mall road as there are lot of accommodation options. We had a surprisingly very good conversation with him. He said he was concerned as he might lose his job if he allowed people to board bus with wrong tickets. We even took pictures with him and driver. What started off as very unpleasant interaction suddenly turned very pleasant. Happily we alighted the bus at Mall road only to be greeted by utterly loathsome touts.

Aggressive disrespectful and utterly uncivil touts of Shimla

I am never returning to Shimla or anywhere near Shimla. This summarises our experience from approximately 10:30pm to 12am at Shimla.

We got down near Victory tunnel. Just as we alighted, we were surrounded by some utterly disgusting bunch of touts. I had seen touts earlier in South India. They leave when we firmly tell them to leave. And in fact they helped me genuinely and were far more polite and civil. But these Shimla touts, oh my God, I have no words to describe how disgusting they are. While none of them got physically close, they really trespassed our space. They kept tagging behind no matter what we say and how strongly we say. I tried ignoring them and gave no response whatsoever and they started bugging Subbu. They kept offering taxi services and rooms in some “family” hotel. They just did not understand “NO”. I felt they targeted Subbu more than me. One tout annoying Subbu was drunk. I could clearly smell alcohol on his breath. I really wanted to slap his bloody face so that he would leave Subbu. But I felt it was prudent not to. Somewhere amidst all this tumult, we heard one tout wanting to drink beer and there was a liquor shop nearby.

With all this chaos going on, we could not even check or call hotels we had earlier noted. There were no other cabs or any other transport options, except the ones these disgraceful touts handled. We tried calling Treebo Varuna. But nobody answered our calls. Touts still kept on aggressively selling us services and rooms. With no where to go and no transport option to take us away from these touts, we were helplessly stuck. There were only few other people on road apart from us and touts. For a second, I saw fear in Subbu’s eyes. Subbu is a very brave rational strong-willed woman. I admire her immensely. It really affected me seeing fear in her eyes, even though if it was only for a second. I know the situation seemed bad and it was almost 11:30pm. But at least we were not in Delhi or Gurgaon, I rationalised. Also, the crime rate is low in Himalayan states. I told her the same thing. But I could not ignore Subbu’s fear. We have different phobias but I believe, we have a very reliable gut feeling. So I looked up the number of nearest police station just in case something really goes wrong. Subbu regained her composure very quickly within seconds.

We had noticed Victory Hotel beside us. Since we were stuck amidst touts and unable to reach Treebo, we thought why not take a look at Victory Hotel rooms. At least it would give us a much needed respite for few minutes. We walked up to the hotel and went to the reception. The staff seemed better than touts but my gut feeling was somehow not positive. And, I was right. They too started aggressively selling their rooms. There were a lot of stairs to climb to see the room and hotel got no lift. So I stood guard to our luggage while Subbu went to take a look rooms. I was not comfortable leaving her alone with another aggressive seller but she had phone so I thought it would be ok. She came and said she did not like the room at all and wanted to try Treebo again. Meanwhile, as the aggressive selling tactics did not work with us, a “gentleman” popped out of reception and tried polite selling tactics on us. Treebo got connected luckily this time. Subbu asked me to engage this “polite” seller in a conversation while she talked with Treebo and reserved room. In few minutes, our room was reserved there. Subbu asked the hotel if they could arrange for a cab to take us from here. The Treebo staff they would need time to confirm this. A quick Google search showed us that the Treebo Varuna is 10-minute walk. So we thought it is better to try and walk rather than have conversation with this pseudo-polite seller. As soon as we got out of the hotel, again we were again surrounded by touts. As we kept moving away, number of touts tagging us kept reducing. Finally, we were stuck with one tout and he refused to leave. He kept on saying that he is only a porter and that Treebo Varuna is on a very steep road. He said he would only help us take up luggage for Rs 100. This man seemed more polite but we were too sceptical to let him take our luggage.

In vain, we tried calling Treebo to see if they were able to arrange cab. But again, nobody answered our calls. We used Google navigation to walk as much as we can but then, when the navigation stopped, we could not find Treebo. We were stuck on road with an elderly polite porter.

A good polite porter and Treebo

The elderly porter kept repeating that Treebo is up on a steep street and that he would help us go there. With Treebo being unreachable, we relented and let him take our luggage. He dragged our trolleys and started walking on a very steep lane. We climbed up for almost 5 minutes and then we saw Treebo sign board. On the way we saw only one open food stall, just opposite to Treebo. It was a very small stall. We asked if he would be open for some more time. He just made doubtful gesture. Leaving it there, we went to hotel and checked-in. I was angry that the staff could not arrange a cab for us and did not even take our call. The guy at reception innocently replied that he was trying to find cab for us but he could not find. He seemed very young and inexperienced. I felt it was useless to further the conversation. We gave Rs 100 to the porter. We got to the room and I was relieved. Subbu is very finicky and did not like the sheets and asked the receptionist guy to change it.

I was wondering if Subbu was hungry. But sadly, all the ruckus killed Subbu’s voracious appetite. She was not very keen to have any food. I insisted that we eat at least a little. It was almost 12am now. The food section was closed in the hotel. So we headed to the tiny stall. Even he was about to close. But upon our request, he prepared Matar Paneer for us. He packed that and rice in a parcel. This just costed us Rs 140. We heartily had dinner in our room and finally, relaxed at the end of a hectic chaotic day. 

Plan for tomorrow was to go by bus to Sangla. The bus available only in the mornings; 7am or so. Since we were tired, I thought not to get up early. Subbu also felt the same. We thought we can look for alternatives.

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