14th August 3:30 pm:
I rushed home and picked up Shubha en-route. She bought a torch that we might need on the trip. The mere thought of not having to go back to work for the next three weeks plus was thrilling enough ;) Added to it was the expectation of a great journey and a whole range of new experiences for all the senses and the mind – a mild adrenaline rush engulfed us both
The City Taxi guy was there at 4:30 even as we wrapped up some last minute packing. We left at 4:45 and this guy gave us our first taste of adventure right away! A few terrified motorists and narrow misses later we reached the Bangalore Railway Stattion and realised the Rajdhani left from platform 8 – so asked hime to drop us on the other side. The ride cost us145/-. The Rajdhani was at the platform and Shubha still had an RAC berth – I was in AS2 and she in AS4 – and the train was packed because of the 3 long weekend – the first after months.
Rajdhanis are always a good experience – despite the crowded compartments in this case. Warm soup and decent food, and great company made the journey a pleasant one. A lot of people were a trifle surprised to hear about what we were trying to achieve – and one guy who claimed to have done lots of travelling in the mountains cautioned us about the landslides etc. This only added to the anxiety and sense of adventure after the numerous reports of landslides and cloudbursts in the preceding weeks. A little before Itarsi the train croosed a dense green forest and for miles it looked breathtaking in a mild shower as I enjoyed the breeze hitting my face as I stood on the footboard. (Be very cautious when you stand near doors – they lurch around a bit and can throw you off balance). Shubha's berth got confirmed the next day in AS2 and the food stayed decent, if boring.
Delhi arrived about 5:45 am – half an hour later than the scheduled time and with no hope of getting the Himalayan Queen which left Nizamuddin at 5:05 and New Delhi at 6:00am. We got off, found a decent auto-wallah (amazing for Delhi) who took us to the New Delhi Rlwy Station for 50/-. Now this is a rather huge one – and we got to the wrong side of it – had to cross 12 platforms to platform #1 where the Shatabdi to Kalka left. Tell the auto guy you want to go the the Kashmiri Gate side of the station, not the Ajmeri gate side, where most other Shatabdis leave from (for Dehradun etc). The ticket counter was relatively free – and by 7:00 we'd boarded. The tickets were a little more expensive than I'd imagined – 920/- for both of us. Delhi was not unpleasant early in the morning, and and even the auto ride was mostly through green areas and with almost no traffic, Shubha quite enjoyed the sights and feel of the ride. Me, I was just thankful Delhi passed peacefully – I'm a little nervous when I'm there.
The Kalka Shatabdi (AC Chair Car) provided good breakfast – and got us to Kalka around noon. A little before Chandigarh was thrilled to get a call from Venkat who wanted to know how far we'd got. Promised to call him once we got the bike and started. A little before Kalka I called up Sharad Talwar – whom I'd sent the bike to in Shimla – and informed him that we'd get there in a couple of hours by bus. However, once there – there was a 'toy-train' just about to leave for Shimla – and we decided to board it – the Himalayan Queen - anyway.
There was hardly any time to buy tickets – so the train's TTE and another chap who lseemed to be a Railways employee prodded us to board anyway – which we did. At the next station the guard charged us a small fee for the service and as value adds – we actually got to travel in the guard's compartment for a while – the railway track dissapearing behind us as we chugged along uphill made for some really pretty sights and pictures. In our compartment was a Sikh family – Deepak and Renu with their year and a half old daughter – from Kurukshetra – on a short visit to Shimla for their 3rd wedding anniversary. These guys were really enthusiastic and friendly, and Deepak had a great sense of humour. We got really pally with them with lots of conversation, tea and snaps shared. They ran a Cyber-cafe and a beauty parlour in Kurukshetra and Deepak used to be a Ranji player for Hyderabd (?) earlier. Even the guard was an ex-national hockey player. The other guy who'd asked us to board turned out to be a slightly tipsy TTE from the Ambala railway station who was quite familiar wih the route and the train's staff.
The Himalayan Queen meandered along the hillsides and after a bunch of stops – all cute and amazingly beautiful places – and numerous tunnels – the longest being over 3000 feet in length – we got into Shimla around 6:00pm. Deepak got me to promise we'd join them for dinner – a treat for their anniv – and we split. A taxi got us to the place where Sharad's gas agency was – and we picked up the bike after politely refusing the offer he repeatedly made to stay at his place. I'd already asked too much of him and did not want to pile on unnecessarily.
The Pulsar was in good shape except for a couple of scratches on the front mudguard and a slightly bruised indicator. Got to a petrol pump and got the tank topped up. Fitted the rear-view mirrors on and it was 8:00 already! As I started riding around the curvy slopes looking for hotel along the road ( it was the same road that would lead us to Rampur and we did not feel like going back to the concrete jungle that Shimla has become) Shubha got a little tensed – she wasn't too comfortable in the dark with riding around on strange roads in the hills to start with! So we settled for the first hotel we saw – HimLand – even tho they asked us for 1400/- !! It did look like a decent place and there really was a lot of rush from Delhi and nearby places for the long weekend – but we could've found a cheaper place with some more effort.
Anyhow – we checked in, cleaned up after 3 days of train travel, left our luggage at the hotel and went towards the Ridge for meeting up with Deepak and Renu – a trifle late tho. The ride up to the Mall area was up a steep incline and Shubha had major pangs of anxiety yet again. The bike felt a little out of control up slopes in high revs and I knew I'd have to learn more about mountain riding as we went along. We parked a little before the Mall cause of a no-traffic zone ahead -and walked it. Had dinner at a Tandoori place and coffee at – well – Barista – later. That's one thing that struck me as a very sad aspect of development. You don't want to go to Shimla and have Barista coffee – you want the place to have its own specialities, its own styles and nuances. The march of the retail chains is really not a very happy sign.
The Pulsar was covered in dew when we got back to it – and we rode back to the hotel all the way downhill – with the exhaust sputtering a bit.
Decided to leave around 8 in the morning and slept off...