We headed to Simla in Himachal Pradesh during the Dusserra school break (Sep – Oct). We have a Club Mahindra membership. We plan our holiday well in advance (6 months!!). This year wanted to go to Kumbalgarh. And as is usual with Club Mahindra, the dates we wanted were not available. So, we changed our destination to Simla.
We flew from Chennai to Delhi. Indigo Airlines gave us a decent deal. Were booked to take Howrah Kalka Mail from Delhi. Big mistake. Had a booking for a connecting “Toy Train” from Kalka to Simla the next morning. .
As we had a day to kill in Delhi, we booked a hotel at Delhi – a Balaji Deluxe – using the services of expedia.co.in. The flight reached Delhi on time. Indigo is mostly on time. The hotel gave us a free pick from the airport. The hotel was located at Paharganj. A reasonably good budget hotel (clean air conditioned rooms, well lit, clean toilets and courteous staff) for a tariff of Rs.1800 + taxes per day (Breakfast buffet and pickup included).
As soon we checked in, my wife wanted to go to Delhi Haat – a fantabulous place where several artisans and co-ops showcase their work. We bought a couple of unusual Madhubani paintings, and several terracotta earrings. D was very happy. The rest very fatigued. If you are one of those who likes handicrafts, artifacts etc., this is a must visit place in Delhi.
We reached INA from Connaught Place in less than 15 minutes. Delhi Haat was just a 2 minute walk from the Metro station.
Here we have to mention the Delhi Metro. Super connectivity. The Metro website provides you with complete information of the connectivity and a fare chart. Great way to avoid the horrible Delhi traffic – and their rickshaws too.
We had an interesting cycle rickshaw trip from the Paharganj Metro Station to the hotel. Kids loved it.
We headed back to the hotel and had dinner. Quite a decent place. The our adventure started. We left for the Old Delhi Railway station at 8 PM on a taxi whose driver did not know the directions to the station and was blissfully ignorant of the traffic rules. He was a long distance truck driver in his earlier avataar. The traffic was horrendous. Wrong place – Wrong time! Reached the station at 8:45 PM. Found that the train to Kalka was cancelled. Not something that happens everyday with the Indian Railways, though trains are often late – sometimes by as much as 6 to 8 hours.
The next hour was filled with touts. A tout at the station promised to get us tickets in a train that left for Ambala (about 3/4th of the way to Kalka) in the next couple of hours for twice the fare. However, he could only manage tickets – 2 in 2nd AC and 2 in 3rd AC. We were not going to divide the family and travel and hence looked for other options.
We walked out of the station and were waylaid by a variety of touts. We were offered a private taxi to Simla – “family hotel” in Delhi – bus tickets to various place en route Simla. We were a prime catch – a family with 2 kids and 6 bags with a cancelled train. We extricated ourselves from one set only to land in the grips of another and finally succumbed. They fleeced us. We paid Rs.1750 for 3 tickets – my son who was 5 did not have to buy a ticket – on a supposedly Volvo like bus bound for Amritsar and we were to get off midway at Ambala at around 4 AM and find our way to Shimla.
They put us on a “complimentary” cycle rickshaw to the bus stop. The rickshaw guys dropped us near Red Fort at a bus booking office at 9:35 PM. The bus had berths and seats for human beings – but made more money ferrying textiles from Delhi to Amritsar. If anyone who has ever seen a Volvo sees this bus, they will have definitely have a heart attack. We boarded the bus at around 10 PM. I even remember the registration number of the “bus” NL01 1725. The bus moved to a place close by where they started loading textiles on top, bottom and on the passageway of the bus for over two hours. And in the meantime many more hapless passengers like us boarded the bus. The bus finally left Delhi at 12:40 AM. In the meantime, I logged in and cancelled the train ticket. Indian Railways refunds full amount as they had cancelled the train. . “Nice of them” is what we could think.
The bus driver was either a retired F1 racer or a trainee pilot. Good that we were so exhausted that we slept. He would have easily done 120 to 130 kmph on some stretches of a definitely good highway. Quite scary if you see how rickety the bus was. Anyways, the bus dropped us off at the highway off Ambala at 4 AM. A distance of about 200 kms – in about 3 hours. A half a kilometer walk with bags and kids got us to the railway station. The ticket counters had long queues and had unhelpful “what are they called’ manning them. Finally, D decided to barge into the station master’s room who told us that the Kalka train had just left – Platform # 1. The next train to Kalka was at 9 AM – 5 hours was too long a wait with two children. So, we took an auto to the bus stand. In all the confusion, I forgot my backpack in the auto; the backpack had a lot of important stuff including a good part of the money that we carried with us, few credit and debit cards, my laptop and travel vouchers. I realized the mistake about 15 minutes after the auto left while we were still waiting for the bus. Immediately, I rushed in a cycle rickshaw to the railway station in search of the auto. As soon as I reached the auto stand in the railway station, the driver of another auto informed me that the auto driver whom we initially hired has gone in search of me to handover the bag. So, I trotted back to the bus station and on the way saw the auto driver on his way back after handing over my back to my wife. I thanked him profusely.
Caught up with my family. In the meantime, we got information that there will be a Haryana State Transport’s direct bus to Simla in another 15 minutes. We boarded the bus – found different vacant corners to stuff our bags and headed to Simla via Chandigarh. An uneventful bus journey. Reached the Simla bus stand at 10 AM. It’s a brand new bus stand – with the only pain point being that it is a three storeyed bus stand – buses drop you at the second floor and you have to get taxis at the ground floor with only steps to go down. Employed the services of coolies. Friendly people. Took a taxi to Club Mahindra Mashobra. It is a 18 to 20 km travel from the bus stand. The taxi fare was a fixed Rs.450. The taxi driver was a congenial person. Checked if we would like to have breakfast before reaching Club Mahindra and took us to an excellent roadside Dhaba. The Parathas, sandwiches, and Lassi were delicious. The waiters were friendly. We then headed for Club Mahindra reached there at around 11:30. Very warm reception – literally (after the cold outdoor weather) and figuratively. On the whole, we suddenly realized that ever since we landed in Simla we have been meeting very cordial and warm people. A sea change from what we encountered in Delhi or Haryana. All of a 100 km travel – and what a dramatic change in how people treat you.
We had booked a suite; it was a very comfortable suite with a reasonably good view. Club Mahindra Mashobra is neither the largest nor the best of Mahindra’s resort. However, it is one of their friendliest resorts. … to be continued