The Planning for this phase underwent many refinements. Golden Temple was a must and a absolute central to this part of the trip. However, with experience, I knew that post-Agra I would need a good break from driving itself. Earlier the plan was to stop at Delhi and do a Delhi-Amritsar-Delhi by train and then proceed to Shimla, but the Shatabdi train, on its way back from Amritsar, arrives at Delhi at 2315 hrs and hotel booking at Shimla required us to leave the very next day.
The Original Plan
The Planning for this Stage
A relative who had been to Shimla on a number of occasions gave a useful tip. Instead of Delhi as a “car-driving-break” do Ambala. The train arrives at 2100 and the friends house at Ambala, was close to the station. Shimla, the next day, would be even more closer. Perfect, I thought and got reservations for the train changed to boarding at Ambala.
This section of the travelogue is covered in 3 phases viz , Delhi-Ambala Car Trip, then Ambala-Amritsar-Ambala Train Trip and lastly Ambala-Shimla Car Trip.
NH1 – 8/10,
Train Trip – 6.5/10,
NH 22 – 7/10.
For more details about road conditions please read Part 1- Mumbai-Udaipur-778 kms, 13.5 hrs – the section on “A note on road conditions in India”.
Phase 1, Delhi-Ambala Car Trip
1205 hrs, at Delhi, cooling the car
There was no covered parking at my friends place and by noon the interiors was unbearable, therefore the car was run idle with AC for good amount of time. Delhi – Ambala, on NH1 is just 214 kms and as only a night halt was required, there was no haste to reach. I decided at little detour. Mount Saint Mary’s (MSM), Delhi Cantt was my ex-school and I just wanted to whiz-by…old memories….
Mount saint Mary’s to Ambala
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Post MSM we headed for the ring road and then the outer ring road. upon hitting the Nh1 we started searching for the Petrol Pump but found that all were CLOSED. There was a strike in the NCR region, but those on the Haryana side, we were told were open.
20 kms or so, surely there was a petrol pump, but boy!! the multi-lane line!!!!! Naturally, like other good Indians a quick glance was done to find the shortest and fast moving lane….but …. the moment we joined …. it showed it’s true colours and moved the slowest and we found ourselves thinking … how unfair!!! To add to the injury .. the AC started misbehaving…….. But wait… I had said in the first part … our santro had never let us down … it had come our notice earlier….on the opposite side, a huge boarding read …HYUNDI (read Mumbai-Udaipur-778 kms, 13.5 hrs the section on “Preparation of the Car”).
It took us an hour-and-a-half to fill the petrol but felt like ages. The effectiveness of the AC had reduced exponentially. Thereafter we proceeded across the road for the check-up . The experience of other Hyundai Service Centres had till then been “par-excello”. This too was good but for a hiccup. The security guards whacked away a few juice packets!!!. I happen to observe and on confronting their ring leader he, quite boldly, stated that curiosity got the better of the staff as the car was from mumbai-the land of bollywood!!!!
The saving grace was that the technical staff was very professional and precise with the fault-finding and immediate rectification (the condenser had got covered with layers of dust and gas had leaked a bit). This did calm me …. and the issue was soon forgotten.
Post ac-servicing we hit the highway with full gusto. With enthusiam came hunger and NH1 is filled with many joints to appease the traveler. The boards started showing … Barista 3 kms, Pizza Hut …. In the middle of nowhere, to find all these was quite a joy. A friend had suggest Savoy Greens… but that was still too far…(on the way back it did provide much relief). For now it was screeching halt at Barista. I thought I was a calm driver , or was it my stomach prodding me such…
We reached Ambala at around 2030 hrs. But neither the time, nor the average was an issue.
1926 kms from home
Phase 2, Ambala-Amritsar-Ambala Train Trip
Ambala to Golden Temple
Next day, peacefully, we boarded the Shatabdi from Ambala for Amritsar. We had pre-planned to carry – Nothing. No camera, handbag or anything. I wanted it to be a comfort and thus had booked for the First ACC and comfort, certainly it was.
In the past few years the trips had either been by air or by road. Short distance train journeys had got virtually wiped off from the memory. Long-distance train journies were never expected to be exciting, thus grudgingly done with and thereafter easily forgotten. The Shatabdi was pleasantly new to me. The interiors were aesthetically designed. More important, bathrooms – clean! and the stewards – they served with a smile – to one and all. But the food – a big bore.
30 years back, I distinctly remember as a kid, stations were famously earmarked for a particular variety of snack to be eaten. But these days …. where has all the exciting train food gone!!!. If not in the Shatabdi’s or Rajdhanis then, I, a roadie, am asking a “train-ee”, WHERE !?!
If the past has been done away with then why not some “food-in-railways-innovation” for the present????
The Golden Temple
Shatabdi reached Amritsar on time (1340 hrs). We reached the Golden temple at around 1425 and planned to reach the station back by 1630 hrs so as to board the Shatabdi scheduled for return journey at 1700 hrs. Thus we had limited time and therefore no other place, not even the Jallianwala Bag, was on our itinerary. It had been planned to be just darshan and exit, but without haste.
We saw the temple, did the darshan, ate the langar, caught the auto back to the station and boarded the train again. The train reached Ambala at 2130 hrs.
Phase 3, Ambala-Shimla Road Trip
0645 hrs, at Ambala, all eyes focussed towards the hills
1926 kms from home
The was the reason for which the trip had been undertaken and finally it was coming true. Enthusiasm in me, as always, leads to hunger and despite the delicious parathas at my friends place, I was very eager to reach Gyani-ka-dhaba. In order to leave some space for the dhabba, in vain I had tried to eat little breakfast. The lady of the house had, laughingly, understood and bid us farewell.
Ambala to Shimla
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For the Himachal part of the trip much research had been done by gobbling each page of the Outlook Traveler Gateways (HP) and I was eager to try out their recommendations. I rate the book very high. Much quality research has been conducted and the writing is very lucid. The book never disappointed me during my entire stay at various cities in Himachal.
0900 hrs, at Gyani-ka-Dhabba, greedily hungry, 89 kms from Ambala, averaging 39.6 km/h
2015 kms from home
The timings for the dhaba are 0900-2100 and coincidently, sharp opening time we arrived. As only parathas were being served we relished a few, happily burped and proceeded towards Shimla.
1230 hrs, finally at Shimla, 156 kms from Ambala, averaging 19.2 kms/hr
2082 kms from home, total trip average 27.2 kms/h
At the entrance of Shimla I observed an incident of road-rage at close-hand.!!. The one-and-a-half lane “circuitous road” is heavy with traffic and bustling with not-so-patient-Indian-tourists the all-prevalent attitude is to reach, our decided destinations fast, much ahead of others, but unmindful of all else. In case the vehicles touch each other and causes even a scratch, skirmishes (read battles) occur. I sadly happen to observe it and decided then and there, the next day sight-seeing trip would on a hired car (driven by a local).
Immediately after checking in we went to the restaurant for the lunch (breakfast had been forgotten!). It had been especially recommended by Outlook for the Himachal cuisine. We ordered “angoori chicken” and “sepu vadi”. They were bliss. This lead to a deep afternoon nap and a idyllic walk up the mall, late in the evening (in Shimla we stayed at Hotel Holiday Home. More about the hotel can be read at the review on trip advisor).
Next day we went to visit Jakhoo Hill, Kamna Devi Temple, Glen and lastly the Viceregal Lodge. Hanuman Temple at Jakhoo temple was a nice trip which included quite a few sharp turns.
The Viceregal Lodge, now known as Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) was the highlight of the trip. Neatly manicured lawns outside and awesome, well maintained, interiors inside. Guards outside to ensure no walking on the garden and a disciplinarian, with a good-natured smile, heavy on historical information, lady guide, for the tour. Children too, were told maintain silence!! This was first-of-its-kind experience to me.
Will I visit Shimla once-again ….with friends and relatives Yes, and again…… NO!!
Next …. Shimla-Manali-Rothang Pass-Naggar