Once summer time residence of the Indian government in the time the Raj, Shimla today has a feeling of days gone by. Now an Indian tourist town rather than the clerical and bureaucratic power house under imperial rule.
The Ridge and Mall offer glimpses of a bygone era. The Ridge a tree lined Victorian promenade offering views down in to the valleys below with great people watching opportunities, whilst the Mall is affronted by the Tudor style town hall mixed with brand names instantly recognisable on the British high street.
Architecturally the church, town hall and library wouldn’t look out of place in a cotswold village but totally alien at 2,000m up in the Himalayas. Descend down the steep hill side away from this gentrified part of Shimla in to the Ram and Lower Bazaar and as the tourists thin out you see the people of Shimla going about their daily business.
Not dissimilar to any bazaar you may visit it is awash with goods to satisfy Indian’s growing consumerist needs; mobile phones, clothes jewellery, cloth, silk. Descend lower and lower down the bazaar and you find fresh fruit, veg and the odd goat.
Coolies wend their way through shoppers depositing goods from across the Himalaya, as with anything Indian its a typically busy affair awash with colour and noise as each trader attempts to catch the passing clienteles attention.
What strikes me is the number of small traders making a living, compared to the British high street where supermarkets have squeezed out these types of traders, with councils upping high street parking charges its no wonder market pitches dwindle.
Perhaps its Shimla’s links to British imperialism that set the expectation but its far from what I expected. Rather than being packed with foreign tourists I find myself in splendid isolation, in the 3 days I’ve been here I’ve seen less than 10 foreign tourists and had one fleeting conversation with an Aussie headed for Goa’s party scene.
My time here has given me sufficient time to recharge my batteries after the long trip up to this part of India, with last minute bits of kit sent home and other pieces forwarded to Manali I’m ready to start turning the pedals.