Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - Himachal Pradesh


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Himachal Pradesh (Himalayan Province), in the foothills of the Himalayas, giving it a cooler climate than the lower levels of India.  Shimla is in HP (as its know to its friends) but we've got a separate page for our journey from Shimla through the state on our way to Corbett National Park to see some tigers, hopefully. 


Itinerary - click link to jump to day

7th Oct - Shimla to Solan
8th Oct - Solan - Earthquake!
9th Oct - Solan to Nahan
10th Oct - Nahan to Paonter Sahib
11th Oct - Paonter Sahib


Fri 7th October, 2005

Had planned to get a fairly early start, but by the time we had found somewhere open to buy a map, it was 10am.  I suppose that's still early by some peoples standards!  We were both raring to go and eager to get back cycling again, it seems so long since we did any distance.

The road out of Shimla was busy with buses, trucks, jeeps, motorbikes and the occasional cow.  Because of the many hills around here you tend not to see too many bicycles, compared with flatter areas of India anyway.  Probably something to do with the lack of gears on Indian bikes.  Once out of the town and heading down the main road to Solan, we left most of the traffic behind, except for the trucks and buses, who passed us frequently with their horns blaring.  The road surface was quite good, but there were many bends and few straights of any length, so we had to keep the speed down, especially as we were fully laden with our panniers.

The views down the valleys were quite spectacular, spoilt only by the heat haze which made anything more than a mile away disappear into whiteness.  Shame, could have had some great photos otherwise.  Most of the journey to Solan was downhill, with the occasional flat bit and a rarer uphill section.  We arrived at what we thought was the town of Solan, where the Solan train station is situated. We thought it looked a bit small for what was supposed to be quite a large town, and not seeing any hotels, decided to head on to the next place.  We descended from the train station for several more kilometers, then came across the main part of the town.  There was a long winding road up to the town centre, and by the time we got there we were both feeling a bit drained, so, seeing an hording for a nice hotel, decided to call it a day, even though it was only 3pm.

The hotel was as good as the advert implied, but had a little problem with being understood when I went in to check it out.  'Do you have a double room?'.  'A what?'  'A double room, you know, a room for two people'.  'Oh, you want a room?'.  'Yes please, a double room, do you have any?'  'You want a room?'.  Well, I'd hardly come in here for a pound of bananas, would I!

The standard room I opted for was not quite as plus as the super deluxe he tried to persuade me to have, but it was fine for our purposes, and 300 Rs cheaper, according to the rate card I was shown.  I asked if there was any chance of a little discount from the 750Rs standard rate, and without hesitation the manager knocked it down to 500Rs net.  Must be a quiet period.  This was more like it, a lot cheaper than what we'd paid in Shimla, but then we had been staying in s posh hotel for my birthday.  And we had a satellite TV (seem to be the norm these days) and hot water.  The bed was a little unusual, it was square, and had headboards on two sides, giving you a choice of sleeping angles, I suppose.

Dinner in the hotel restaurant, veg soup starters followed by chicken tikka for me and a vegetable jalfrazy for Rita  Its amazing the number of different spellings we've seen for that popular dish, even Jalfrenzy in Ladakh.  The food was excellent, and we felt we had done something today to earn it.  Our first day cycling since we got to India, only taken us a month!       Back to Itinerary

Sat 8th October, 2005

What's the point in rushing, we've still got 5 months left in India, so why not have a day off?  Okay, so we've only done one day cycling and we're already having a day off.  But that was one thing we decided on, we would not be rushing from town to town on a daily basis like we ended up doing for most of our recent world tour, due to time constraint and trying to fit too many places in to a 7 month stretch. 

Had a bit of a shock (excuse the pun) when I went down for breakfast.  Rita wasn't hungry so stayed in the room watching BBC World, as long as I bought her back a cup of expresso.  I had finished my breakfast of masala dosa and was enjoying my cup of coffee and doing the Sudoku puzzle in the Indian Express, when I noticed that everything was shaking.  There was no sound, just the table, me, the chairs and everything around was shaking, considerable.  At first I thought it must be some sort of heavy machinery being operated nearby, but there was no noise to indicate that.. I asked the waiter what was going on, because things were shaking, he just tried adjusting the table, like it had a wobbly leg. I then pointed out that the TV on the wall across the room was moving, as well as all the other tables, and isn't that wall vibrating as well? The manager then came across and assured me all was OK, there is nothing wrong and I should return to my table. I was not convinced. Our room was two floor up on the top floor, so I phoned Rita on my mobile, the bed had been shaking and she had been pretty worried too.

Saw the news on TV about an hour later and it said the earthquake had been a 7.4 on the Richter scale, but there were no reports of casualties or damage. It was only when we saw the news in the evening that we found out there had been so much damage and loss of life in Pakistan. Before that, I was thinking it was quite a novel experience, but now I guess we were lucky the epicenter wasn't closer.

Spent the rest of the day walking around Solan and relaxing.  The town doesn't appear to see many tourists, so we had a few people staring at us, but give them a smile and a wave and they soon come round,   

Had a few drinks in the other nice hotel in town, not far from ours.  They had a rooftop restaurant, which the doorman assured us was open.  But when we got to the top, the tables and chairs were stacked up and the bar looked as thought it hadn't been used for months.  Within minutes though, waiters arrived and organised a table and chairs and took our order.  One waiter then stayed with us for the next hour or so, just in case we wanted anything else.  How sweet!  It was actually probably the best rooftop restaurant we've seen in India, it looked as though it was purpose made and was well decorated with railings and plants, unlike so many other places which look like they've found a flat bit of roof and put a few tables on it, and you have to be careful not to fall off the edge or through one of the carefully hidden skylights.   Back to Itinerary

Sun 9th October, 2005

Back on our bikes today, suitably refreshed after our rest day.  Not sure how far we're going to get today, we have a few options and will take it as it comes. On the road by 9, we cycled out of the town centre and re=joined the main road.  Started out at 1520 metres above sea level, and heading downhill, which is what we hoped would be the order of the day.  Our hopes were soon dashed when after descending only a hundred metres in 5km, we started to climb.  Back up at 1630 metres, the road leveled out and followed the contours around a rather large hill, with more spectacular views down the valleys a long way below us.  

After 14km we dropped down again to the town of Kumarhatti which had been one of possible targets for a night stop on our first day.  Seeing the town, I think we made a very wise decision to stop in Solan, there was only one hotel (that we could see, anyway) and it was not very impressive.  After a brief stop to ask directions, then ask some other people for directions as well - always best to get several peoples opinions about directions in India - we headed off downhill towards Sarahan.  This was more like it, heading down the valley, dropping slowly.  Dropping slowly, that is, until we started to climb again.  We had got down as low as 1250 metres when we started to go up again, but we thought this wont last long.  How wrong could we be. 10km later we were up at 1700 metres and feeling a bit hot and whacked.  From there on the climbing eased off, and we were really glad to make it into Sarahan at 3:30.

Our guide book doesn't say anything about Sarahan, so we would have to take pot luck about finding somewhere to stay.  A few minutes into the town and we saw a sign for a Rest House, usually a government run place but functional, we headed for it, not seeing any other options.  Once we located the Rest House, we thought our problems were over, but we couldn't find the manager and had a few language problems with the people in the rest house, presumably other guests.  It was 20 minutes later before we found out that actually, there were no spare rooms available anyway!

A kind person offered to show us another place we could stay, but it was an unsigned hotel with rather grotty rooms, which Rita said was just about habitable.  Decision time. How far is it to the next town, Nahan? About 40km.  Having only done about 50km so far today in the six and a half hours since we left Solan, it seemed a lot more to do. Okay, there had been a lot of uphill and we had been stopping quite a bit for breaks and photo opportunities, but what was the road to Nahan like, it could be worse!   We found a nice chappy who spoke good English, and he assured us that it was downhill all the way to Nahan, except for a bit of uphill in the first 3km and we should be able to do it in 1 and a 1/ two hours maximum.  That decided it, rather than spend the night in a cesspit, we'd head for Nahan and hope for better.

The guy was right, up to a point.  The first 2km weren't too bad, then we had 5km of downhill.  This was looking good, until we started to climb again.  Not too much, but enough to slow us down considerably.  More downhill followed by more climbing, followed by much the same for the next 25km.  I began to wonder if the guy had actually been on this road, saying it was all downhill.  Actually, that's a common problem we've found with people who don't cycle, if you ask them what the terrain is like, they often don't really know, even if they've traveled the road frequently.  Its very easy to go up hills in cars and buses, but you only really notice them when you cycle them.  That's my opinion anyway.

When we got to within the last 10km, the road started to drop appreciably.  At some points we could see the road ahead, down the valley, clinging to the steep hill side with the valley bottom far below, but we could see it was all lower than us, and that cheered us up no end. We have a map that says Nahan is at 950metres, so I knew we had to drop down eventually.   It was a very quick 10km, dropping down from 1400 metres to 800, but it was a very twisty road and the surface was appalling in places, so we didn't make it above 25 mph, according to my bike speedo.  

The bad news at the bottom was that the town of Nahan is on the top of a hill, across the valley from where we came down, so we were face with a long hike up to the top, which took us half an hour, arriving at the first hotel we could find at 7pm.  Quite a long day in the saddle.

The Regency Hotel had an ok room going for 300 Rs, Rita managed to beat them down to 200 Rs,  Its not that 300 was too much, just that you've got to barter, and old habits die hard.  Rita said she felt a bit guilty afterwards, getting the room for only 200 Rs, but the manager seemed quite happy.  And for that price we had en-suite with hot water, sat. TV and a balcony.  Cant be bad.  I even think the sheet on the bed was clean, but wouldn't swear to it.  We also had further entertainment supplied in the form of a colony of ants parading in a diagonal line across one of the wall, carrying everything from small cockroaches to small pieces of biscuits they'd found on the floor somewhere .  And only 200 Rs!  Back to Itinerary

Mon 10th October, 2005

Pleased to find when we awoke that we hadn't been carried away by the ants in the night. On the road by 9:30, heading towards Paonta Sahib, only about 45km away., but after yesterday, we didn't want to have another big day and cycle all to way to Dehra Dun.    Because the town is on top of a big hill, we were fairly confident that we should at least start out by going downhill, but we were prepared to be surprised, especially after yesterday.

The first 7km was all downhill, dropping from 950metres down to 450 metres.  The road was newly resurfaced as well, so we didn't have to concentrate so much on pot-hole dodging, and made excellent progress.  Stopped for a coffee break at a nice little cafe at the bottom of the hill, and to top up on water and fruit juice supplies.  We only drink bottled mineral water, but when it warms up it doesn't seem to quench our thirst, so we found adding some fruit juice makes it a lot more palatable. 

The rest of the ride to Paonta Sahib was through interesting small villages with friendly inhabitants, the road rising and falling gently but with no big hill like yesterday.   At another drink stop, we watched a man at a roadside cafe mixing up a thick white substance that turned out to be paneer, a sort of cottage cheese. After that, he poured a large amount of what appeared to be sugar into another very large bowl, but unfortunately some of the soil from where the bag had been stood on the ground also fell into the bowl, and as we peered in we noticed there were about 50 large ants crawling around the sugar as well.  One of the boy assistants started picking out the ants and bits of soil, but it didn't look to me like he was going to make sure he got them all out.  I guess that might explain some of the black bits yo sometime see in the cakes and desserts!

We thought we had reached the town when we came across a fire station with Paonta Sahib painted on the outside,  but this turned out to be a sub station and the town was another 7km away. The fire station was probably to cover the huge cotton factory just down the road, with a small town build up around it.  The first hotel we found had a load of bed mattresses laid out in the courtyard, obviously being given an airing, they all looked fairly grotty, and the hotel was very dark inside so we passed on that one.  A few more kilometers on we made it to the town centre and found the Yamnua Hotel, a government run establishment.  Opted for the standard room again, but this time there was no negotiating allowed on the 400 Rs price, plus 10% tax.  Nice place though, I think we might stay here 2 nights.      Back to Itinerary

Tue 11th October, 2005

I was right, we are staying two days.  Had a leisurely  breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I thought I'd have something simple, mushrooms on toast.  Turned out to be finely chopped mushrooms in a tomato, onion, garlic and spicy sauce.  Quite nice, but not exactly what I was expecting!

Took a stroll into the town, only a short distance away, buying some essentials on the way, i.e. toilet roll and mosquito coils.  The shopkeeper showed us two brands of coils, thinking we'd obviously go for the cheaper, after all it was a whopping 2 rupees more for the expensive ones, but he said they were much better, so we gritted our teeth and paid the extra. 17 Rs, that's about 21pence, not bad for 10 nights comfort!

There's a big Sikh temple in this town, one of the biggest outside Amritsar, and an important pilgrimage place for Sikhs.  The outside walls are lined with shops, all selling pretty much the same things. Seemed to be a lot of trinket style things such as stainless steel bangles of varying sizes, maybe its a religious thing, not sure.  We only went in to the initial courtyard for a quick look, but weren't sure how far we were allowed to enter and whether we should be wearing a headscarf, like we had to when we went to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 9 years ago.  No wishing to offend, we left.

It was quite hot and humid today, bright and sunny but a little too hot and sweaty for walking about a great deal,  There didn't seem to be much else in the town centre, aside from the temple, and we had cycled down the main drag when we had arrived.  Found an internet place prepared to let me connect my laptop, with a little persuasion, but it was very slow. I've yet to find anywhere in India with any sort of reasonable upload speed, so I can upload our diary and photos to our website.  All I seem to be able to manage is one or two files at a time, then it goes really slowly.

For dinner tonight I opted for the roast chicken with boiled veg and roast potatoes.  I didn't get my hopes up, I knew it wouldn't be like a real roast dinner, but I had to give it a go.  It actually wasn't too bad, he chicken was nicely done, the potatoes were ok, as were the veg, but the "gravy" was a tomato based substance which was rather sweet.  Rita had a vegetable chop suey, and strangely enough the sauce in that dish was almost identical to my roast dinner gravy!   

Back to Itinerary

Wed 12th October, 2005

Cycle to Dehra Dun today.  Quite a pleasant cycle ride with lots of interesting things to see on the way, not in the traditional tourist way, just people going about their everyday work and chores.  Lots of people were choppng down trees from the roadside and sawing them up, manually. I think there might be a road widening scheme going on.  The road surface had recently been given a fresh layer of tarmac for quite some distance, making for a smooth ride as well.  The approaches into Dehra Dun (pronounced something like darer doon) got more and more busy, and the pot holes returned as well, making the last couple of kilometres a nightmare.  The traffic in town was very heavy, I was very thankful for my new bell.

Continued on the Uttaranchal page

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