We arrive in Shimla at dawn the following day without any prior knowledge of what the place looks like or where we would stay.
Its effortless remember?
Rubbing the sleep from our eyes we notice no one else is on the bus, so we ask the driver to help with the bags. A young taxi driver is waiting outside and tells us we should have gotten off at the Old bus station, the previous stop. This is the New bus station 8 K’s from town.
He agrees to help us find accommodation but the first 10 guesthouses are full. It seems we are in ‘high season’, even though we are the only non-nationals in sight! It gives us a chance to see the area though, which is a massive hillside township made up of colorful stacked housing, strewn across steep hills and ridge tops. Impressive given the landscape!
After an hour, we are fatigued from the search and buy the driver breakfast, who decides to call his friends to meet us. They inform us that there is one room remaining which won’t cost a pot of gold and shows it to us. Walking over to the window, I watch a family of monkeys playing in the foreground of a beautiful, sweeping vista.
This is the place.
With the help of the driver, the hotel concierge and a baggage handler I affectionately call ‘Toto’ we stagger into the room and order tea for all.
We made it!
Any bus ride that is over 8 hours in India requires a lot of rest the following day, due to lack of sleep, rag doll neck and some vigilance. This was no exception, so it wasn’t until the following day, that Toto hooks us up with with a friend who takes us on an amazing tour of the area. With Christine armed with her trekking pole and I with my heightened instinct for care, we explore the monkey temple where there’s a towering statue of Hanuman overlooking the township.
Next we travel to Shimla’s highpoint where hundreds of donkeys and small horses assemble to pick up their tourists for treks into the elevated wilderness. After a brief meditation at a local temple, we leave the courtyard, adorned with a blanket of red and orange fallen leaves, and resume the tour.
We then visit the British Institute of Advanced Learning which is oddly enchanting due to its British – Indian architectural fusion. It’s more like a summer home for European royalty. The evening ends with the two of us strolling at midnight, along the cobbled high street with the anglo-christian church lit up in the background as we sip a glass of red wine under the moonlight.
Are we still in India?
Waking early the next day, we leave with Toto, to grab our bus tickets for Delhi. We purchase them from the Old station but leave from the New station, which leaves in an hour. Weird.
Quickly, we pack our things and Toto helps us load the bags into the taxi which was 20 minutes late, giving us only 20 minutes to spare. Poor Christine is still in pain so I try not to rush. Pulling out of the driveway we head straight into gridlock. Damn.
But Indian buses hardly leave on time do they?
15 minutes to departure and we are in a traffic jam. Rising panic is calmed with trust in being. We’ll make it. I fidget for a while before calling Toto to get the number of the bus operator, who asks me to speak with the driver. Rightly so, he pulls over to talk. No! we’ve got ten minutes left, don’t stop!…Ok, maybe we’re not supposed to get on the bus…Breathe.
5 minutes left.
The driver hangs up and continues his causal crawl looking nonchalant, but we haven’t even left town yet. 0 minutes left, the bus should now be leaving. We finally start to leave town and wind downhill, so I call the bus operator again and explain our situation to which he replies “Sir, the bus has already left!”
After a defeated sigh of acceptance, the operator kindly informs me that we are allowed to flag down the bus. Game On! Giving the phone to the taxi driver, he grunts in reply and speeds up as the operator gives him the details of the bus. Minutes of dodging, beeping and hair-pin turns later, we make our way through the traffic. Eventually we see the big green bus and drive alongside it, leaning out of the window and flapping our arms about desperately until the man with a turban sees us, laughs, slows down and opens the doors.
Phew, Delhi here we come!
That evening, the lovely AC bus drops us off by the side of the highway on the periphery of town. There is a rickshaw waiting that takes us into town without any problems, only the temperature has increased considerably. We check into ‘Yes Please’ guesthouse all slimy and sweaty. It’s 40 degrees and we are tired from hauling bags but very grateful to the many people who have helped us along the way.
It really is Effortless India, as long as you keep an open heart.
The ‘Guy with a stiff neck’ who we know from a previous stay is friendly and laughs throatily as he checks us in for the night and arranges a morning train the next day to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
This will be Christine’s first train ride. Once on board, a man on the platform walks by our carriage and stops to drape his arms through the bars of the window and stare at her for an uncomfortably long time. I mean, a really long time, like 10 minutes. I look at my watch and thank heavens we are leaving soon.
I watch Christine silently meditate and pray. About 30 seconds later, an old man walks onto the train and sits in front of the creepy starer.
I am astonished and inspired as I look on and feel the words inside;
“All you have to do is ask”.
An affirmation that the help is always there if you trust in Life.
10 days until my visa expires.
What will happen and how?
Only God knows.