Planning a Trip
Getting There & Away
By Road -- All of the more reputable hotels will arrange transfers from practically any starting point in India, should you wish to arrive in chauffeured style. From Delhi, you'll take National Highway 1 (Grand Trunk Rd.) north to Ambala (in Haryana) and then continue on a fierce and beautiful journey along a hillside road that snakes all the way up to Shimla. You can also drive directly from Chandigarh, following National Highway 21 south until you join the main Delhi-Shimla road.
By Air -- Weather can interfere with flights in and out of Shimla's Jubbarhatti Airport, 23km (14 miles) from the city (taxi into town around Rs 550/$14/£7). Daily flights connect Shimla with Delhi (1 hr.). These also stop at Kullu's Bhuntar Airport, which serves northern Himachal Pradesh.
By Train -- The most romantic way to get to Shimla, the Himalayan Queen runs from New Delhi to Kalka (640m/2,099 ft. above sea level), where the train switches to a narrow-gauge track and continues on to Shimla (2,060m/6,757 ft.). Traveling at an average speed of 25 to 30kmph (15-19 mph), the "toy train" journey will consume nearly a full day of your itinerary. Its 96km (60 miles) travels through some 100 tunnels, numerous bridges, and sharp curves, taking in picturesque views of green forests and meadows, capsicum fields, and red-roofed chalets. The train back to Kalka departs Shimla at 10:35am, arriving in time for you to make the onward connection to Delhi, where you'll arrive before midnight. Check out www.indianrail.gov.in. Note: During the high season (May-June; Dec/Jan), it's difficult to secure tickets without at least several days' advance booking, so do so through the Internet or an agency.
For friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic assistance on the entire Himachal region, pop into the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) information centre; tel. 0177/265-4589; www.himachaltourism.nic.in), where Geeta Ram Ranote will provide you with everything from trekking tips to details of his favorite itineraries; beware, however, of taking his advice on accommodations -- he, like many other government officials, is committed to sending you to HPTDC-run establishments, of which 99.9% are undesirable.
On Foot -- Central Shimla is free of traffic, which means that you'll spend much of your time exploring on foot. You'll need some degree of stamina to deal with the numerous steep inclines. A two-stage elevator, The Lift, operating between 8am and 10pm, connects The Mall with Cart Road; ticket prices are nominal.
By Car -- Shimla has a number of restricted and sealed roads, and farther routes are no-go zones for heavier vehicles. Should you arrive in town by train, you can find a taxi (or even the odd auto-rickshaw), which will drop you at your hotel -- although you may be surprised at the route necessary to get around "no traffic" zones. Day trips will generally require a taxi or jeep -- but the prices can fluctuate wildly. Get advice from your hotel on hiring a car and driver at reasonable rates. For prepaid taxi trips, contact the government-run service at tel. 0177/265-8892, or Vishal Himachal Taxi Operator Union at tel. 0177/265-7645.
Guided Tours & Travel Agents
For intelligent, entertaining, and exclusive tours of Shimla itself, your best bet is to make contact with noted local writer Raaja Bhasin, author of Simla -- The Summer Capital of British India. Raaja conducts interesting and tailor-made walks around Shimla and will provide you with fond memories of the town and an acute understanding of its juicy history. E-mail or call Raaja in advance to make sure he's available (tel. 0177/265-3194; www.raajabhasin.com; firstname.lastname@example.org). Tours normally start from your hotel and run from 10am to 5pm for a charge of $150/£76 (for up to eight people; meals and transport, if required, cost extra). Additionally, he does shorter tours (2-3 hr.; cost varies) and all-day excursions outside Shimla.
Government-operated tours are annoying, claustrophobic excursions, best avoided unless you're on a tight budget. The office of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC; tel. 0177/265-2561 or -8302; www.hptdc.nic.in; Apr 15-July 15 and Sept 15-Jan 1 daily 9am-8pm, rest of year daily 9am-6pm) is along The Mall, near Scandal Point. The Mall has an abundance of travel agencies; use them to arrange transport, tours, and trekking around the state.
Ambulance -- Dial tel. 0177/280-4648 or 0177/265-2102.
ATMs, Banks & Currency Exchange -- The Mall has outlets of HDFC, City Banks, ICICI Bank, and UTI Bank. You can change cash and traveler's checks, and organize cash advances on certain credit cards Monday to Saturday 8am to 8pm. In an emergency, guests at the Cecil and Wildflower Hall can also draw money against their credit cards for a small percentage.
Hospital -- For around-the-clock service, call Tara Hospital (tel. 0177/280-3275).
Police -- There's a police office (tel. 0177/281-2344) adjacent to the Town Hall, on The Mall. It's closed on Sunday.
Post Office -- The General Post Office (Mon-Sat 10am-6pm) is located just above Scandal Corner.