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Shimla

Steep and beautiful

Story by Rupert Marlow December 11th, 2015

Feeling Flat

As we met our taxi agent in the morning, coincidentally, one of the men I had photographed the night before, we noticed that the car he had arranged had a low tyre. He explained to the driver to get it checked on the way so we set off in search of a repair shop.

It turns out, there was no issue, it was just a bit low and after a check with soapy water, it was inflated and off we went. This was the longest journey so far. We were glad to get to Shimla in the end.

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Introduction to Shimla

Shimla is a hill station, built mainly along a large, steep ridge and is the capital of Himachal Pradesh. We both loved it. It was cold, by comparison to the lowlands but sunny and it was absolutely fantastic. The colours, the relaxed atmosphere and the fantastic views truly made it for us.

Everyone seems to be living life at their own pace. There are some popular shops and big-brand stores on The Mall (the main street running along the contour of the hill) but mostly smaller shops and the bazar on the street below for those after a more intense immersive experience of shopping in a more traditional Indian fashion.

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Buildings of Shimla

Much of Shimla’s buildings looks like they are built on top of one another as they are so close together and built on such a steep incline, but their variation was astounding, from The Institute of Advanced Study and some very plush hotels, in all their majesty to the far poorer styled homes and shops with their crammed balconies and tin roofs - all are linked by impossibly steep stairs and narrow alleyways.

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Shimla's Steps

One amusing - but potentially dangerous - thing we noticed here was the steps. The incline and terrain means that the builders of Shimla and the surrounding area have probably built more steps than anywhere else. However, they still seem to put a random one in from time to time. This can be taller, shorter or deeper or narrower that those above and below it. This can catch an unsuspecting individual out (as it did with us on a number of occasions). I have tried to photograph them for the set below but it’s tricky to show. In the portrait orientated one, the 4th down from the top was a good example and the other shows a deeper step in the middle.

We had a great time looking out for (and often just feeling) them as we marched up and down Shimla’s narrow streets.

This led us onto spotting other ‘indianisms’ around the place, like trees in the middle of hairpin bends, or banks of switches under the electric hand driers! What could possibly go wrong?

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Hanuman Statue

Overlooking Shimla is a huge 30-foot statue of Hanuman, the colloquially named Monkey God. This was above a very very steep climb accompanied most of the way up by monkeys that we were warned about for their aggression but we actually saw very little other than the occasional death-defying leap from tree to tree.

On the way up, there was a sign with target times on based on one’s age. Sarah and I had to get up in 45 minutes as we’re both over 30. However, much to her irritation, I saw this as a challenge and set off at a pace, occasionally waiting as I have been reprimanded for ‘marching off’ before on uphill climbs. In the end, following a rolling of the eyes and and an ‘ok then, off you go’, like someone talking to a child, I was off.

Rupert (32): 27 minutes

Sarah (30): 29 minutes 30 seconds

Boom!

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Shimla's Streets

Street Photography is not something I feel I am particularly good at but I really enjoy it and can occasionally achieve images I am happy with.

The variation here is fantastic, from the street-vendors to the porters carrying anything from large butane tanks to huge fridges just with a few straps around their shoulders! There was even a large parade through the already packed lower Bazar Road for a famous holy person (I think) but I can’t help thinking it looks a lot like Colonel Gaddafi!

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Woodland

Some elements of Shimla reminded Sarah and I of home. We had left in early November and the autumn colours had nearly gone so to have some woodland in mid-turn giving us some beautiful yellows and leaf-carpets through the woodland was a great reminder of home.

One one of our wanderings, we came across a pile of rubbish being burned and giving off a lot of smoke. The strong sunlight was such that this gave us some great light lines through the trees.

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Early up, Early Down

One advantage of Shimla when we were there was the short days, with sunrise at about 6:50am and sunset at about 5:30pm that meant a wonderful sight welcomed everyone each morning without too much hardship of an early rise and a sunset before dinner on each night left plenty of opportunity for photos.

On the morning I watched the sun rise, I was in place nearly an hour before the sun was to be up and watched Shimla’s early risers up and about, some running, walking and just enjoying the peace and quiet. At one point, a man jogged past me in a green hoodie, suit trousers and brogues! His knees won’t last.

Once the sun was up, and the monkeys had woken, I had another challenge to deal with and that was the choice on two occasions to decide on my own safety from an angry monkey and saving my camera from his potentially inquisitive brother. The locals as they passed would warn me that ‘they’ll smash your camera’ but luckily, we both made it through unscathed. A lot of people out in the morning seemed to carry sticks. I am reliably informed that this is simply for protection from the monkeys.

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SUNRISE TIMELAPSE

21st November 2015

Inquisitive monkey

overall

Shimla was an instant hit with us. We did make a few bad calls with restaurants but met some wonderful people and the the climate, the views and the hills along with the general atmosphere were so appealing. It is one of the most memorable places we have ever been.
Footnote: All images were shot on Fujifilm’s excellent X100s, X-T1 or iPhone 6s Plus on 19-22 November 2015. Property of Rupert Marlow. All rights reserved.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India