By Katherine Van Meurs
The train station of New Delhi is a sight to be seen. Troops of monkeys walk and climb up and down the rafters, searching for scraps of food any passenger is willing to spare. Homeless men, women, and children sleep soundly as hundreds if not thousands of travelers step by them with no notice or concern. As you search for your gate departure number, you are met with waves of people, having just arrived to New Delhi for family visits, work, or maybe vacations. Young boys peddle ice in the sweltering, humid heat. As you step aboard your train, you give a sigh of relief that your cabin has air conditioning and cozy up to a friendly “Auntie.” Because in India, everyone is either an Auntie, an Uncle, a Didi or a Baya. The sense of everyone being family is palpable and foreign. You take the five hour train journey towards Shimla. A boy hands you hot tea and biscuits, a welcome treat.
As you exit the train, you enter a quaint train station. You exit the station to find meditating Buddhists and the endearing homeless begging for chips and soda. The journey has not yet begun. You and your comrades barter with a local cab driver and pile into his van, sans air conditioning. You have a four hour journey ahead of you. He tears along the windy mountain roads. At times, you lose your breath, wondering if the next turn will be your last. Nausea sinks in, and you aren’t sure why you chose to come. You are exhausted, motion sickness has become your companion, and then… SHIMLA.
As you enter Shimla, the cool air rejuvenates and welcomes you to this small mountain town. The view fills you with awe and reminds you why it is such a gift to be alive. The locals’ eyes are alight with spirit and an unspoken wisdom that can only be attained through life in the Himalayan foothills. The atmosphere is transcending, elevating… Buses of tourists line up along the narrow roads, coming for the views, shopping, temples, and music festival. You spend your days hiking through the Shimla forests, bartering over a pashmina scarf you wanted for your grandmother, and drinking coffee milkshakes that only add to your transcendental experience. You enter a rare books bookstore. Perusing the stacks of dust-covered classics, you feel transported to the times when the British occupied, reminding you of Shimla’s colorful history.
To leave Shimla is to say goodbye to a dear friend. As your bus pulls away, a boy no older than seven guides his cow to a patch of grass. You smile. You have had an experience of a lifetime.