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 -- Daily flights connect Shimla with Delhi (1 hr.); try Kingfisher for the best service and price. Weather can interfere with flights in and out of Shimla's Jubbar Hatti Airport, 23km (14 miles) from the city (taxi into town around Rs 650). Some flights also continue on to 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. It's 96km (60 miles) of travel 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 historic train was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008. 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.
Check out the website of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC; tel. 0177/265-4589; www.himachaltourism.nic.in) if you really must, and you can even pop into their office for what feels like a sharp, unenthusiastic slap in the face. Much better to simply ask at your hotel or guesthouse for help -- they'll be more likely to (a) respond, and (b) recommend interesting and decent places to stay elsewhere in Himachal. Be extremely wary of advice suggesting you should stay at one of the HPTDC-run establishments, which generally offer some of the most appalling lodgings and service in the country.
On Foot -- Central Shimla is free of traffic, which means that you'll spend a lot of your time exploring on foot. You'll need some degree of stamina to deal with the numerous steep inclines, and as much patience dealing with the constant mob of fellow pedestrians, especially during the summer. 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 historian 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 $170 (for two people this includes lunch, for larger groups evening tea). In 2010, Raaja plans to start doing customized Himachal trips around the entire state, arranging everything from transport to accommodation, and including some of the very best insights into Himachali life.
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; you may need to approach one of them to arrange transport, tours, and trekking around the state. Be warned, however, that we've been increasingly disenchanted with the service provided out of Shimla, so you might want to contact one of the operators recommended in other parts of this chapter and have them collect you in Shimla (or Delhi if you prefer). One agent you can approach is Band Box (9 The Mall; tel. 98-1606-1160 or 0177/265-8157), although because it's a small business (and operates from the back of a clothing store) you don't always find someone in the office.
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.