The town is very hilly and full of retired military types (I know this because residents carve their name and status into their gates). Consequently, there are a number of rest stops along the walking paths:
Oh okay, the town is called Kasauli. It's an hour's drive from Kalka train station, which is connected to Delhi by the super-fast Shatabdi Express train.
Next up was Shimla, a little piece of Surrey transplated into India, built with British military needs and aesthetics in mind. Some buildings are well maintained:
Others, not so much.
One of the highlights of this little trip was a tour of the 100-year-old Gaiety Theatre, made famous by Michael Palin in Himalaya. I got chatting to a girl selling tickets out the front, she turned out to be an actor in that night's play and offered to show us around. It is a fairly small theatre, seating about 250 people, but complex is vaster than it appears: there are corridors and rehearsal rooms and even a whole other auditorium on the upper floors.
In the orchestra pit, there is a locked door. Sanam, our beaming guide, pointed to it and said "torture chamber". Apparently that was where the British rulers took Indian miscreants to instruct them in the ways of the Raj (relations between the rulers and the ruled decidedly soured after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny), Alas, the door was locked and no amount of fist-hammering by me would dislodge it. Sanam said there are still instruments down there.
Palin, you missed the lead on that one.
If we could afford it, we would have happily holed up at Wildflower Hall. Unfortunately we had to make do with the lesser of Shimla's three Oberoi properties, Clarkes (actually the very first hotel ever owned by Mr Oberoi, bought by him in the 20s when he'd been working there as a concierge. How did he afford it on a concierge salary?) Clarkes is lovely but in urgent need of a makeover and a decent breakfast buffet.
Wildflower, on the other hand, is grand in a silk-rugged, hand-blown glass chandeliered, pine-cone scented, Venetian mirrored kind of way. Staff waft around on their toes, speaking in hushed tones, and there is no muzak, just quiet. We did go there for a couple of martinis in the Cavalry Bar, whispering as the empty bar was deathly quiet, and the grandeur made me exceedingly conscious of the missing buttons on my coat and smudge of dirt on my jeans.
But oh, what a view from the bar's window:
In Himalaya, Palin recounts staying at the Cecil in Shimla, opening his window to take in some of the glorious mountain air, and promptly receiving a call from reception instructing him to close the window to stave off monkey attacks. Monkeys are everywhere in Shimla: picking nits out of each other on the side of the road, cavorting in rubbish bins, racing across the road in search of a dropped crust of bread, copulating in trees.
Despite the cold, I stopped for an ice-cream at Shimla's main - only? - ice cream stall, Swirls. Swirls offers a range of lasciviously-named ice creams: Luscious Lychee, Vicked Vanilla, Exotic Desire, and so on. Naturally, my flavour of choice - vanilla with chocolate and caramel swirls - had the most suggestive name of all, plus an empty carton.
"Do you have any Carnal Desire?" I asked the ice cream server.
He looked suitably crestfallen. "No, Carnal Desire is finished. We have no Carnal Desire left."
"None at all?" I pressed.
"Wait, maybe there's some in the back."
There was none, so I had to be happy with merely a French Kiss: mocha chocolate that is, not a juicy smooch from Mr Swirls.