Going to Shimla, 150 years ago

Ambala to Kalka, in 4 hours and 4 rupees

150 years ago, the journey from Ambala to Kalka used to take four hours. Shimla-bound travellers came up to Ambala by train, and then chose between the government van or the dak-gadi (mail van). The government van was more comfortable. A small four-wheeled carriage drawn by two horses, it had four seats and space for light luggage. A seat cost Rs 4 one-way, and a passenger was allowed 12 seers (about 12kg) of luggage free of charge. Extra baggage cost 4 annas per seer, or a rupee for every 4kg. Depending on the season, the van started early morning or afternoon. The horses averaged about 15kmph at a gallop, and were changed every 10km.

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There was a dak bungalow at Dera Bassi, the half-way point between Ambala and Kalka.

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A night’s stay in Kalka cost 1 rupee

On reaching Kalka from Ambala, a traveller could choose from 3 hotels, run by Mrs McBarnett, Mrs Johnstone, and Mrs Bain, respectively. A room cost Re 1 per night; breakfast Re 1, dinner Rs 1.25. A quart bottle of imported Bass beer was for Re 1, but Shimla beer was only 10 annas. Brandy, sherry and port were more expensive than Scotch whiskey — Rs 3 a bottle to Rs 2.5 — but brandy was also sold by the glass, for 6 annas.

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Pinjore gardens were a thriving orchard

The Mughal gardens at Pinjore had become a profitable orchard under the Maharaja of Patiala, although the watercourses were still maintained and the palaces were let out to Europeans. There were more than 2,000 orange trees, besides many others, on the 150 acres. A contractor rented the grounds for Rs 1,200 a year, and his profit was estimated to be more than Rs 3,000.

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