Shimla is a magical hill station of enchanting beauty with romantic climate round the year. Framed by high peaks, surrounded by thick forests of pine, Himalayan oak, flowering rhododendron and tall cedars, it offers mixed charms of captivating scenic attractions, along with a splendid built heritage in the northwest Himalayas. Enchanting resorts within easy reach, golf at Naldhera and skiing at Kufri and Narkanda make it an attractive destination throughout the year.
From a little known village whose name is variously quoted as Shimlu, Shemalaya, Semala, Shumla and Shemla, the town went on to become the summer capital of British India and today, this is the state capital of Himachal Pradesh. According to another version, the name of the place is derived from Shamla, blue or dark lady, another name for the Hindu goddess Kali who is held in high veneration in these hills.
Shimla is a visual delight for all seasons. Varieties of colorful flowers bloom in spring and impregnate the air with sweet aroma, while tourists are rewarded with the best sunsets in monsoon. Winter is known as the season of Long Moonlight here. Dark clouds announce the arrival of snow, and when one wakes up the next morning, one can see the whole town transformed into a fairy land of white beauty.
All tourists certainly take a leisure stroll down the Mall, the main promenade that runs along the top of the ridge. All colonial structures are located on the Mall Road. The Mall Road also has all major hotels, restaurants and recreation centers, not to speak of the many shops that sell woolen clothes, branded clothes, handicraft items, pottery items, jewellery, books, and wooden furniture which looks like antique. The restaurants lined up on the mall specialize not only in local cuisine but also delicacies from the nearby regions.
At the top end of the Mall is Scandal Point, a large open square with a view of the town, a favourite meeting place for visitors and the local people. The post office, the town hall, the library and the Gaiety Theatre stand close by.
The Gaiety Theatre abuts both the Mall and the Ridge. The first recorded amateur dramatic performance in Shimla took place here on 9th June 1838. The Amateur Dramatic Club was formally housed in the Gaiety Theatre in 1887. The theater is renowned for its fine acoustics and without the aid of an amplifier; a whisper on the stage will carry to every corner of the hall.
Shimla is strung out on a long crescent shaped Ridge which connects a number of hilltops: Jakhoo, Prospect Hill, Observatory Hill, Elysium Hill and Summer Hill. The Ridge is a maze of narrow streets and bazaars clinging to the south facing hillside. There is a statue of the Punjabi Nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai, at the point where the Mall meets the ridge.
On Shimla’s prominent Ridge lies the neo-Gothic Christ Church. Its first cornerstone was laid on 9th September 1844; the church was designed by Col J.T. Boileau, and was consecrated on 10th January 1857. Later it was extended with the addition of a clock and porch. It dominates the eastern end of town. Even today the church has some interesting memorial tablets while the pews still mark the seats of British Viceroy of India, the Commander-in-Chief and the Punjab’s Governor. The town’s other important church are St. Michael’s Cathedral and Roman Catholic Cathedral, just off the Mall.
The Viceregal Lodge now houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, India’s premier academy for higher research. The site was selected by Lord Lytton, the British Viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880. in Lord Dufferin’s tenure (1884-88), its plans were redrawn and the Lodge built. Henry Irwin was the architect of the building that resembles a Scottish baronial castle. The interior has a remarkable woodwork and this was the first building with electric light in Shimla. After independence in 1947, the building became the property of the President of India and was renamed Rashtrapati Niwas. In 1964, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study was created and housed here.
Very close to the institute in a colonial buildings set in spacious lawns, is the Himachal Museum. It is an hour’s pleasant walk down from the church on the Mall. It has collections of Pahari miniatures, stone sculpture, local handicrafts, textiles and embroidery. It is closed on Mondays.
From the Boileauganj, near the Institute of Advanced Studies, begins the climb to the temple of Kamna Devi on Prospect Hill (2145 m), which offers dramatic views of the surroundings.
A steep climb to the Jahkhoo Hill (2438 m), Shimla’s highest point offers superb views of the surrounding valleys, out to the snowcapped peaks and over Shimla itself. At the top is a Hanuman Temple, a 45 minute walk from the Mall. It is also the home of countless playful monkeys waiting to be fed by all visitors. Jakhoo is a vantage point for witnessing the changing skyline during sunrise and sunset.
The quiet and lovely suburb of Summer Hill (1982m) has secluded, shady walks and charming views. It was here that Gandhiji stayed on his visits to Shimla, in the elegant Georgian mansion that belonged to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Summer Hill is located on the Shimla – Kalka Railway Line (5 km). This railway line was built in 1924 and toy trains still ply on this line. The trains pass through 105 tunnels and the passengers are amply rewarded with beautiful sights, on this line. The glowing lights look like studding jewels amidst the luxuriant green mountains of Shimla.
The Annadale Ground is located in a deep valley in the suburban village of Kaithu, Shimla West, 2-4 kms from the Ridge at height of 1864 m. Its true name was Annadale and its present name Annandale is a misnomer. Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy, one of the first incomers to this place was so awestruck by the beauty of the place that he named it after the name of her young lady. Her name was Anna and ‘dale’ means a valley. So he called the valley as Annadale. Since 1840’s it has been the favourite place for picnic parties, fancy fairs, flower and dog shows, races and gymkhanas and polo matches. Presently there are no more races and the field is utilized as a helipad and for parades and sports and Dussehra Festivities.
Glenn (1830 m) is located 4 kms from Shimla and is just beyond Annadale. Forest trees of pine and deodar surround it and act as a shade for picnickers. A bubbling stream known as Chadwick Falls flows through this place in which tourists take a joyful bath. . The falls are 7 km from Shimla and reached via summer hill.
A serene location with delightful walks, Sanjauli (2257 m), is ideal for a tranquil weekend. There are fine vistas and the lights of Shimla and Chail can be seen twinkling at night. On the other side, Mashobra and Naldehra are visible (3 km).
Attractions around Shimla:
Tara Devi Temple (1851 m) is dedicated to the goddess of stars on the top of the hill, 7 km from Shimla. It is accessible by rail or car. A PWD rest house, a military dairy town and the headquarters of Bharat Scouts and Guides stand close by. It is an ideal place for a person longing for peace and solitude.
Wildflower Hall (2593 m), 13 km from Shimla on the road to Kufri, was the former residence of Indian Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener. It offers fine views of Shimla and mountain peaks in the Pir Panjal and Badrinath ranges. Sankat Mochan (1875 m) has a Hanuman temple and can be reached on foot or by car (7 kms from Shimla).
Noted for its apple orchards and thick woods of oak and pine, Mashobra (2149 m) is a sylvan retreat with pretty forest walks and picnic spots. It is 14 kms from Shimla and is accessible by car. Through thick woods, a side road leads to Bekhalty. From the heart of Mashobra, a pedestrian track leads down to Sipur, a grassy glade with a stream wandering through it. An annual fair is held at Sipur every April. A trek to the Shali Peak – the highest in area – can be made from Mashobra. Carignano, with its rest house of an Italian confectioner is close to Mashobra.
Kufri (2622m) is a noted summer-winter resort and a winter sports capital, with its glorious views of forested slopes and tall ranges, iced on a covering of perpetual snow. During winter (best in January and February), tourists can enjoy skiing in and around Kufri. Equipment for skiing is available from local HPTDC winter sports club. Apart from skiing, Kufri is a lovely picnic spot with a beautiful view of the hills around and the snowy peaks. The zoo here is a children’s delight.
The scenic, nine-hole golf course of Naldehra (23 km) with its springy turf and crown of deodar was laid out at the instance of the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. So enamored he was by the beauty of the spot, that he renamed his younger daughter as Alexandra Naldehra It is a lovely popular picnic spot and the Sipi Fair held in June attracts tourists in large numbers.
45 kms from Shimla, Chail is known for its cricket pitch, the highest cricket ground in the world. Chail was the summer capital of Maharaja of Patiala before Independence. The forests of Chail are home to many species of birds and deer.
How to reach Shimla
332 km from Dharamsala 345 km from Dalhousie
235 km from Kullu 280 km from Manali 143 km from Mandi
568 km from Agra 166 km from Ambala 342 km from Amritsar
119 km from Chandigarh 368 km from Delhi 482 km from Jammu
787 km from Srinagar 629 km from Jaipur 867 km from Lucknow
Air: Shimla Airport 23 kms from the city is connected by daily flights from Delhi and Kullu.
Rail: The journey to Shimla by rail involves a change from broad gauge to narrow gauge at Kalka. The broad-gauge trains run up to Kalka. The Kalka Mail (coming from Delhi reaches Kalka) in the early morning and from Kalka, one has to catch connecting trains on the narrow-gauge to Shimla. The rail car is the most luxurious way to reach the Shimla. The narrow gauge trip to Shimla takes nearly six hours.
Road: All deluxe buses should be booked from the tourist office in the Mall. A variety of buses run between Delhi and Shimla. There are frequent departures from Chandigarh. There are buses north from Shimla to other hill stations in Himachal Pradesh, like Manali, Dharamsala and Mandi. By road Shimla is also well connected with Kalka (95 kms), Amritsar and Jammu.
Local bus services operate from the Cart Road Bus Stand on the north side of the ridge. It’s just below the ice skating rink, on the path which leads off the Mall from besides ANZ Grindlays Bank. Half a km to the east of the main bus stand, a two part `tourist lift’ takes you up to the Mall for Rs 2. It saves a long and tedious climb
Shimla is a shopper’s paradise where one can get good wood carvings, shawls and handicrafts of Himachal Pradesh. The Tibetan Refugee shop, located between the lift and Oberoi Clarke, is worth a visit. It also has weaving bags and clothes and good selection of earrings and other jewellery. Woollen and Pashmina shawls, decorative items, handmade shoes, dolls, woollen caps, carved wooden sticks, toys and other items made form wood are made in Shimla itself and are put on sale in the Lakkar Bazaar. Tibetan jewellery and trinkets are found in the small Tibetan shops near the Ridge.
Shimla has the only natural ice-skating rink in India. An Ice-skating Carnival is arranged every year by the Ice-skating Club during January. Members display their skiing skills on ice and participate in a fancy dress competition on this occasion.
The Summer Festival in Shimla offers the best entertainment. Artistes are invited from all parts of Himachal Pradesh and from other parts of the country to entertain visitors with song, dance and music both Indian and Western. Besides the summer festival, regular cultural programmes are organized in Shimla during the tourist season.
-Md. Masarrath Ali Khan.(Courtesy India Insight)