Shimla – Summer Capital of India

by Rosemarie John on January 4, 2014

Shimla – a refuge from the burning plains of Hindustan. This is how the British East India Company saw Shimla as they set about converting this beautiful place into the summer capital of British India. The remnants of the Raj can still be seen here in its neo-Gothic structures.  This was our first pit stop for the day from New Delhi.

The Journey

We settled down in our comfortable car all strapped in and ready with Rajesh our new driver who would be our guide and companion for the rest of the trip. We soon left New Delhi and headed off to Shimla.  The scenery outside was changing colours from dusty haze to slightly clearer skies. We passed tractors and trucks coming into New Delhi laden with all sorts of merchandise for the bazaars of the Indian Capital.  Passing through industrial and housing zones and road side vendors, the brown suburban landscape was also changing to shades of green.

After a couple of hours into the journey, the driver told us that he would be taking a small detour via Punjab before he enters Himachal Pradesh. He mumbled something about corrupt cops on the border who would unnecessarily rummage through our luggage just to get a few bucks and spoil our journey.  Outside the scenery was fast changing to furious greens. We were passing mustard fields and there were yellow mustard flowers everywhere.  The temperature was cooler and we rolled down the windows. The air was fresh and fragrant.

Ambala2-RJohn

The potato patches near the restaurant

Our first break was in Ambala somewhere in interior Punjab. Standing amidst fields of golden mustard flowers was a lonesome restaurant called The Parkview Restaurant.  We were all apprehensive about the food in this place. It was deserted with no one in view. After a few minutes a waiter appeared and took our orders. We all felt that we might as well nibble something and head out as quickly as possible. The restaurant only served chicken and that is what we ordered.  After a few minutes we heard chopping sounds in the kitchen! We realised that they were serving everything fresh. Apparently they don’t precook the food as they hardly have any clientèle.  After 30 minutes or so the food arrived and we were so unsure how it would taste.

But the food was DELICIOUS! We had ordered Chicken Amritsari and Tangri Kebab and they were simply mouth-watering. So satisfied were we that we hung around that place a wee bit longer than we expected taking some pictures of the vast fields and livestock. Chatted a bit with the owner and headed back into the car to resume our journey.

Ambala1-RJohn

Tangri Kebab – the best from our two week trip!

Ambala3-RJohn

The simple restaurant along the road side

It took a total of 8 hours from New Delhi to Shimla. Some of us dozed off after lunch and somewhere in between my naps I noticed that the car had left the plains of Hindustan and was climbing the hills.

Two Nights in Shimla

Shimla in Himachal Pradesh is not a very big town. Strung out along a 12 kilometre ridge, the once former summer capital of British India is a hill town that can either mesmerise  or disenchant you or make no impression at all.

Known for its picturesque scenery of snow covered roof tops, Shimla can create a whole different feel when Mother Nature decides to hold off on her white winter magic wand. Because without its snow the magic is gone. What stares at you is the filth of stinking garbage littered on these pretty hills and mar its beauty considerably. So you need to wait for the translucent hexagonal ice crystals that fall in soft, white flakes.  We were unlucky to miss the snow but nonetheless Shimla was a breath of fresh air (literally) as compared to the blistering city of Delhi.

Shimla2-RJohn

We were thankful for the crisp air and clear blue skies but we winced at the surroundings, for the garbage dumps and ill kept roads successfully negated the magical appeal that Shimla is famous for.

When we arrived in Shimla, the car wound its way along the side of the hill through extremely narrow roads that aren’t equipped for two way traffic. After a few angry honking sessions and calculated driving by the very edge of the hill side we began to see that everything about this famous little hill resort sits on higher levels. The hotels and restaurants are situated on the midway slopes and the poor live on lower and very muddy slopes. The hierarchy of the town, maybe.

Shimla7-RJohn

Narrow and winding roads towards Shimla

The official centre of town is Scandal Point with a flat open area known as “The Ridge” which stretches east to Christ Church, the second oldest church in North India constructed in 1846. The famous pedestrian-only Mall (not to be mistaken for a large shopping complex) runs west to east along the spine of the hill.

Getting there is only by foot.. There is no way around that. So if you aren’t keen in walking at all, the remnants of British architecture will evade you.  Though there is a passenger lift on Cart Road that can take you up to the midway point, there is still a lot of walking to do. With the cool 4 degrees weather in December, walking everywhere is pleasant even when huffing and puffing uphill.

Though the streets are heavily polluted and the vehicles and trucks emit dark thick black exhaust smoke, Shimla is a non-smoking town. There is a hefty fine if caught smoking. It seemed rather ironic at first but I guess it’s a good start!

Shimla lies in the south-western ranges of the Himalayas with an average altitude of 7866 feet above sea level. Since the city is spread on a ridge and its seven spurs, it’s a hill resort unique in its own way despite the lack of wintry magic. Here are my shots of the town…

Shimla1-RJohn

The various hotels and local housing perched on the hill side

Shimla9-RJohn

The lift at Cart Road can reduce the amount of uphill walking  Great if you have older people with you

Shimla10-RJohn

Once out of the lift, the view below, there isn’t much space to park cars

Shimla11-RJohn

Since no vehicles are allowed, there is still much walking to do before you reach The Ridge

Shimla12-RJohn

Shimla, once the summer capital of British India known for imported cigarettes and cigars, has been declared “smoking-free city”

Shimla14-RJohn

For a breather, stop and shop at some of the local stores. Most of the shopping are more essential needs that gorgeous embroideries that the big cities of India are known for

Shimla15-RJohn

A few more steps to The Ridge

Shimla13-RJohn

Finally there and the first beautiful building we see is Christ Church. Built by Colonel J. T. Boileau in neo-Gothic style and consecrated in 1857 served the largely Anglican British community.

Shimla16-RJohn

Town Hall – Built in 1860 out of stone and timber, the Town Hall which represents typical European architecture, housed the Municipal Corporation offices

Shimla17-RJohn

The building right beside the church is the Shimla Public Library, a Tudorbethan-styled building built in 1910

Things to do in Shimla

  • Travel 13kms from Shimla to Kufri to trek to Mahasu Peak.
  • Get photographed with a Yak or with traditional costumes for a fee.
  • Visit the various temples like Tara Devi or trek to Jakhu Hill located 2 kms from Shimla where a bright red 33 metre tall statue of Hanuman, a Hindu deity is situated.
  • Go ice skating at the Ridge but this doesn’t exist if the temperatures don’t drop.
  • Visit Christ Church, shop at Mall Road or photograph the Viceregal Lodge.

Shimla8-RJohn

I just had too… my first Yak encounter in Kufri

You could guess then that there is nothing much you could do in Shimla. You could stay holed up in the hotel if you so desire but if you venture out there wasn’t anything much to see or shop. Can be quite frustrating. Luxury travel would then just mean staying at the hotel, eating some good food and enjoying the cold weather.

It appeared this was what most of the guests at the hotel were doing. We had looked around and explored a bit. The night we arrived from Delhi we couldn’t go out as everything closes by 7pm. The next day was soon over as there wasn’t anything much to see. So we sat down in the evening talking about tomorrow when we have to get on with our journey… where we will go higher and deeper into Himachal Pradesh to Kulu – Kulu Manali as the locals call it.

Where to stay

We stayed at the Radisson Shimla located about a 15 minutes’ walk to the stairs that takes you up to the Ridge and Mall. The rooms are large and clean but the bathroom and amenities are very dated. Most of the electrical sockets don’t work and we had to make do with one that was actually connected to the stand lamp. The buffet spread was lovely. They had a good selection of appetisers and main course but we couldn’t say the same for their dessert section. Overall, it’s a decent place to stay with lovely views of the mountains especially from the terrace.

More Information: Hotel Official Website

Location: Goodwood Estate, Lower Bharari Rd, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, 171001 India

How much: Room for approximately 7499 INR (USD 121) plus taxes

The Good: The cosy bed gave a good night sleep no doubt. The lovely views from the hotel terrace make for great snapshots and if walking out for dinner in the freezing cold isn’t your cup of tea, try their delicious dinner buffet.

The Bad: They aren’t very good in their desserts. The rooms are dated especially their electrical sockets.

Shimla3-RJohn

Our comfortable but dated room

Shimla4-RJohn

Pretty dinner setting at the hotel’s restaurant

Shimla5-RJohn

Delicious Indian breakfast – Poori and Potatoes

Shimla6-RJohn

The exterior of the hotel’s restaurant where dinner and breakfast is served

Shimla18-RJohn

Shimla’s cool climate is the precise reason why it is such a popular summer retreat. You could get to Shimla either by train, road or flight

You might also enjoy reading...

Previous post:

Next post: