Chattopadhyay finds out why the capital of Himachal Pradesh
is a unique blend of nature and economics
first met at night. Shimla and me. Around 11 o'clock, when
I checked in at the hotel, not only was I tired after a hard
days work, but the churning sensation in the bowel as
a result of quick manoeuvers round numerous bends and u-turns
on the serpentine hill road had left me zapped. My head was
reeling. I threw myself on the bed, pulled the curtain aside
and suddenly everything changed. There stood the hill clad
in a star-studded robe. The full moon shone like a bindi on
its forehead. Pop-eyed, I walked to the window. The soft,
silvery light bathed the sky. All was quiet except the city
lights flashing from the hill opposite as if the stars have
been spread on the ground. I sat down on the sofa drinking
in the beauty. I do not remember when I went back to the bed
on a ridge
from Tara Devi
barbecue, Hotel Combermere
I woke up next morning, the sun was shining bright. After
breakfast (all hotels serve the usual stuffed parantha, chole
bhature, veg and chicken sandwiches et al), I went to meet
Mohendra Seth, president Hotel Association of Shimla and requested
him to be my guide. If you want to enjoy the beauty
of Shimla, stroll down the walks through the thick pine and
oak forests. Walk down the Mall and you will come across heritage
buildings that are steeped in history and unique in architecture.
Shimla is a walkers' paradise. Next I know, I was out
with him walking down the Circular Road towards the lift.
Yes, the town has a lift connecting the Cart Road to the Mall,
which is open from morning 8 am to 10 pm in the night. Pay
five bucks and youre saved from the trouble of panting
and puffing while trudging all the way uphill because cars
are not allowed in the Mall. In fact, parking is only allowed
in some restricted areas.
in the north-west Himalayas at an altitude of 2130 metres,
Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh. Its salubrious
climate, easy accessibility and numerous attractions have
made it one of the most popular hill stations in northern
India. Barely two centuries ago, the area occupied by modern
day Shimla was a dense forest. The Jakhoo temple along with
a few scattered houses were the only signs of civilisation.
The town came into being in the first quarter of the nineteenth
century. It was in 1819 that the assistant political agent
of the hill states Lt Ross set up the first British residence
in Shimla. Soon other officers followed suit and some four
decades later it became the summer capital of the British.
The decision was taken by Sir John Lawrence who was appointed
the Viceroy in 1863. His most convincing argument was more
work could be done in Shimla in one day than the government
could do in five days in Calcutta. And the building of the
road and the railway line all added up to the growth of the
population. Always a honeymooner's paradise, today Shimla
is fast becoming a preferred destination for corporates to
hold conferences and meetings. Said NC Somaiah, general manager,
Oberoi Cecil, "Multinationals are sending their executives
here for a few days of training and outdoor activities. We
have hosted conferences for GE, Ogilvy & Mather, BPCL
and Eicher to name a few. They come here to mix business with
leisure." Concedes Sanjay Thakur, owner of Combermere,
another fine address in Shimla. "With Chandigarh fast
becoming an industrial hub of north India, more and more businessmen
and executives are travelling to Shimla either for leisure
or for meetings. With the Nathpa Jhakri power project coming
up, we see a lot of people connected with the project halting
here in transit. Ericsson is setting up the exchange for Airtel
and executives of these companies often come here." When
I alighted from the lift at the Mall, the town was just waking
up, yawning. No, people here are not racing against time.
Their laid-back attitude with a smile hanging loose on the
lips made me wonder what are rigmaroles of the city for.
Gone are the days of Raj, but its architectural splendour
exists as part of Shimla's rich legacy. Walk down the Mall,
either taking the western arm or the eastern arm and an assortment
of architecture in Norman Baronial style, Neo-Gothic style
or Swiss Bavarian style greets your eyes. As I walked with
Seth, it gave me a feeling of travelling back in time. In
spite of changes and considerable growth since India became
independent, Shimla is reminiscent of an attempt to build
an English town in India. The Scandal Point in the Mall remains
the hub of Shimlas social life. The place was so named
because saying goes that a British Commander-in-Chief's daughter
eloped from the spot with the Maharaja of Patiala. However,
according to historians it is more likely that the name is
the result of it long being the place where people gathered
for conversation. A landmark architecture on the main mall
is the Gaiety Theatre, which was opened in 1887. Renowned
for its fine acoustics, it witnessed the histrionics of famous
personalities like writer Rudyard Kipling, artist Amrita Shergil,
famous singer KL Saigal, and actors like the famous Kendalls
and Anupam Kher. Further down the Mall, just short of the
lift is Combermere bridge which was the first construction
of a public nature in the town. Himachal State Museum, perched
atop Inverarm, is an old colonial building. Ancient historical
sculptures, pahari miniature paintings, philately, coins and
a separate Gandhi gallery reflect the cultural heritage of
the Shimla. It has a historical letter box that the British
got from Dharamshala.
building worth a dekho is the Viceregal Lodge. Built during
the viceroyalty of Lord Dufferin (between 1884-1888), this
five-storey building is a magnificent example of Victorian
architecture. The lush green gardens sprawl across 100 acres.
Now, it houses the Indian Institute of Advance Studies.
20 minutes walk down from the Viceregal Lodge and you come
to the Kennedy Chowk, past the Cecil Hotel. A road downhill
(theres a road plaque) leads to the Glen, which offers
an excellent walk through rustling woods. About 1.5 km down
the line, the path of the glen branches off the main road.
Another kilometre along a narrow trail will take you to this
wooded ravine where several tiny brooks pour their water into
a large perennial stream. This is a Reserve forest and is
one of Shimla's oldest and popular picnic spot. The oaks,
rhododendrons, deodar and pines stand huddled together. The
undergrowth is luxuriant too. You can see pheasants, black
partridges, yellow throated martins, and if lucky barking
deer, foxes and leopard cats.
A wide road from the Scandal Point goes up towards the ridge.
The level ground at the ridge is the favourite evening rendezvous
for visitors. Spread across 12 kms along the ridge, which
overlooks terraced hillsides, cultivations and dense forests,
Shimla covers seven hills - Prospect Hill, which has the temple
of Kamna Devi, Summer Hill, Observatory Hill, Inverarm, which
houses the state museum, Bantony, Jakhoo hill and Elysium.
I stood on the ridge staring at the verdant green slopes covered
with fir, rhododendron, pine and the Himalayan oak. Nestling
among the foliage are traditional homesteads. The Kinner range
with snow-capped crest runs in a semi-circle. A soft soothing
breeze caressed me as the serenity seeped in. Perched on the
Ridge is Christ Church consecrated in 1857 and embellished
with some fine stained glass. The fresco that surrounds it
was designed by writer Rudyard Kipling's father, Lockwood
Kipling. Adjacent to the church is the neo-Tudor structure
of the library.
The road uphill between the church and the library leads to
Jakhoo hill, while the one that forks left goes down to Lakkar
Bazaar, famous for wooden handicraft items. You can ride a
pony to Jakhoo hill if you want (the pony stand is right here),
or climb 1.5 km uphill. Replete with history and architectural
charm, the forested hill towers over Shimla and offers a birds
eye view. As swish blows the air through the pine branches,
a light, sweet aroma comes wafting. A temple, dedicated to
Lord Hanuman who is believed to have rested here, crowns the
hill. "Watching sunset and sunrise are really spectacular
experiences," Seth said. I missed it this time.
Shimla is an ideal place to unwind. If you want to jive away
the night, then sorry you have come to the wrong place because
Shimla doesn't really have a nightlife. After 8, the shops
roll down the shutters and then it is you, the hills and the
rustling woods. That is not to say there isn't any entertainment.
The government is planning to revive the theatrical activities
at the Gaiety Theatre. There's a pool hut called City Pool
in Lakkar Bazaar. The Indira Gandhi Sports Complex offers
a temporary membership at Rs 25 per hour. And you can have
a go at the badminton or tennis court and use the gymnasium.
However, the best way to enjoy the stay is by forgetting all
the frills of city life. Just relax and enjoy the picturesque
beauty - enough to soothe your frayed nerves.
If you are not time-starved, it is best
to travel here on the quaint hill train from Kalka,
which was commissioned for service in January 1, 1906.
The Shivalik Deluxe Express with a seating capacity
of 120 seats, chugs over dramatic loops, high arched
bridges, passing through 102 tunnels to the hill resort
Air : Vayudoot services connect Jubbor-Hatti
(23 kms from Shimla) with Kullu, Chandigarh and Delhi.
Delhi is in turn connected with Calcutta by Indian Airlines
flights. Jagson Airlines has also flights from Delhi
to Shimla. Fare: Calcutta-Delhi Rs 4797 (J), Rs 3445
Rail: Shimla is connected by a narrow gauge railway
line with Kalka (90 kms) which in turn is connected
with the major cities in India. Fare (approx): Calcutta-Shimla
Rs 1406 (AC-2A), Rs 1105 (I), Rs 334 (II).
Road: Regular bus services connect Shimla with Chandigarh
117 kms, Kullu 220 kms, Manali 260 kms, Delhi 343 kms,
Mandi 150 kms, Pathankot 380 kms, Ambala 151 kms, Chail
43 kms, Dehradun 240 kms etc.
Local Transport: Taxis are available here as the
main local transport. Fare : Basic rate for outstation
is Rs 6 per kms with a minimum charge of 150 kms per
day plus Rs 80 as night halt charge.
has no dearth of hotels - a total of 280 to be precise.
There are some 30 hotels in the mid-market category
whose tariff ranges between Rs 650-1600 and an assortment
of 5-star, 4-star, heritage and boutique properties.
Cecil, (Grand Heritage property) Chaura Maidan, Shimla.
Tel:91-177-20 4848, email: www.thececil.com
The 79 key property is located at the quiet end of
the famous Mall and is an ideal base from which to
discover the unique beauty of the mountain ranges,
pine and cedar forests. A fireplace at the entrance
offers a warm welcome, while the rooms overlook the
Himalayan ranges. Cecils decor epitomise classic
elegance. It has a heated indoor swimming pool, a
health spa and offers tailor-made flexible conference
packages. Tariff: Between Rs 6,000 -9,000
Clarkes Hotel, 4 star The Mall, Shimla, Tel:
91 -177-25 1010
Clarkes Hotel embodies the charm and elegance
of yesteryear with conveniences of today. The rooms
are spacious and tastefully furnished. The conference
hall can accommodate up to 100 persons and is equipped
with modern facilities. Tariff ranges between Rs 4650
Asia The Dawn, 4-star, Tara Devi, Shimla, Tel:
This 38-room property offers all modern facilities.
Theres a health club with Jacuzzi, steam, sauna
and massage services, a gift shop and 24-hour currency
It is the only hotel connected from Circular Road
to Mall Road by its own lift. Centrally heated, the
rooms are tastefully decorated. All the 43 rooms open
to a balcony, while the suites have private terraces
and mini bars. Tariff: Rs 1800 - 4000
Hotel Holiday Home, Tel: 0177- 212890
Himachal Tourisms flagship hotel is conveniently
located and offers comprehensive facilities. There
is a 120-cover restaurant serving Chinese, Indian,
Continental and Himachali cuisine. The best ones in
the mid-market category which offer a comfortable
stay are Ashiana Regency, Baljee's Regency, Crystal
Palace, Harsha, Lord's Grey and Pine View. Tariff
varies between Rs 700 -1600.
The Chalets, Naldehra
This boutique hotel extends from a thickly forested
mountain spur and has a view of a deep valley. In
fact, every window offers a different view. It has
been built from fir logs imported from Finland. Privacy
and comfort are the hallmark of every log-home. It
also offers a range of activities golf, white water
rafting on the Sutlej, horse riding etc. Special 2
nights /3 days packages are on offer which can be
extended up to 7 nights/8 days.
Surprisingly, the Ashiana restaurant
on the Ridge, run by HPTDC, is the only place that offers
Himachali cuisine (three dishes to be precise), while
Dominos and Barista have made inroads. Otherwise, you
get all the regular tandoor and curry items, Chinese
and a wide choice of drinks. For a quick bite try the
varieties of pastries. Check out the following joints
for good nosh. Pure Vegetarian: Nalini in the Mall,
Deepak Bhojanalaya and Agarwalji's in the middle bazaar
area. Fast Food Joints: Dominos, Barista, Beekays, City
Point, Food Dotcom. Bakeries: City Point, Trishool,
Pastry Garden, Baljees Restaurants: Devicos, Fascination,
Alfa, New Plaza (middle bazaar)
The Mall, Lower Bazaar and Lakkar Bazaar
offer quite a variety of shopping options to pick and
Readymades: If you want to pick up some readymades head
for Deewan Chand Atma Ram, rated as the best in Shimla.
It deals in woollen clothings, shawls, shirts, jeans
etc. You can also try Shezadi, which deals in designer
salwar kameez, shawls and gowns. Snowhite, Top Shop
or Chaman's are other joints for both gents and ladies
Emporium, a unit of HP State Handicraft and Handloom
Corporation Limited, offers traditional jewellery,
tea, shawls, caps, socks, gloves and other handicraft
items. It has a separate section on furniture. Lakkar
Bazaar is famous for wooden handicraft items and souvenirs.
A number of shops sell a variety of decorative wooden
articles like lipstick holder, trays etc.
Gifts: Wardhan Corporation, or Happy Brothers
on the Mall are other options for gift items.
Leather products: Shimla has some good Chinese show
stores. Hop in at Hopson & Co, C Fook Chong &
Co or Ta Tung.
There are some beautiful places around Shimla. The roads,
often laced with orchards, wind through undulating hills
robed in pine and cedar forests, providing wonderful
views of wide floored valleys and the magnificent Himalayas.
You can hire a taxi or book conducted tours offered
by Himachal tourism.
An hour's drive from Shimla situated at an altitude
of 2622m, it offers an excellent view of Badrinath,
Kedarnath, Pirpanjal and Shivalik ranges. It is famous
for Yak riding. A winter sports capital, it offers
excellent facilities for skiing.
Chail: Built on the three hills, the former
capital of the Maharaj of Patiala is situated about
45 kms from Shimla. It's a charming tourist resort,
well known for its cricket pitch, the highest in the
world, wildlife and Sidh Baba ka Mandir. Walking through
the majestic pines, or excellent view of Choor Chandni
and twinkling lights of Shimla at night can be a memorable
Naldehra: Originally called Naldeo, it is 23 km
from Shimla and offers a breathtaking view of thick
pine forest . It has India's oldest nine-hole golf
course laid out by the British viceroy Lord Curzon.
It also hosts the annual Sippi fair in June. A leisurely
walk through the pines acts as a tranquilizer.
Narkanda: Situated on the Hindustan Tibet Highway
at a distance of 64 kms from Shimla, it is at an altitude
of 2708 m. It offers a panoramic view of the inner
Himalayas. Eight kms from Narkanda is the Hattu peak
at the height of 3300 m, which has a choice of ski
slopes - a beginners' run, a slalom slope and sharper
dissents for the seasoned skier.
Pabbar Valley: The drive to Hatkoti and Rohru
in the Pabbar valley will take around 4-5 hours. Fruit
laden orchards border the route. The ancient temple
of Hatkoti is situated on the bank of Pabbar river,
while Rohru is an excellent place for fresh water
Sankat Mochan: This is a temple located 7 kms
from Shimla at an Altitude of 1851 m. It is dedicated
to Lord Hanuman and commands an excellent view of
Kasauli: About 77 kms from Shimla, this small
hill station is encircled by woods of pine, oak and
horse chestnut. On one hand, it offers a spectacular
view of the snow-capped Himalayas and on the other
a panoramic view of the well planned city of Chandigarh.
Tattapani: At a distance of 51 kms from Shimla,
past Mashobra and Naldehra are the hot sulphur springs
of Tattapani which are known for their therapeutic
powers. From here drive 10 kms to Karsog, which is
surrounded by beautiful orchards.