Thursday, March 12, 2009


Shimla - the aging Charmer

The seven picturesque hills of Shimla are in Southern Himachal, 117 km from Chandigarh. This once favorite summer retreat of the erstwhile Britons have so changed over the years that if the souls of its founders are to be come back for a dekko, they would either be saddened or gladdened to see it transform into the poshest of tourist magnets amongst the Himalayan hill-stations. The Mall street is lined with branded showrooms, the city is studded with hep resorts and out of every seven heads, one is a rtourist. Considering the phenomenal tourist hobnob, at times, slicing out your space - so wanting of such laid-back vacations - may be difficult in a place Shimla. This difficulty is promptly attended to with the neighboring getaways, the resorts, the golf at Naldehra and skiing at Kufri and Narkanda, and Shimla continues to charm her visitors.


The Mall: A languid stroll through the main pedestrian avenue, the Mall that runs along the top of the ridge, is sine qua non for everyone visiting Shimla. This hustling promenade is lined with shops, old colonial buildings, souvenir shops and eateries, once used to be animated with gossip-loving Britons. The Scandal Point, at the junction of the Ridge and the Mall is a legendary favorite and the views of the entire locale from here are as exotic. Overlooking it is the elegant Christ Church with its fine stained glass windows. And just below the ridge is the sprawling Annandale, the venue for races, polo matches, cricket and so on.

Gaiety Theatre: Located on the Mall road, is one of the oldest theatres in the world that was inaugurated way back in1887, Queen Victoria's Jubilee Year. Notable personalities of Indian cinema like K.L. Saigal, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendall, Raj Babbar, Anupam Kher, Manohar Singh, Nasseerudin Shah, have performed on the stage of the Gaiety theatre. An evening watching a local drama can be exhilarating.

Jhakoo Hill: A short, but steep climb east of The Ridge will take you to the base of the Jhaku Hill, the highest point in Shimla, at an altitude of 2,445m (7,800 ft.). You need to trudge up a steep 1.5 km (1mile) path to reach the summit, where is perched a little Hanuman temple - a curious blend of Hindu faith and Christian elements suggested by the tinsel and streamer decorations. Once there, adjust your lenses for the photo-shoot for natural beauty of this kind should not go unrecorded.

Institute of Advanced Studies: The grey Gothic-style Viceregal Lodge, set amidst sprawling gardens, houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. Even in 1888 it had electric light and an indoor tennis court, both rare and advanced for that period. The ambience creates an aura of antiquity not to be missed. The grounds are open for visitors only on Sundays.

Himachal State Museum: Very close to the Institute, in a colonial building set in spacious lawns, is the museum. It has collections of Pahari miniatures, stone sculpture, local handicrafts, textiles and embroidery.

The Shimla Toy Train: The Indian Railway and Himachal Tourism revamped the 1903 toy train (fondly called), into a luxury train for tourists. The train sketches a track from Kalka to Shimla through 20 stations, 103 tunnels, 969 bridges and 919 curves in its entire journey. This 'small wonder' also appears in the Guinness Book of World Records as the greatest narrow gauge engineering achievement in India. This train journey through the panoramic hills should not be missed.

Adventure trails: Camping, Bungee Jumping, Cycling, Horse Riding, Para Gliding, Safaries, Skating, Trekking, Wild Life, Yak Riding are the various options you have once at Shimla.


Hunt for colorful Kinnauri shawls, mufflers, and caps; Pangwali blankets from Chamba; Kangra-school miniature paintings; Buddhist thangkas (banners) from Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti and multicolored hand-knitted woolen socks from Lahaul at The Mall street locale. The Himachal Emporium, a little beyond Scandal Point, has the best buys. Right below the ridge is the Lakkad Bazaar which offers just anything imaginable carved out of wood. Diwanchand Atmaram is famous for its woollen ware. If you still have time head for the Tibetan market, right down the Scandal Point, for casual jeans, T-shirts, bags, shoes, jackets et al. And if you are a brand-freak, The Mall has lots of them lined up for you.


Non-vegetarian dishes, with a generous dose of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and red chilies, are an integral part of Himachali cuisine, considering that vegetables are hard to get by during the harsh snow-bound months. These include exotic dishes like Chasnidar Maas (mutton in a sweet and spicy gravy) and mutton cooked in yoghurt. In Himachali cooking, spices are not fried in ghee or oil. Instead, these are added to the dish at the end, to retain the flavour. Another distinctive feature of Himachali cooking is that the rich, highly flavoured and seasoned preparations avoid the excessive use of onion and garlic, favouring the use of lassi (buttermilk) instead. Himachal is known as the fruit-bowl of India with a thriving food processing industry that churns out fruit-based drinks, squashes and concentrates. The popular flavours are plum, litchi, strawberry, mango and guava. For alcoholic drinks, try the locally brewed wines such as apricot, plum and apple & ginger cider. In predominantly Tibetan areas, a rice wine known as "Chang" is popular.

Go to Devicos, beyond the Scandal Point, for its pao bhaji. Baljee's, on the eastern end of The Mall, is popular for its delectable Indian and Western cuisine. As for the local cuisine, you only need to follow the direction of the aroma.


Mashobra (12 km): The sequestered Mashobra village, with one of India's loveliest hotels - Wildflower Hall, is an ideal base for treks up the area's highest peak Shali at 10,000 ft. or for a stroll to the "sacred grove" of Sipur, which is crowned with a small indigenous-style temple dedicated to the local deity, Seep.

Naldhera (22km): Beyond Mashobra is the the popular recreational resort of Naldehra. Other than the Golf Course and the cedar forests, the charming log huts studded in the lush grasslands, make it a warm overnighting locale. The hot sulphur springs of Tattapani, noted for their curative effects, lie a farther 28 km away.

Chail (45 km): Go there to see for yourself how the world's highest cricket pitch at 7,800 ft. and the highest polo ground looks like. A romantic legend (a scandalous one for the Britons) goes that the Maharajah of Patiala, eloped with (or abducted, again depending on who's telling the story) the daughter of Lord Kitchener. Predictably, he was forced to return the daughter and was banished from Shimla for ever, which made his construe his own summer capital at Chail.

Kufri (12 km): Only half-hour drive away from Shimla is Kufri with a fine forested slopes and a ski-resort. It also has a Himalayan Nature park and close by is the Indira Tourist Park with HPTDC's Cafe Lalit. Here one can enjoy a Pony or a Yak Ride. Incase your trip is timed somewhere between January to March, don't miss out the winter sports festival held every February. One can also hike through thick forest around Kufri to the Mahasu Peak - the highest one in Kufri.

Narkanda (64 km): Narkanda, located amidst fragrant pine forests is a winter ski resort. It has a choice of slopes ranging from a beginners run and a slalom slope, to sharper descents for the experienced skier. A winding route with some breath-taking views link Narkanda with Shimla.

Location :
Center of Himachal Pradesh, North India

Go there for :
Resorts, Adventure, Shimla Toy Train

Climate :
-4° to18°C (Win); Upto 30°C (Sum)

When to Go:

Local Tongue:
Himachali, Hindi

STD Code :
+91 - 177

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