State: Himachal Pradesh
Distance: 342 km N of Delhi
When to go: Best from March to June; winter for snow
Tourist Offices: HPTDC, The Mall, Shimla
Tel: 0177-2652561, 2658302
Himachal Tourism, Tourist Information Centre, Victory Tunnel, Shimla
HPTDC, 36, Chandralok Building, Janpath, New Delhi
Tel: 011-23325320/ 4764
Web: hptdc.nic.in, himachaltourism.gov.in
STD code: 0177
Air: Jubbarhatti Airport (23 km/ 1 hr)
Rail: Nearest metre gauge railhead is Shimla
Road: route from Delhi NH1 to Ambala via Panipat, Karnal and Pipli; NH22 to Shimla via Dera Bassi, Panchkula, Kalka and Kandaghat
It is easy to see why Shimla tops most Indians’ must-visit list: it’s the only hill station to combine the beauty of the high Himalaya, the energy of a city and the sleepy charms of a hill station. At 6,890 ft, it boasts lovely deodar forests and mountain views. As the capital of British India, and now of Himachal Pradesh, it offers the complete package: you’ll easily spot your Barista and ICICI here, though they will be sheltered in atmospheric old buildings. At the same time, it’s very much a hometown for its own denizens who keep daily appointments with friends on The Ridge and flock to The Mall to eat bhuttas under their umbrellas in the rain.
Things to see and do
With a ban on motor vehicles in place for the most part, the Shimla Mall is one of the longest stretches of open-air, pedestrian eating-shopping-walking promenades in the world. For all practical purposes, the tourists’ walkable Mall stretch extends from The Ridge to the Viceregal Lodge for some 3 km, though strictly speaking, the entire Mall runs for 6 km from Chhota Shimla, a suburb, to the Viceregal Lodge.
The Ridge-to-Viceregal Lodge bit of The Mall forms the core of the notified ‘Heritage Zone’ of Shimla. The horse rides and ice-cream vendors draw children, while the hot bhuttas and the bars and restaurants draw adults.
This small, flat, open area is the place of action: horse rides, photographers, battery-operated Helicopter rides for children, shops and restaurants, a couple of ATMs, the HP Tourist Info Centre with its bus and railway ticket counters... all of it is here. At one end of The Ridge is Scandal Point, named because of the number of romantic rendezvous that were, in Colonial times, arranged here. The glamorous area of The Mall’s big shops as well as Lakkar Bazaar, where you can pick up wooden souvenirs, are close by.
The silhouette of Christ Church (in operation since 1857) and its cream-coloured spires can be seen for miles as you approach Shimla. The Sunday morning service is a musical pleasure with the church choir and the historic organ. The charming little red-roofed stone building of the State Library (1860) is near the church. The erstwhile Bandstand (1907) is recognisable as it houses HP Tourism’s Ashiana Restaurant.
Jakhoo is the tallest of Shimla’s hills (7,500 ft), and towers over The Ridge. It’s crowned by the famous Jakhoo Hanuman Temple and a gigantic statue of the god. There are viewing points and benches looking out to enchanting sunrises and sunsets. Behind Jakhoo Hill, Elysium Hill affords views of Shimla spread out below. Lord Auckland chose this hill for his home, Auckland House, now a school.
Heritage Buildings on the Mall
As you come out of The Ridge stretch, a veritable parade of historic buildings accompanies you down the winding Mall. Moving out of The Ridge area, just as the shops to the left taper off, look out for the red, green and grey Telegraph Building on your right. A Telegraph Office stood here from 1886 to 1922, but this building, now housing the BSNL office, is over 90 years old. If you take the path going down to your left, you’ll reach the Catholic Church (1885) built under Lord Ripon. The grey sandstone building is austere but lovely. Back on The Mall, you can stroll on to see the pretty State Bank of India Building (1903) which once housed the Imperial Bank.
Up on the hillock behind State Bank Building is the Kali Bari Temple, over 150 years old. Walking ahead from SBI is the Railway Board building (1896), an unusual looking structure. It has a metallic outer frame fixed with just nuts and bolts.
Next comes the impressive Gorton Castle, the red roof and turrets of which you can see from various points in Shimla. The present building is the HP Accountant General’s office. Right behind Gorton Castle is the Vidhan Sabha. If you go on straight, you come to The Oberoi Cecil, at Chaura Maidan. A road leading upwards takes you to the State Museum on Inverarm Hill. Or go onwards to the Viceregal Lodge. From Chaura Maidan, take the road to the right of the hill through quiet, woody stretches. You can see the old house called Yarrows in which Muhammad Ali Jinnah once lived.
His residence (at the spot where Hotel Peterhoff now stands) not being grand enough for the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin got himself a new house in 1888. The Viceregal Lodge may be called a lodge but it is far more imposing. When it was built, Maples of London supplied the furnishings, and it’s said that the Indian income tax was introduced to pay for it all! One can still walk around in the main hall and the small museum here.
Annandale and Glen
Annandale is best known as a helipad but the area is a large glade with a golf course, surrounded by thick deodar woods, with a charming temple by the edge. It was once the place for fairs and polo. The Glen is a thickly wooded ravine. A small stream flows through it. Buses go down to Annandale while the footpath to Glen branches off about midway on this road.
Where to stay
Woodville Palace (Tel: 0177- 2622516, 2624038, Cell: 09418020516; Tariff: INR 5,000-12,000; www.woodvillepalacehotel.com) was the home of the Maharaja of Jubbal. The green-and-white building and towers of The Oberoi Cecil (Tel: 2804848; Tariff: INR 15,500-40,000; www.oberoihotels.com) are a landmark. The Oberoi Group also runs the Clarkes Hotel (Tel: 2651010-15; Tariff: INR 7,200-9,800; www.clarkesshimla.com), on the lower Mall. Originally built in 1835, the Chapslee (Tel: 2802542; Tariff: INR 17,500-27,000; www.chapslee.com) was home to Lord Auckland, before it was bought by the Maharaja of Kapurthala. Hotel Springfields (Tel: 2621297-98; Tariff: INR 4,000-6,500; hotelspringfields.com) is a lovely option in Chhota Shimla. Another heritage choice is Woodrina (Tel: 2647507, Cell: 09816069315; Tariff: INR 2,100-3,200; www.hotelwoodrina.com), on Kufri Road.
Among the modern hotels, Hotel Combermere (Tel: 2651246-48, Cell: 09816077907; Tariff: INR 6,000-13,500; www.hotelcombermere.com) is luxurious and located next to the passenger lifts going up to The Ridge. Set amidst cedar forests, Radisson Hotel (Tel: 2659012; Tariff: INR 7,500-12,500; www.radisson.com/shimla) in Lower Bharari offers good views. Hotel White (Tel: 2656136, Cell: 09816076422; Tariff: INR 1,200-2,800; www.hotelwhitesimla.com) is decent, has lovely views, and is close to The Ridge.
Where to eat
Most eating places are on or just off The Mall. Himachal Tourism’s Ashiana Restaurant, right on The Ridge, is very popular, as is Alfa on Scandal Point. Devicos has Indian, Continental and Chinese, and a bar. Baljees is hugely popular, with a choice of Indian, Chinese, Continental and Thai cuisine. Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Subway and Dominos, Sagar Ratna have outlets on The Mall. Trishool Bakers, next to Gaiety Theatre, has good confectionery. Embassy, near the Lifts, has nice window seats and good food.
The Sol Restaurant at Hotel Combermere on The Mall is a glass-and-plastic atrium affair with a Continental menu. For the ultimate dining experience, there’s always The Oberoi Cecil. If you are in a hurry, try the chhole bhature at Sita Ram’s in Lakkar Bazaar.