This charming summer capital from the days of the British Raj, offers visitors many opportunities to delve in to the natural and built up heritage of one of India’s most loved hill stations. Live in Shimla, even if briefly, not as a visitor, but as a local and sample the delights of growing up around this stimulating environment.
The many temptations of Shimla in the state of Himachal Pradesh are best enjoyed by exploring this lovely town on foot. If needed, you might want to use a sturdy 4-wheel drive to transport you across the town with its steep Himalayan slopes and ancient forested enclaves. So get those sturdy trainers on and walk the talk on the Mall with British history in India sequestered in vintage buildings along the stretch from the Secretariat in Chota Shimla to the gate of the Indian Institute of Viceregal Lodge as a Heritage Zone. Pause apace at Victorian and Post-Victorian structures such as the General Post Office, Christ Church, the Railway Board building, Raj Bhavan (the secretariat) Town Hall, the Gaiety Theatre the Bandstand, some heritage hotels, old banks, and government offices. Linger in the lovely gardens around sunset at the Viceregal Lodge (now the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies).Walk back and have high tea the lovely Raj-era Cecil Hotel, an Oberoi property.
As the Mall is a no-vehicle zone you will enjoy the freedom of mingling with locals going about their daily business on this vibrant promenade. Keep a lookout for the old-fashioned red post boxes and old-era street lamps. Indulge in some retail therapy at Gainda Mal Hem Raj, pick up sweaters at Diwan Chand Atma Ram, Chinese-handmade shoes at Ta Tung. Choose local souvenirs such as walking sticks and wooden toys from the stalls at Lakkar Bazaar close to the creamy, iconic Christ Church building on the Ridge, which is also known as Scandal Point. It’s a stiff 2.5km hike to , very popular with the devout and the black-faced langurs that can be rather bold.
Pack a picnic basket and head for Annandale, a popular picnic hotspot for locals. In the Raj days, the British would indulge their sporty side, with golf and cricket on these grounds. You can do a small turn on the mini-golf course here. A walk in a pine forest (Summer Hill, Prospect Hill are good options) is highly recommended to breeze away the cobwebs in your mind. Check the local papers and try to catch a play at the restored Gothic-style Gaiety Theatre, where theatrical performances were enacted by the likes of actors Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Jennifer Kendal, Anupam Kher, Nasseerudin Shah, and writer Rudyard Kipling. The complex, which keeps alive the spirit of the tradition of amateur theatricals is now also a vibrant cultural hub in the city. In the winter months, the town resounds with the shouts of snow revellers at the ice skating rink.
Indulge your creative juices by letting your imagination loose on canvas. The splendid natural beauty of Shimla has inspired many an amateur to live out a dream of capturing that gorgeous landscape on canvas. It was not unknown that in the days of the raj many budding painters emerged amongst those the ladies contemplating the scenic setting from their cottage gardens. Take a leisurely ramble through a picturesque trail that begins from the cottage where Kim author Rudyard Kipling lived, and leads you past the birthplace of a legendary Hindi writer Nirmal Verma, ending at local painter Sanat Chatterjee’s art gallery, where you can enjoy the display of some of his work. Sanat is world renowned for his longest painting in the world (75 ft, 90 ft, and 100 ft) on silk with watercolours.
This cool and sylvan hill town has many exquisite places to discover, which is best done with the help of a local host who will proudly show you the best place to be in the “Queen of the Hills”.