For the Britons, it was the summer capital. For Indians, Shimla is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, and one of the top hill-stations in terms of tourism. Shimla is the capital of the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, and its scenic beauty has attracted tourists for decades and will continue to do so.
Shimla is the quintessential hill-station. It is accessible, quaint, chilly, green, pretty and always throbbing with tourists, no matter what the season or the month. It doesn’t seem to have heard of the concept of off-season, because tourists throng it throughout the year! Shimla is accessible by a wide, well-paved road. It is an 8 hour drive from New Delhi and a 4-5 hours drive from Chandigarh. There are lots of hotels, restaurants and petrol-pumps along the route, and the drive itself is freshened up by the cool breeze with its fragrance of pine trees and hilly chill! Another way of reaching Shimla is by the lovely little toy-train! It starts from Kalka and takes around 5 hours to reach the little station of Shimla. It moves at a leisurely pace, chugging through more than a 100 tunnels! It is deservedly an engineering feat of its time!
Shimla has a lot to offer! Whether or not one has visited Shimla, every single person has heard of the famous Mall Road! It is the nervous system of Shimla because it is by far the most popular tourist destination the city offers, made memorable by the countless songs and movies shot there! The two recent ones include Jab We Met and 3 Idiots! Mall Road is basically a long stretch of road, lined by shops and excellent view-points to admire the nearby greenery and hills. Families, backpackers, couples on their honeymoon, weekend crowd…it is all there, everywhere! Mixing with them are the local Himachalis. They are simple, hard-working people and are noticeable with their colourful Himachali topis (or hats). Each region of Himachal has a different coloured topi. It is one of the most common cultural badge of this state.
You can buy a cup of corn or steaming hot coffee from one of the vendors and stroll hand-in-hand with your better-half! Or shriek in delight as your cold ice-cream numbs your lips! Or eat the spicy chana from the chanawallah under the tree who won’t fail to tell you he was in a scene in3 Idiots! The Trishul Bakery offers excellent chocolate pastries! The Mall hosts countless restaurants, hotels and cafes, many of them offering excellent views of the valleys around. There is a place available for every kind of budget. The Town Hall, the State Library, the famous Gaiety Theatre, post-office, municipal and fire-services offices and the Kali Bari Temple dedicated to Goddess Kali are all either on the Mall or in its vicinity.
And you can’t really be alone, you know! Because if the thousands are tourists aren’t enough sufficient company, there are monkeys and LOTS of them everywhere on the Mall. Infact, everywhere in Shimla!
The Mall Road converges with another prominent landmark called The Ridge at a place called ‘Scandal Point’! Quite a scandalous rendezvous of the roads, named so after the elopement of the Maharaja of Patiala with the daughter of the Viceroy! The Ridge is right above the Mall Road. On one end, it leads to the Lakkad Bazaar, lakkad being the term for wood. From wood being sold for construction to tiny souvenirs, the bazaar is a must-visit place for all tourists. Walk in the narrow street, and soak in the lovely aroma of fresh or polished wood, and thousands of works of craftsmen. The other side of the Ridge is infinitely more famous as it is home to the Christ Church, a beautiful old church made by the British somewhere in the 1850s. It is open to all for the Christmas Mass every year. Its prominent silhouette is visible for miles around, and it is safe to say it is the defining image of Shimla to the country and the world.
Other places of interest in Shimla include the Jakhu Hill, which is home to a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, and has his statue which is 108 feet tall! For the pious, this temple along with the Tara Devi shrine barely 12 kilometres away would rightly constitute a scenic pilgrimage! The towns of Kufri and Chail are a short drive away. While the former is famous for its yaks and the local winter-sports center, the latter boasts of the highest cricket pitch in the world!
Shimla also leads to other areas in Himachal and beyond like Kullu, Manali, Dalhousie, Spiti and Ladakh.
The summers are pleasant in Shimla, and the winters quite biting. In the past couple of years, it has snowed every winter, much to the delight of tourists and the chagrin of the locals, as heavy snowfall brings the town to a complete standstill. But it is a magnet for tourists, and business booms! It is advisable to carry a change of clothes and shoes during winters just in case one gets caught in the snow!
Shimla is every tourist’s delight. Do visit it and lose yourself in old-world charm, with all the modern-day comforts!