'Queen of Hill Stations' is no hyperbole for Shimla. Not just weather, it is the atmosphere of the glory days gone by, a hint of which continues to cling. During the British Raj, Shamla was declared the summer capital and it thus became Shimla. Then love, politics and grand balls were talked about for long.
The summer capital is now a holidayer's paradise with romantic air for honeymooners, frolicking avenues for friends and scenic mountains and verdant forests of pines, oaks & deodars for just about everyone. No wonder movies like Black, Gadar, Jab We Met and 3 Idiots were shot here.
The town brings more. The single gauge toy train running between forests and towns from Kalka to Shimla, the soft shawls, antique books, colourful hats and wooden handicrafts present themselves with a chance to bargain! The temples with folklores and the grandiose churches offering views of valleys, the treks, solitary hiking sessions and Victorian buildings are what Shimla is. Let's take you to a quick ride through the hill town...
Places to See
Hills of Shimla have history and grandeur and thus many options for a curious traveller. The grandeur of the Viceregal Lodge, where the Partition of India was signed, is mind blowing. The Gaiety Theatre's reputation as the centre of British social life is well-known. Time has taken its toll on many of the buildings, which are fast becoming a memory. But the scent of the pine still lingers.
For seekers of mythology (or adventure), Kamna Devi Temple, Tara Devi Temple and Christ Church attract a flow of devotees. The Sankat Mochan Temple is a popular Shiv temple near Shimla. The Hanuman Temple atop Jakhu Hill, the highest peak in Shimla, is known for monkeys, trek and panoramic views.
Shimla is also an access point to many other destinations nearby. Chail, Kufri, Tattapani Hot Sprints and Naldhera are for adventure and sport lovers. Check out the nine-hole golf course in Naldehra, which also makes for a perfect picnic spot. Pay a visit to the zoo to see the lean, mean Himalayan snow leopard. Shimla boasts of the only natural ice skating rink in Asia. There's more than just skating action during their annual carnival.
India and Pakistan were sentenced to war with each other when the Partition was signed at the magnificent Viceregal Lodge, home to viceroys in summer. It briefly became the summer retreat to the President of India and now houses an academic enterprise called the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate, completed her fellowship here. A collection of photographs pay homage to Shimla in its prime and the round table where the Partition was signed still stands here.
The Shimla State Museum houses a range of arts and crafts including doll collection and moghul paintings. The latest neo-gothic Gaiety Theatre offers runs plays by Shimla Amateur Drama Club. Actors like Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Nasseerudin Shah and Anupam Kher and even Rudyard Kipling have performed here.
Things to do
Spend the evenings hanging out with the locals at their favourite haunts: The Mall, Ridge and Scandal Point, which found its notorious name when the Maharaja of Patiala made off with Lord Kitchener's daughter from here. Gaze at the moon, stars and everything in between. Astronomical telescopes will give you a closer look at the sky.
Fight the elements, sweat and monkeys to climb up Jakhu Hill for an incredible view of hills and valleys around. The mystical Himalayas stand aloof, a telescope bringing them closer to you. It is an arduous climb over a steep incline to a peak that is around 8000 ft over sea level. Look in on the Hanuman Temple that has many stories to tell.
Wear the traditional Himachali costume and say cheese, standing next to a white yak, a rare breed that saunters around the hills. And yes, just don't miss the charming Toy Train.
Places to Eat
The chances of coming across authentic Himachali food are low. But if you do, help yourself to Indra, Luchi Poti (lamb dish) and Sidu, which is like a steamed dumpling with filling that includes poppy seeds. It tastes salty and is eaten with ghee. Local dhabas are a good bet for some Sidu. Tibetan Momos sell like hot cakes here. Festivals call for feasts with delicacies like Dham and Patandey, and sweet dishes like Mittha and Nasasta, a sweet meat.
North Indian cuisine and other international cuisines are prevalent here. Enjoy a leisurely English breakfast at the Indian Coffee House and a dinner of Grilled Trout at Spars Lodge. Honey Hut gets creative with the heavenly honey. The sensuous amber liquid flavours beverages, desserts and even popcorn!
There is no dearth of restaurants, most of which are found on Mall Road or Scandal Point. Try Ashiana and Goofa for Himachali cuisine, and the modest yet bustling Baljee's. For Thai and Japanese go to Café Sol and for a taste of Indo Chinese, head to Devicos or Tara Bhojnalya. Alfa's menu is a treat for those who love north Indian food. Pick up a grilled chicken and cheese sandwich at the Fiesta Food Court. Enjoy a mug of beer and a great view at Himani's.
For dessert, try the honey cakes at Honey Hut or the selection at Cafe Sol. Or buy some fresh fruit, maybe a green apple, from the fruit vendors lining the Mall.
Travellers with a nose for souvenirs will delight in Shimla's quaint shopping scene. The Ridge and Mall Road are packed with restaurants and shops. They are extra busy during the Summer Festival.
Book lovers can spend hours skimming through books at Maria Brothers on Mall Road which has many unusual and rare books. Of the 200 existing copies of the American Declaration of Independence, one copy was found here.
If you like it sweet, add honey, chocolates and jams to your shopping cart or simply taste fresh fruits plucked from neighbouring orchards. Kinnauri shawls with their geometric motifs keep you warm and pretty. Get warmer with blankets, sweaters, gloves and socks or with hand-woven Kinnauri topi.
Wander over to the Ridge and the tiny shops crammed with wooden handicrafts that make up Lakkar Bazaar. There are toys, shawls, carpets, show pieces, ladles and rolling pins. The big, colourful wooden bangles and walking sticks are good buys. Tibetan shops are worth browsing if you like funky statement jewellery, casual dresses and bags.
Fairs & Events
The pace of life in Shimla accelerates during The Summer Festival in May. Folk dances, markets, fashion shows and contests cheer the locals & travellers.
Winters are not bleak. Not with the Annual Ice Skating Carnival from December to February. Slip into skates and glide on the ice, dress up for the fancy dress competition, show the crowd your moves during the dance competitions and see or play an ice hockey match.
Practice caution while buying medicines for some of them might be laced with illegal drugs like opium.
Forest fires are common in Shimla.
Stray dogs are a nuisance but often fall prey to the Himalayan Griffon (vulture). A vulture standing guard over a dead dog is a common sight especially on the highways.