It was an English dream made a shade delirious and out of the true by the thin, high air, combined with all that many a heart loved with passion in India - the outdoor life, the horses, the wild animals, the early walking in the Indian mornings, with their matchless dazzling purity that makes each day seem the first ever created. The lanes, the downs, the tumbling streams were all there, to be tamed and enjoyed as much as possible in the likeness of home."
Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh and a major travel hill station in India. Shimla is also an important administrative centre. It has been variously described as the Indian Capua, Mount Olympus and the Abode of the Little Tin Gods. At the other end is Sir Edward Lutyen's (the architect of New Delhi) snooty remark - "If I had been told it had all been built by monkeys, I would have said, what wonderful monkeys, they must be shot in case they do it again."!! Shimla and attention have always courted each other.
The city spreads over a 12km ridge with just two main roads - The Mall which runs from the far west to the lower eastern side, and the Cart Road which circles the southern part of Shimla. This is where the railway station and the bus and taxi stands are located. The crescent of the wooded Ridge stretches from the lofty 2476 m high Jakhu Hill and Chhota Shimla in the east, to the Observatory (2,148 m) and Prospect hills (2,176 m) in the west. The best time to travel to Shimla is in autumn, when the days are warm and bright and the nights crisp and cool. Summer sees a burgeoning tourist population and this is precisely why you should avoid going there at this time.
The people of HP are simple and warm. They feel strongly about their natural and cultural heritage so do not in any way belittle their customs or rituals. Norms of dress and behaviour are pretty relaxed in Shimla, as the tourist traffic every year has made the place almost cosmopolitan. A word of caution, however, don't travel to the interiors of the state without a reliable and authorized tourist guide and also beware of touts.
There probably isn't one mountain freak in India who hasn't set foot in Shimla. Having been the official summer capital of the British Raj, it is among the largest and most popular hill stations in the country today. Shimla (formerly spelt Simla) is set amidst spectacular hills and seeped in an aura of crumbling colonial charm. More than a government seat, it worked as the perfect setting for romance in the days of the British.
The scenic landscape, the fabulous weather and the more relaxed social norms spelt love with a capital.
Far away from the censorious eyes of Delhi and Calcutta, hot-blooded men and women indulged in drinking, gambling, and all sorts of licentious behaviour. Shimla was indeed the hotbed of passion and gossip, the lovely Mall being the centre of all action.
To the writer Rudyard Kipling, it was a place of illicit romance. In story after story in his Plain Tales from the Hills, the same plot repeats itself. After the sweltering boredom of the plains, the young officer goes up to Shimla where, bowled over by the sudden glut of young English beauties, he falls in love with a Mrs Hakusbee or a Mrs Reiver: 'He rode with her and walked with her, and picnicked with her, and tiffined at Peliti's with her, till people raised their eyebrows and said "Shocking!"'
Discovery of The Heaven : Shimla was once part of the Nepalese kingdom and called Shyamala (another name for goddess Kali). The British 'discovered' it in 1819. After they laid down the Kalka-Shimla railway line in 1903, Shimla became a second home for all those escaping the heat of the Indian summer.
Today Shimla tourism has translated into being the grooviest spot for honeymooners. Apart from seeing evidences of some great colonial architecture in monuments like the Christ Church, Viceregal Lodge, Gorton Castle and others, there are dozens of tiny travel places around which offer the most pleasant walks like Summer Hill, Prospect Hill, Chadwick Falls, Tara Devi, Chharabra and others. Two of the most famous nearby getaways are Kasauli and Chail. and its not that there is nothing for the more adventurous kinds; Shimla tourism has excellent scope for treks too.
Splendid by itself, Shimla is also the tee off point for the rest of Himachal, with roads leading west to the Kangra and Chamba valleys, north to Kullu and Lahaul valleys, and east to Kinnaur and Spiti Valley. South of it lie the lower districts of Solan and Sirmaur.
Shimla tourism highlights like most of the Indian cities, fairs and festivals in the valley. Most of these are mainstream and have been discussed in detail in the section on Religion.
Christmas : Christmas is particularly fun here owing to the overwhelming British presence in the past. A white Christmas is what Shimla's inhabitants really look forward to. Here we will only discuss festivals that are unique t
Baisakhi : Though celebrated in many northern states, this agrarian festival is celebrated differently in different regions of Himachal. Generally held on the first of Baisakh (13th April), it is called Bissu or Bisha in Shimla.It signifies vigour and vitality and serves as a ritual before the onset of the harvesting season. Burning the jhalra - a pile of dry twigs with a pole bearing a conical bamboo basket erected in the middle - is an important ritual. It is set afire in the morning as young boys sing and dance around it.
Rhyali : Rhyali is the festival of the rainy season. In the Indian society rains denote good harvest thus ensuring prosperity. Therefore it's an absolute must to keep the rain god happy.
Rhyali is celebrated on the first of Shravana (16th July). Some ten days before this, seeds of five or seven kinds (wheat, barley and the like) are mixed together and sown ceremoniously by the head of the family or the family priest in a small basket filled with earth, or near the place where the household gods are kept.
Then one day before the actual day, a kind of a mock wedding is performed with a wooden hoe, and as many kinds of available fruits are placed near the tender saplings. Clay images of Shiva and Parvati are placed amidst the tender growth, and the priest chants, "O Haryali, may thou ever remain in the green fields..." and a whole lot of rituals follow. Rhyali is same as Haryali of Kangra.
A Summer Festival conducted by the tourism of Himachal is held in Simla every June which includes cultural programmes from Himachal and neighbouring states. An art and handicraft exhibition, a folk dance festival, a Mushaira (recitation of Urdu poetry), the Red Cross Fair, sports tournaments, a fashion show based on folk costumes and a flower show are also scheduled around this time to make most of the tourist season. The extravaganza of the Ice Skating Carnival is normally reserved for December, where the winter winds carry with them the delights of ice skating at Shimla.
The Mall : Is the place for shopping in Shimla. Lined with many showrooms, it is a shopper's delight. You can buy all sorts of goodies here from old books, through woollens, handicrafts, handlooms, curios and plum sherbet to mushroom pickle. Do check out the State Emporium for good quality handicrafts. Although Shimla has nothing too special to offer on its own, you will get items from all parts of the state at this outlet.
There are two other bazaars in Shimla. Just below the western end of the (eastern) Mall, is the frantic Subzi Mandi, also called Lower Bazaar. It is a maze of twisting, steep lanes full of stalls selling food and just about everything imaginable. Do pick up those colourful socks, gloves and caps that are such a speciality of Himachal. Some of the shops sell good pottery, the most common being the decorated matka (water pot), sold in a variety of shapes and sizes. Prices for meals are less here than in places on the Mall.
Beyond the Ridge, the small and busy Lakkar Bazaar (lakdi means wood) is popular for wood souvenirs. Though most of them might seem tacky and of little use, you could perhaps pick up a carved walking stick.
Ivory inlay work used to be a major craft in the days of the British, but the quality has deteriorated over the years. Dry fruits and medicinal herbs are also available in some the shops.
Rudyard Kipling describes the maze-like bazaars spread across the lower hillsides of Shimla in his novel Kim, ".a man who knows his way there can defy all the police of India's summer capital; so cunningly does verandah communicate with verandah, alley-way with alley-way, and bolt-hole with bolt-hole."
There are lots of ice cream parlours, bakeries and sweet and chocolate shops in Shimla. Just about every place serves hot, western breakfast, but many don't open till 9 am - Shimla isn't a place for early risers. The Indian Coffee House along the western Mall serves great coffee and south Indian snacks. Both Indian and Western fare can be enjoyed at Embassy Restaurant and Park Café on the eastern Mall. HPTDC runs a good restaurant called Ashiana but it's a little expensive.