There’s a reason that Shimla is known as the Queen of Hills, and if you were take a glance at even the most pedestrian of photographs, you will know why. Regal in every season, even in bitter winters, the capital of Himachal Pradesh draws throngs of tourists year after year for its pleasant summers, hilly terrain scented by pine and signature colonial era architecture. Chandigarh is the nearest major city, but New Delhi is the most often used connecting point, about 365 kms away.
Though the increasing number of tourists is stripping away its hold on being an ecotourism spot, and the rains bring landslides, Shimla continues to be one of the favourite haunts of Indians and foreigners alike during summer. The Kalka-Shimla railway line is one you’d have seen in many Bollywood films, latest being the Kashto maza song from Parineeta. The majestic hills provide the backdrop of this picturesque hill station, offering sweeping views of the land below as you go up.
Since this is a tourist spot, tourism remains an important source of revenue and the hospitality industry offers great employment opportunities, mostly in its many restaurants and as tourist guides. Small scale industries also abound, with souvenir and crafts production much in demand. Hot sulphur springs can be found at Tatta Pani, about 55 kms from Shimla, and are said to have great medicinal value. Not just because of this and the clean, unpolluted air, but also because of well-functioning hospitals, Shimla has gained fame as a popular health tourism spot.
Photo Credit: Gopal Venkatesan/Flickr
Jakhoo hill is the highest point and is not for the faint-hearted, made evident by the fact that Hanuman, the monkey god has a temple at the peak. There aren’t any water bodies in the city area, the closest one, Sutlej, being at least 20 kms away. Yamuna tributaries, Giri and Pabbar, also flow through the district. For tourists, there’s an added attraction to visit Shimla during summer – the Shimla Summer Festival, held for 3-4 days at the Ridge every year during peak tourist season. If you’re visiting in winter, however, make your way towards the Kufri ski resort, a popular spot for winter sports.
Coming to the architecture, Shimla boasts of retaining the old-world charm of its buildings in their original form, with some having been converted like the Wildflower Hall, which today is a luxury hotel. The State Museum, established in 1974, features paintings and jewellery from the bygone era. For those hungry for souvenirs and shopping, Lakkar Bazaar offers you everything you want from and about Shimla, including clothes, jewellery and local crafts. The main shopping street of Shimla is the Mall, populated by various tourist offices, clubs, bars, eateries, shopping centres and such like. A variety of cuisine is served in hotels in Shimla, continental as well as various Indian cuisines like Punjabi and Vaishnav, to cater to various tourists. Shimla apples remain a favourite among tourists. Local specialties are Sidku, a sweet dish made of wheat flour, jaggery and khus khus, and Patandey, made from a thin paste of wheat flour and served with ghee.
Apart from the Jakhoo temple, there are many more noteworthy temples like the Kali Bari temple, the Tara Devi temple and the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple. The second oldest church in Northern India, Christ Church is also found here. The township of Summer Hill along the Shimla-Kalka railway line houses the Himachal Pradesh University. The Indian Institute of Advanced Study as well as the Botanical Gardens are in the Viceregal Lodge.
Shimla has its pride of place in the world of winter sports as it is Asia’s only destination that has a natural ice skating rink. The Shimla Ice Skating Club holds a carnival in January each year, with various figure skating contests. You can see youngsters playing cricket or polo in Annandale, favourited by picnickers and children. The highest cricketing pitch is at Chail, whereas Jakhoo Hill is home to the highest statue of Hanuman at 8500 feet above sea level, beating Christ the Redeemer in Brazil hollow.
The much written about Elysium Hill is another beautiful spot to visit, which is now a girls’ school. The Stirling Castle offers refuge to Tibetan orphans and acts as a centre for Tibetan exiles. Lovely walkways winding along the hills will prompt you to see the city by foot, but tourist offices will rent out taxis and bikes for those who prefer wheels. Shimla is one of those pristine, ice-covered hill stations that inspire romanticism in a traveller.