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Shimla: Northern India’s Year-Round Retreat
One part summertime retreat, one part winter wonderland, the city of Shimla is one of the most popular destinations in all of northern India. For more than two centuries visitors have sought out this hot spot, looking to take advantage of the mountain-fresh air and beautiful vistas on display. Today, the so-called Queen of Hill Stations offers a vibrant city centre, delightful natural settings and some of the region’s most distinctive landmarks, not to mention year-round activities and amenities.
Fantastic Views from The Ridge
Once a small hill station, Shimla – sometimes referred to as Simla – rose in prominence during the days of the British Raj. During the summer months, British officials would migrate to the settlement to take advantage of the more manageable temperatures. This rise in popularity continued even after the Indian independence, and today the once-small hill station is a thriving city.
The prosperity of the city can best be seen at The Ridge. Considered the heart of the city, The Ridge is a constant buzz of activities, with locals and tourists alike coming and going. The Ridge itself is a wide plateau set atop one of the seven hills that form Shimla. The plateau looks out upon Himalayan mountains and valleys, offering truly unexpected views right in the middle of the city.
A number of noteworthy features can be found upon The Ridge. Dating back to 1857, Christ Church is one of the region’s oldest churches. It features stained glass windows and a fresco completed by Rudyard Kipling’s father. Kipling himself once trod the boards of Gaiety Theatre, also located along The Ridge, and a fashionable stopping point for visitors. Meanwhile, the Tudor Library – next door to Christ Church – is also popular with holidaymakers.
Keeping Busy Along the Mall
The Ridge forms part of The Mall, or Mall Road, Shimla’s main commercial sector. This pedestrianised section of the city is home to an abundance of shops, market stalls, restaurants, and hotels. In fact, The Mall is widely considered to be the best place to find a hotel. Furthermore, you’ll also discover a cinema, discotheque, and tourist information centre along the route.
Bartering is whole-heartedly recommended in the city, so snapping up a bargain when you’re souvenir hunting is a distinct possibility. If you’re looking to grab a bite to eat, you’ll not run out of choices here. From small, local restaurants to global chains, there’s plenty on offer.
A number of notable buildings can also be found along The Mall too, including Bantony Castle, once home to the Maharajah, and Gorton Castle, with its distinctive red roof. Each of these Victorian-style mansions recalls the British influence held over the region at the turn of the twentieth century. The former may be in a state of disrepair but it’s still possible to imagine its early grandness.
Shimla’s Famed Landmarks
Perhaps the most impressive building in all of Shimla is the Viceregal Lodge, or Indian Institute of Advanced Studies as it is known today. Situated on Observatory Hill, this magnificent structure dates back to 1884, when it was built to house the British Viceroy of India. Unfortunately, only part of the building is open to the public, but the building’s exterior and gardens make it worth a visit.
At the peak of Jakhoo Hill – the highest point in the city – stands the Jakhoo Temple. First-time visitors are sure to want to visit this historic temple, which is dedicated to the monkey god, Hanuman. A statue of the god that stands outside the temple can be seen from various vantage points around the city, whilst hundreds of monkeys skulk around the temple, begging food from tourists.
Breathe in the Fresh Air
Shimla’s city centre can be quite hectic at times. If you need to get away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll find several suitable destinations within a short distance of the city centre. Naldehra and Shaily Peak is a good destination for hikers and horse riders. Here you’ll find forests and walking trails, with some stunning scenery mixed in. You can even take in a round of golf while you’re here.
Chadwick Falls is another excellent destination for those willing to endure a one-hour or so hike. This stunning waterfall is surrounded by lush forestland and comes complete with plenty of fresh air. If hiking’s not your thing, Summer Hill in the city offers some great views of the city and valleys, while Annandale – a former racetrack – offers picturesque parks and a mini golf course.
Winter in Shimla
Whilst the British may have only sought out Shimla during the summer months, the city has emerged as a popular wintertime destination. You might not think of India as being a place of snow-capped mountains and ski resorts, but set in the foothills of the Himalayas, Shimla offers exactly that.
Winter visitors often arrive to a city blanketed in snow. Those that have only previously visited during the summer are often bedazzled by the change in appearance. In fact, even the train ride from Kalka to Shimla – a journey that’s well worth making at any time of the year – seems to have a more romantic feel to it as you pass snowy landscapes.
Located 12 miles east of Shimla, the hill station of Kufri is the top local destination in the winter. While summertime visitors enjoy its amusement park and zoo, the settlement is even more popular with skiers, snowboarders and ice skaters during the winter, thanks to the nearby hills covered with a deep coating of snow. A number of hotels can be found nearby, while commuting from Shimla is generally doable.