Rediscovering the ‘Queen of Hills’ Shimla

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Shimla
Shimla

Driving from Chandigarh to Shimla is a two plus hour journey that is not exactly pleasant courtesy the poor condition of the roads. However once you enter the cool climes of Himachal Pradesh, there is an instant uplifting of your mood. Guess the hills have a charm of their own and to discover it for yourself is both enlightening and empowering.

Shimla
Shimla

Nature Abound

I decided to stay at Kandaghat about 30 km away from Shimla, as this destination is far less crowded and offers the much needed calm to experience the sights of sounds of nature without any disturbance. It also helped that the Club Mahindra here is nestled amidst the Shivalik hill range and is surrounded by nature on all sides. This is also the place where you can see magnificent sunsets and each day you will see the sky put up a show like no other. Well, how about a sky that merges purple and pink on one night and yellow and orange on another? This is exactly what I saw when I was here. If you are an adventure junkie, this is where you can try Himachal’s longest zipline as well. This is an exhilarating ride that will give you a bird’s eye view of the amazing nature of this place. And if you love to trek, you can test your limits by walking up the hills here – the steep terrains are quite tough but what you see from the top will take your breath away. This place is also home to amazing avian life and you will see birds like Red billed blue magpie, Blue Whistling thrush, Rosefintch, Babbler, Himalayan Bulbul, Drongo, Swallow, Oriental White Eye and Great tit among many others. While I was here, a highlight was meeting with the local women who are part of self-help groups and work to support their families making woollen wear, jams, pickles and preserves. It is quite commendable to see these women balance their lives perfectly talking care of their homes, helping their spouses on the farm and also work as part of the self-help group. Club Mahindra incidentally supports these women by giving them an outlet in their premises to retail the products they make.

Shimla Church
Shimla Church

History Beckons

After enjoying the sights and sounds of nature at Kandaghat, I set off to Shimla early morning and my first stop was the Institute of Advanced Studies on the Observatory Hill. A majestic façade built in Victorian-style architecture this was used by the British Government to hold important political meetings. Today of course it is an education centre and houses a library with a 128 year old ceiling made of walnut wood that was specially brought from Kashmir. There are four parts here that house old photographs of Shimla, historical moments, institute exhibits and the main entrance hall. The tour takes about 30 minutes and is structured with an official guide who takes you through each space one by one. The magnificent architecture of this space and the natural vistas it encompasses makes a lasting impression on your mind. My next stop was at the famed Mall Road, that you can reach using two lifts! This is the heart of the hill town and where Shimla shops. The streets are lined with stores, restaurants, clubs and tourist offices. If you are looking for souvenirs, dry fruits and woolen wear this is the place to head to. As vehicles are not allowed here, it is the ideal place to stroll along to soak in the local sights and sounds. While you are here do try the Chole Batura at Sita Ram & Sons. The other attraction here is The Ridge a wide open street on the side of mall road that where Shimla’s denizens both shop and socialise. Incidentally it is under the Ridge that there are water tanks that have a capacity of 1000000 gallons of water which supply water to the entire town. This is where most functions happen including the famed Summer Festival and Winter Sports Festival. While the Kalka Shimla rail line is a UNESCO world heritage site, do stop at the Balkhu Ram train museum to understand how an Indian helped in making the route a reality.

Lala Lajpatrai's statue
Lala Lajpatrai’s statue

Looking Around

The three historical statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Y.S. Parmar, a Tudorbethan style library and Old Christ church are some of the important historical attractions here. The church has a neo-gothic architectural style and the five stained glass windows that represent different virtues of Christianity are a highlight here. An important landmark here is the Scandal Point, where the Mall Road meets Ridge Road and freedom fighter, Lala Lajpat Rai’s statue is seen here. It is said that this place is called as such as the Maharaja of Patiala eloped with the daughter of a British Viceroy from this point! The heritage Gaiety Theatre is the place that has witnessed performances of multiple renowned film personalities and the original structure is still retained. The Kali Bari Temple here has a wooden image of goddess Kali and is a place that locals flock to. The beautiful town hall with its colonial architectural is an ode to the pre-independence era and if you love design do stop by here. Towering over Shimla is the world’s largest Hanuman statue that is visible from almost the entire Shimla. This is at the Jakhoo Temple located on an elevation where you can also see the stunning Shivalik ranges. It is believed that this is the spot where Lord Hanuman stopped to rest a while when he went in search of the famed Sanjeevani Booti to revive Lord Lakshman! A mix of culture, spirituality and history makes Shimla a perfect holiday destination and must be on your summer itinerary!

Indian Institute of Advanced Studies
Indian Institute of Advanced Studies

How to Reach

By Air: Jubber Hatti, 23 km from the city is the nearest airport and connects Delhi and other cities.

By Rail: Shimla is connected by a narrow gauge railway line with Kalka 96 km that connects other cities.

By Road: Shimla is connected by motorable roads with other cities in India.

Stay: While Shimla has several options, Club Mahindra Kandhagat is a good option to enjoy the hills.

This story appeared in Indiaah Magazine’s March 2018 issue here.

Shimla
Shimla

Do read my other stories on Club Mahindra here and here.

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