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Sublime Shimla

This historic Indian hill station is a feast for the senses

3/2/2017 3:59:54 PM
written By : Shobha Tsering Bhalla Print

And so it was that on the third day, the old woman came down reluctantly from the mount and descended to the plains, dreaming of that bewitched hour on the snow which had made her a young girl again.

Skiing in Shimla was never on our itinerary initially as my daughter and I were planning our trip to Delhi for a close relative’s wedding. But, one inspired evening, after watching an old Hindi film, “Junglee”, nostalgia forced a last minute change in plans, a change that saw us in India’s most popular hill station two weeks later.

With the Internet it’s so easy to book a decent hotel room in the heart of Shimla, and even hire a good car and driver that would take us there all the way from Delhi, stay with us for three days and bring us back in time for the Big Fat Punjabi Wedding. Part of the reason was also because it was winter and only short-term, hardy tourists brave their way up to the mountains during this season. 

Most people travelling to Shimla from Delhi fly to Chandigarh, just a 40 minute hop. From there, the four-hour drive up to this former summer capital of the British Raj is a deodhar (cedar) -scented breeze. But we chose to go by road on a leisurely seven-hour drive, halting at Chandigarh for lunch.

By the time our car had climbed to 2,276m from the cold and dusty plains, winding through deodar and fir forests in the last enticing lap, the rays of the weak winter sun had sunk behind mighty Shalli Tibba peak and Shimla was faintly visible under a canopy of twinkling lights.

Despite the long road journey, the bracing mountain air had revived us and it was only 7PM anyway, too early for bed. After checking into our charming Victorian hotel – Clarke’s – where we were upgraded from a deluxe room to a large suite, we hastened out for a taste of this alluring hill station.

Although the eccentric legacy of the British Raj still survives in the neo-Gothic and Victorian architecture, this sprawling Himalayan city has a lot more to offer than 19th-century relics.

Ancient temples abound, some dating back thousands of years, there are pre-historic stalactite caves connected to the ancient Ramayana epic and hot springs dot the valleys in and around Shimla. Like Rome the city is built on a series of ridges, the biggest is the 7Km long Ridge just above the Mall to which locals and tourists throng on a sunny day to get a view of the majestic seven peaks of Shimla. The best view is from the town’s main meeting place, Scandal Point, near the iconic neo-Gothic Christ Church.

Shimla’s authorities are making efforts to restore the town’s storeyed past – the entrance to a green-roofed pavilion in The Mall is inscribed “Our Built Heritage Is Our Identity, Let’s Preserve It” and a new heritage museum has recently opened. The roads are clean and some excellent schools date back to the 1800s.

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