Once the summer capital of India under the British empire. Shimla is one of India’s favorite getaway destinations. What makes Shimla so special is primarily the respite it offers from the cruel Indian Summers.
Located at an altitude of 2200 metres above sea and an 8 hour drive away from Delhi makes Shimla an extremely accessible and pleasant town to unwind in. Pleasant weather and great connectivity aren’t the only reasons why Shimla is so popular. Great victorian architecture, a unique ridge that is just bustling with things to do and home to South Asia’s largest natural ice skating rink are some of the reasons why Shimla is a year round hit with travelers.
History and culture of Shimla
Shimla as a city is much younger than most of its Indian counterparts. Up until 200 years ago Shimla was a dense forest, with just the Jakhoo temple and a very small village based around the temple.
After the Anglo – Nepalese war,when the British East India Company secured control of the area. British surveyors found that the weather in Shimla was extremely pleasant and was very similar to what they experienced back home in Britain. It started with a lot of high ranking officials in the military moving to Shimla during the Indian Summers. Soon Shimla would become a destination for parties and for social festivities. Shimla would keep this frivolous reputation till the time the British occupied India.
Apart from being the administrative summer capital of India, Shimla also became the capital of the Punjab province. This was a time when the city of Chandigarh was not yet envisioned. One of the things that spiraled Shimla’s growing popularity was the construction of the Kalka – Shimla Railway line. With the construction of over 800 bridges and 103 tunnels, the railway line was considered a feat of engineering brilliance and is operational to this day. More popularly known today as the ‘toy train’ the railway line is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.
Shimla as a town was built by the British and for the British, so a visit even to this day is likely to transport you back to Victorian times. The construction of the Christ church, The Viceregal Lodge and the Mall road are all built either in the Neo-Gothic or Tudorbethan styles of architecture.
Shimla’s culture is a marriage of the British and Indian influences that the city’s history is deeply rooted in. Almost all of the victorian architecture have been preserved to this day, for example the Viceregal Lodge, is now a research institute (The Indian Institute of Advanced Study)
Shimla also has a lot to offer when it comes to events and festivities. The Shimla Summer Festival that takes place in the summer is a carnival that takes place over 5 days, the festival consists of competitions, games for kids and a lot of musicians performing at the event. The Summer festival is not the only carnival that takes place in Shimla. The Christmas carnival is a festival that takes place at the ridge from Christmas to New Years Eve.
How to get to Shimla
By Air – The closest airport to Shimla is the Shimla airport in Jubarbhatti that is about 22 kilometres away from the city center. While there are flights between Shimla and Chandigarh or even Delhi for that matter, these for most parts are expensive and prone to cancellations due to the weather.
We recommend flying into Chandigarh Airport, Chandigarh is extremely well connected by air and is about 4 hours away from Shimla by Car.
By Rail – The most interesting way of getting to Shimla is by rail, while the closest train station is Kalka, most people prefer to get off at Chandigarh and hire a cab to get to Shimla. This takes about 4 hours. For a more scenic but relatively slower mode of travel get down at Kalka and take the scenic toy train (not accessible during monsoon and must be booked in advance). The journey from Delhi to Kalka is about 4-6 hours and the toy train takes another 3-4 hours. Most people prefer driving via Chandigarh as it takes 6-7 hours to get to Shimla and is much faster in General.
Also it is due to the fact that Chandigarh railway station is better connected to both North and South India than Kalka, making it easier to travel to Chandigarh.
By Road – Shimla is extremely well connected by road, especially from Chandigarh and Delhi there are private and govt buses (both A/C and non A/C) ferrying daily. Getting to Shimla even from the rest of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab for that matter is very easy.
Best time to travel to Shimla
Shimla as a destination is largely accessible all year round, having said that summer months are the best time to visit days are extremely pleasant ,while the evenings could get slightly chilly, there are a lot of outdoor activities to partake in and a lot to explore.
Winters are extremely cold yet there is a buzz around christmas that makes Shimla extremely endearing to travelers. The Christmas carnival in December is also a popular attraction among travelers. Shimla is home to the largest ice skating rink in all of SouthEast Asia and is popular among travelers who want their share of experiencing the ‘snow’!
Avoid the monsoons, landslides and heavy rainfalls can dampen your experience, it’s considered off season in Shimla and there isn’t much to do either. The only advantage of traveling in the monsoons is cheaper hotel fare but is it worth it? Not really.
Getting Around Shimla
Local Buses and Taxis are easily available to explore. HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) have also started buses that cover all the major attractions in the city. You could choose to rent a bike or a moped to have more flexibility with your sightseeing plans. Parts of Shimla, like the city center are best explored on foot.
Breaking stereotypes about Shimla
Shimla is a tourist hotspot: Shimla is an extremely popular tourist destination, like, any other resort town with excellent connectivity. However, Shimla is also home to some of the coolest festivals in the country and is a gateway to some other hill towns like Kasauli. It is true that Shimla is a tourist hotspot, what makes it special is that it’s a good one.
Go Check out
Christ Church Shimla – The second oldest Church in all of North India. Christ Church was built in the Neo-Gothic style in 1857. The fresco around the Chapel was designed by Rudyard Kripling’s father, Lockyard Kripling. The Church also has a collection of legendary books and scriptures. The five glass windows stand for Christian Values of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility.
Mall Road Shimla – The shopping center of Manali and the common meeting point for travelers. Mall road is bustling with shops, restaurants, bars and even a theater. Mall Road is considered the shopping center for tourists. While locals normally shop at the Lower Bazaar (which is also extremely charming)
The Ridge – The Ridge is considered the social and the cultural center of Shimla, placed just beside the Mall road, The Ridge is where people unwind. Dotted with cafes, bars and restaurants, The scenic beauty of The Ridge and its surroundings are considered the most synonymous with Shimla as a destination.
Jakhoo Hill – For a birds eye view of this beautiful hill city, Jakhoo hill is the place to visit. The climb up the summit of the hill offers mesmerizing views of the city and on a clear day you could see snow capped mountains that are as far as 75 kilometres away.
We recommend hiking up the hill from Christ Church, it takes about an hour and is absolutely worth it. If walking is not for you or you cannot hike up for some reason, the aerial ropeway is one option of reaching the summit of the Jakhoo Hill.
Jakhoo Temple – The oldest structure in all of Shimla, Jakhoo Temple is home to the world’s largest statue of Lord Hanuman. It is said that Lord Hanuman rested at the point where the temple stands today. British surveyors in the early 19th century recorded a village and the Jakhoo temple, long before the plan to develop Shimla came into being.