shimla and why it surprised me

I had been to Shimla when I was 11 years old, and even then people spoke about the crowd, excessive development, commercial establishments ruining the city and the downward slide of the once summer capital of the British Raj in India. I don’t remember much about that trip. I had gone with my parents and my cousins, and like all family trips, the children tend to run around, while the adults do the more serious ‘touristy’ stuff.  The 4 of us cousins hung out at the guest house, ate brilliant dal and rotis, played with pillows, hit each other, fought, exchanged words and then made up again. That sums up by memory of this trip to Shimla at 11.

I wasn’t expecting much when I visited last month, knowing that even 20 years ago is was no longer the ‘Queen of the Hill-Stations’ – a term coined by the British. 

I was surprised by Shimla. I thought of many reasons to explain why I liked what I saw – maybe we went off-season, maybe because it was not a weekend the Delhi janta wasn’t there, maybe… maybe … maybe… Shimla offered us a lovely holiday. It let us take long, meandering walks about the main road with no cars honking to make us jump out-of-the-way. It gave us a range of food from road-side chaat to tiny shops with warm, delicious gulab jamun, to five-star hotels with brilliant dal.  There was lots to do, so much that we didn’t even do the typical points that seem to exist without fail in ALL hill stations in this country. We walked, got lost, found another route, talked, clicked and walked.

There were two highlights of this trip – two things that each of you must absolutely do if you visit Shimla.

The first one is a heritage walk – it is a DIY heritage walk, so you set your own pace and it’s a nice long walk. Just in front of the main square, there is a green board that says Heritage Walk 1. I don’t know if there are anymore, and we didn’t see them.. maybe there are plans for more! 

This walk was more than 2 kilometers long, so be ready for it. Parts of it are not via the main road, and those bits are pedestrian paths, curved, quaint and lots to see. There are 24 stops and at each stop  you can easily identify it with a green coloured board and a bit of history of the building you are looking at… read it… and then walk on ahead.

I walked, marveled and loved so many of these old structures, read the little tit-bits about their history and made my way to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. If there is anyway to sum up my memory of Shimla, it is this building. This old building was once the Viceregal’s lodge. Imposing and beautifully maintained, it is a wonderful treat, also given that you have tours inside! It stands like a regal Renaissance styled building, belonging to another world, surrounded by green grass (that you are not allowed to walk on) and luxurious trees. More about this in my next post, which is solely devoted to this wonderful structure – I went for a guided tour inside the building and there are stories, secrets and gasps to be shared.

And the second is this brilliant, one-of-its-kind heritage theatre in Shimla called Gaiety. It has been renovated really well and is open for all to ogle at. (Post on that coming up, words just waiting to be typed)

Shimla was fun. It wasn’t disappointing and far from boring. And it made me realise that you are never completely ‘done’ with any city, even if it is one of the oldest tourist hill stations in the country… there is always more to see, and the ‘you’ element always adds a newness. Though I wouldn’t say that about Lonavala (read about my disappointing trip here).

GO TO SHIMLA, include it in that plan next time and you might also be surprised!

P.S. Don’t go away, wait for the two other posts about Shimla that are waiting to be typed out and given a life of their own.

merrytogoaround tips:

1. Stay at a place near mall road, makes walking about much easier. That’s if you like to walk around a city – I feel that’s the best way to get under the skin of any place.

2. Definitely visit the Institute of Advanced Studies.

3. Even if you cannot walk the entire heritage trail, try to see some of the key stops on the way. There are some marvelous buildings under various states of disrepair and one never knows when some might collapse. You can also take a car for more than half of the route, as that part is along the road.

4. Get into the bazaar road, the lane below the main mall lane – it’s narrow, crowded but has all the local stuff. You also get to mingle with the locals as they muddle about their Sunday shopping sprees. The jalebi, an indian sweet made with fried batter and dipped in sugar syrup, is brilliant at Nathuram’s – fresh, hot and juicy. There are many shops to choose from, am sure any other one will be equally good.

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