Published: April 15th 2012April 7th 2012
The most Populated Hillside
SHIMLA, HIMACHAL PRADESH, INDIA. Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th April, 2012.
The town of Shimla is spread over 7 or so hills and is the most densly populated hillside in the world. The centre is fairly compact, located on a shoulder of high ground known as 'The Ridge'.
On Saturday, we strolled from the hotel into the town. We passed a sign which declared that Shimla was a 'Smoking Free City' since M's birthday in 2010 and the fine for being caught out having a public fag was 200 rupees - about a third of the cost of a whole pack of 20 in the UK! We headed for 'The Ridge' which is where it all happens in Shimla. From the Ridge we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Pir Panjal and the Great Himalayan ranges in the distance. A true watershed, it is said that all the water that drains off the north side of the Ridge ends up in the Arabian sea via the River Indus, while all the water from the south side finishes up in the Bay of Bengal via the Ganga River (Ganges).
First, we visited the Victorian gothic Christ Church. The
M on the Ridge
Christ Church behind
stained glass windows are said to be the finest in British India, and depict Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility. Then we walked along the Ridge (where there were pony rides for the tourists) until we came to the Tourist Information Office. Here we queued up to obtain a map.
VIrtually opposite the tourist infomation Office is the upper floor of the Gaiety Theatre building (of which more later). We walked along the Ridge as far as Scandle Point and on to the Indian Post Office Building (Formerly GPO) which is painted a striking red and white. We retraced our steps back to the church and tried to find the offices of our agent (unsuccessfully). M decided we would call him later.
We continued on to the Shimla Heritage Museum where M was given a few free gifts by the very bored curator. There wasn't a lot there - just a few old photographs which were quite interesting. We returned to the hotel for a Kingfisher and a rest. About 4.00 pm D left M asleep and climbed up to Jakhu Temple (2445 metres). Also known as the Monkey Temple, it is dedicated to Hanuman the Hindu
Monkey God. The shrine inside houses what are believed to be the footprints of Hanuman. The climb up initially was very steep but there is a route for cars and D said that parking near the top was typically chaotic and anarchistic. There was a BBQ option for dinner this evening but it was too cold to sit outside. We opted instead for the buffet and a beer.
The next day we had a bit more energy. We walked to The Mall, which lies below the Ridge, and is Shimla's main pedestrian thoroughfare. On both sides it is lined with unmistakably English half timbered buildings. We visited the quintessentially colonial Gaiety Theatre, arriving just in time for the 11.45 am tour. The building was sympathetically restored in 2008 and the tour guide informed us Michael Palin is going to return next year to do a performance - as the place was still derelict when he was last here.
The building next door had an Art Exhibition on display so we spent a few minutes looking at the pictures. Next we came to the old Railway Board Building. This was a unique building of its time built in 1896/7.
The building has 4 levels and with one side exposed climbing down the hill, it has 3 'basements'. It was built at a time when safety was important throughtout the British Empire and this unusual cast iron and steel structure was designed to be fire resistant. This was put to the test and proved when a blaze struck the top floor of the building in February 2001. The facade remains as imposing as ever even after the fire.
We continued along the Mall until we reached a tourist map at the side of the road where we were given directions to The Vice-Regal Lodge by 'a more Brtish than the British' Indian with a plummy accent and tweed jacket.
We continued on the long walk to the former Vice-Regal Lodge which is Shimla's single most impressive colonial monument. This was the summer seat of British Government until the 1940s and is today home to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. It is a solid grey baronial mansion built in Elizabethan style with a lion and unicorn above the entrance porch. The gardens are beautifully manicured.
We joined the first tour after lunch at 2.15 pm. Only some
of the ground floor of the building is open to the tour. We entered into a vast teak panelled hall with a magnificent fireplace. We were allowed to peak through the glass to what is now the library but used to be the ballroom. We were shown into the guest room which has some interesting photographs including a particularly nice one of Queen Victoria looking quite sexy. We then saw the conference room, also hung with photographs, which was the scene of crucial talks in the run up to Independence. Outside was a garage housing several 'Ambassador' cars. We had seen these all over India and, although they look old, many are newly constructed to an old British design, rather like the old Morris Minor and VW cars which lasted forty or so years in Europe.
After the tour we started on the long walk back to the hotel. There were two more museums on our list but neither of us felt up to doing both. We gave the State Museum a miss and headed instead for the Baba Bhalku Rail Museum which is located even lower on the hillside than the Mall. We walked down and paid the
20 rupees entrance fee - this was one of the only places where we didn't get charged 5 times as much as the locals to go in. There was a lone diesel train on the tracks - all the steam ones were probably out with the tourists. We looked around the museum which had lots of old photographs, original station benches, railway equipment, tea services, luggage and all kinds of other railway memorabilia.
After this we walked in the direction of our hotel to the bus station and continued until we reached the lift that would take us back up the hillside to the Mall for a price of 8 rupees each. This was actually two lifts, the first one got you half way up then you had to walk for about 100 metres to a second lift which took you the rest of the way up. It was 10p well spent. We were already knackered from walking all day. We wish the Indian's knew how to queue though - we missed two lifts because we were barged out of the way by rude locals. They haven't picked up any manners from the British times!
We walked the
2.5 km back to the hotel from the Mall and went straight to the bar for a G & T - but ended up with a Kingfisher as they had run out of tonic. D took some nice photos of the sunset over the mountains. We ate a la carte as we didn't fancy the buffet tonight. D had fish and chips and M had a vegetable dish with melted cheese on top. M called the agent and arranged a pick up for 9.00 am tomorrow morning. Our flight to Delhi from Shimla had been cancelled so we now have to drive down to Chandigarh to catch another flight. Rather than waste the day we are going to try to see a bit of Chandigarh tomorrow as our flight isn't until 5.35 pm.
There are more photos below