Shimla: Up Close & Personal

With my feet itching, I could hardly wait to flex my muscles, wash my hands, feet and face and go out running again to have the very first glimpse of the so much talked about Mall Road dotted with cedar, Raj era bungalows and other structures that have now been converted into important government buildings and the distinct colonial charm despite the sometimes maddening rush of tourists and locals alike.

On the Highways - Towards Shimla

On the Highways

So on a clear evening with azure sky above and lush oak and cedar forests all around, I grabbed my camera, dodged some unruly monkeys and left the comfort of bed and refreshments to embark on a stroll down – actually up – the Mall Road.

The road from the hotel Ashiana Regency leads straight up and after walking a few hundred meters I was up, close and personal to some of the most charismatic and symbolic structures of Shimla, which as – as they are the -the reminiscent of a bygone era.

Up front, I was at the Oakover…It is where some of the most important government buildings lie. It is also the place where the very first cemetery was build and soon abandoned as it was build too close to the heart of the city.

I walked in gay abandon, I clicked so many pics and I somehow found my way back to the hotel. If you are in Shimla, you shouldn’t miss this ride…But the magic of it is that you take it all along with you…that crowd, that serenity and that beautiful feeling of being alive and out there.

So here in third person I give you an impersonal travel guide to Shimla…Forgive me for that but my next post will be very personal and about Shimla and Kufri I swear 🙂

For this is the evening I decided to take a stroll down up the Mall Road:

So here I go at my impersonal best 🙂

Located a level below the ridge, Mall Road with an array of shops, important government building and British era bungalows and colonial structures is the very heart of Shimla and the point of convergence of visitors to this picturesque hill town in Himachal Pradesh.

Shopping in Shimla

As I mentioned earlier Mall Road is the very nerve center of the city. You will find plenty of branded stores and upscale restaurants here so much so that walking along a busy stretch it was almost as if I was back in Delhi. There are Pizza Huts, Domino’s, Levi’s, Nike and what not.

The locally brewed apple, plum, apricot, cider, ginger and grape wine are also sold on the Mall Road. Minchys is a shop that sells locally made squashes and jams (A good bit to take home!). There are many places to buy handicrafts items, but Himachal Emporium on the Mall Road is the best place to purchase handicrafts in Shimla.

Gaiety Heritage Cultural Complex

Yet another important structure to look out for as you amble along the Mall Road towards Ridge is the Gaiety Theater. Constructed in the Victorian architectural form in 1877, Gaiety Theatre was remarkably restored and reopened for public after 6 years of painstaking and sensitive restoration effort by none other than Ved Segan, who is also credited for restoring Prithvi Theater in Mumbai.

Designed by Henry Irwin, Gaiety Heritage Cultural Complex – as it is known in its resurrected form – is a spectacular specimen of Victorian Gothic Architecture and one of the finest creations that took place by British during the Raj era. Since its opening post restoration, the complex – which replicates Garrick in London – is primarily known for hosting cultural events, performing arts and exhibitions.

During its glorious past Gaiety Theatre has seen the legendary artists like Rudyard Kipling, Baten Powel, K.L. Sehgal, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, the Kendall’s, Balraj Sahani, Manohar Singh, Shashi Kapoor and Raj Babbar perform on its historical stage over a century and a half.

Scandal Point

One of the most interesting folklore that surround the Mall Road in Shimla is about the Scandal Point. It is so named because as per the popular romance, it was the point from where Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala abducted (or bewitched & eloped depending upon the version of the story) with the gorgeous daughter of then Viceroy. The tale is a long one and hence I will narrate it in yet another post to do this romance and the storyteller who narrated to me it in the first place the justice they deserve. This one was a thrilling tale of the Scandal Point

The Ridge

Not exactly the top of the city but definitely the heart of it all connecting all the arterial roads and points, the Ridge’s green slopes are covered with cedars, pines, oak and rhododendron trees. What makes it a must visit place in Shimla is the awesome views of the – almost – entire town that is Shimla.

The mesmerizing sights of the red-roofed chalets lining across the undulating landscape along with several half-timbered houses and Gothic and Victorian government edifices that are visible from The Ridge is a must have experience for any visitor to this city.

The Ridge is where people hang-out and have great views of the city. There are numerous statues along the Ridge along with a few tudorbethan style buildings and a church built in neo-gothic style. Nothing much to talk about the statues but, the church is one of its kind. In the night the illuminated Christ Church looks spectacular enough to transport visitors to medieval period (of course not physically!!).

Other Popular Things to do in Shimla

One of the must visit places in Shimla is the Kali Bari temple, which is actually Shyamala Devi temple. The reason I say that you should pay a visit to this religious place in Shimla is not just religious but something to do with the history of the city itself. For it is after this deity that the name of this paradisiacal hill station is derived.

Yet another popular tourist place with religious significance is Shimla that one, should visit – but unfortunately I couldn’t – is the Jakhu Temple. Located on the summit of the highest peak in the vicinity of Mall Road, Jakhu Temple has an interesting legend behind it.

It is said that when Hanuman was returning with Sanjivani Booti that would heal Lakshmana, brother of Lord Rama in the great Indian epic Ramayana he made a stopover to catch a few breath over this peak.

Since Hanuman was carrying what was almost a mountain itself, the tip of this hillock was flattened a bit. Imagine the weight :-)However I am curious as to why during his flight from modern day Sri Lanka to the Himalayas why did he feel tired just when he was about to reach his destination to drop the mountain at the place where from where he took it.

Concluding thoughts:

When you are on the Mall Road or at the Ridge you are never far from the maddening crowd but therein lie the distinct charm of Shimla as opposed to the crowds that I have witnessed at Manali or McLeodganj.

I was absolutely amazed at the harmony of nature, man and surroundings…IT WAS LIKE IN THE CROWD AND UP IN THE CLOUDS…Like a lesson in meditation when you are in the world but somehow out of it and up above.

I felt great and I feel that I need to tell the people who think Shimla has become too touristy. It is not. It depends upon how you see and take this enchanting city. Are you a Siddhartha or a Buddha… 🙂

Despite the changes in Shimla, its heart still holds numerous examples of other major architectural styles. Barnes Court and the Library on the Ridge; the former Viceregal Lodge; the Chalet, Cedar Lodge and Bantony and the Town Hall and the Gaiety Theater along with several old cottages and bungalows, bestow upon Shimla an old world charm.

I was amazed…truly… that Shimla still remains one of the few places in the world where so many different architectural styles may be found in a relatively compact geographic area. For a traveler like me, it would have been a hurried walk for Shimla is a hub for shopping enthusiast. It could be a lot of shopping for souvenirs or just window-shop for hours.

However, it is also along this very stretch that some of the gems of Shimla are to be discovered and so are some of the anecdotes, legends and folklore that border on heights of hyperbole. So with all this and much more I take your leave for another post on the very anecdotes of Shimla.

Till then…It is CIAO

Also read my tangential thoughts on Shimla Trip

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