India Travel Notes presents: karthikeyan
The capital of Himachal Pradesh and former summer capital of British India; Shimla is the states most important centre. Overlooking terraced hillsides and cultivations, Shimla is magnificently robed in dense forests of oak and pine, fur and rhododendron, and it is best to travel here on the slow train from Kalka.
Photograph by Genevieve Tearle
Bulging at its seams with unprecedented expansion, Shimla retains a colonial aura, with its grand old buildings, colonial edifices, quaint cottages, charming iron lampposts and Anglo-Saxon names.
Offering a view of distant snow clad peaks, charming walks, whispering streams and swaying fields, Shimla is also a convenient base for a variety of adventure sports such as Skiing, Trekking, Fishing and Golfing etc.
The British developed Shimla (called Shyamala earlier, another name, by which the goddess Kali is called), after the location was discovered first in 1819. In 1864 Shimla became summer capital city of India.
Rapid progress indeed! And then on, every summer until 1939, the Government of India, literally transported itself 2000 km, from the extreme summer heat that trapped the British administrative centres of Delhi and Calcutta.
The Kalka-Shimla railway line, built in 1903, made it easier for the sahibs to reach the cool altitudes of Shimla. After 1947, Punjab was administered, from here. It became the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh in 1966.
The art of miniature painting is one of the finest gifts of India to the art world. Pahari is the popular term coined for the paintings, done in the various Sub-Himalayan states. Most of the schools of Pahari painting, developed and flourished from about 17th to 19th centuries in the present state of Himachal Pradesh.
This hilly region, then divided into twenty-two small principalities, was ruled by Rajput kings or chieftains, who were all great connoisseurs of art, with and most of them maintaining ateliers. The Pahari rulers were tributaries to the Mughals and they often visited the Imperial court and were familiar with Mughal traditions and tastes.With the decline of the Mughal Empire, many of the painters trained in the refined Mughal style migrated to the Hills.
Indian and International.
The Mall is packed with big showrooms. The Himachal Emporium, a little beyond Scandal Point, has an interesting collection of Kullu shawls, caps and hand-knitted socks and gloves. The Lakkad Bazaar is flooded with wooden knick-knacks and handicrafts. Some Chinese shoe shops along The Mall are quite sought after for their shoes. Diwanchand Atmaram is famous for its latest collection of woolens. Some other items you might want to include in your shopping list are carpets, rugs, shawls, leather craft and silver jewellery. The Tibetan market, right down the lane from Scandal Point, has some very ‘genuinely’ fake imported goods, like jeans, T-shirts, bags, shoes, jackets et al.
Inaugurated in 1974, the museum’s most famous collection is a gallery of Pahari miniature — a style of painting that flourished before the impact of the west on India. Pahari stands for hill, and was practiced at the Hindu courts in the Himalayan foothills. Its exact origins are obscure. The paintings which resemble miniatures in colour are usually scenes suffused with poetic metaphor as well. They are in contrast to Mughal miniatures which are rendered more realistically. The museum also has temple bronzes, jewelers, textiles and masks from Kullu. The library has historical books and manuscripts. The museum has more than 1,500 objects on display.
Open Tuesdays to Sundays. Entry is free. Near Chaura Maiden.
Vice regal Lodge and Botanical Gardens
This was not where the British Viceroy lived. In fact from 1862 to 1888, he lived at the now gutted Peterhof — which Lord Lytton thought resembled a ‘pigsty’. The present Lodge sits on the Observatory Hills and was built by Lord Dufferin who moved here in 1888. Also called Rashtrapati Niwas, it has a natural drainage which flows into the Sutlej on one end, and into the Yamuna on the other.
Built in the Elizabethan or English Renaissance style, it has a crenellated tower and blue and grey local limestone and sandstone facings. The entrance opens out to a teak staircase with upper stories and a gallery. The sense of space is immense. The mirrors are from King
Thebaw’s palace in Burma.
It is six storeys high with a good lawn and garden and is now the Institute of Advanced Studies. Two km from the state museum.
Close to the Viceregal lodge. It is also called the Himalayan Bird Park. This park has a very good collection of birds found in Himachal such as Himalayan monal, pheasants, peafowls and the national bird of India, the peacock.
Adventure and fishing
There are numerous walks within and close to Shimla And there are many soft to medium treks that can use Shimla as the base. Some treks are to the Shalipeak, to the Kullu valley over the Jalori pass or the Bashleo pass, Shimla to Chail, Shimla to Junga and Shimla to Tattapani. Angling for trout can be done on the river Pabbar, near Rohru.
General Information of Shimla
Centre of Himachal Pradesh, 104 km from Chandigarh and about 342 km from Delhi.
How to Reach
IA has flights to and from Delhi via Chandigarh thrice a week. Airport: The main airport at Jubbarhatti is 20 km away from Shimla.
Kalka and Chandigarh are the closest railheads. Shatabdi Express and the Himalayan Queen connect Delhi with Kalka, and there is also the Howrah-Kalka Mail via Delhi. For the onward journey from Kalka, take the narrow gauge Toy Train. Taxis can also be hired from Kalka to Shimla at negotiable rates. Railway station: Situated close to the Victory Tunnel.
Deluxe coaches leave for Shimla via Chandigarh at regular intervals from the ISBT terminal at Delhi. A one-way trip costs anything between Rs 200 and 300. You could even hire a taxi from Chandigarh for about Rs 650. Or drive down the well-metalled roads. Bus terminus: Most day tours begin at Rivoli while the inter state bus stand connects you to other places in and around Shimla. Both are situated about 3 km apart on either end of the Victory Tunnel.
Extremely cold winters, with temperatures ranging between – 4?C and 18?C. Summer temperatures can rise upto 30?C.
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