Himachal Pradesh is a state that rises from the plains into the Himalayan foothills and the Himalayas themselves. Known for its clean air, stunning Alpine scenery and sparking rivers, it embraces the famous hill station of Shimla as well Dharamsala and the towns occupied by the Dalai Lama and Tibetans after they fled from Tibet. Caravan routes in the area played a role in spreading Buddhism to China and elsewhere in Asia.
Himachal Pradesh state covers 55,673square kilometers (21,495 square miles), is home to about seven million people and has a population density of 123 people per square kilometer. About 90 percent of the population live in rural areas. Shimla is the capital, city, with about 170,000 people.
Himachal Pradesh is home to some of the world’s highest mountains, Tibet-like areas such as Lahaul-Spiti and Kinnaur and picturesque valleys such as Kangra and Kulla. There are few trains. You have t rely on buses to get around. In the last half century, timber companies and farmers have felled more than two thirds of the hill forests in the Himachal Pradesh.
The Himalayas and Himachal are derived from the same Hindi words: ‘Him’, literally meaning ice or snow and ‘alaya’ meaning home. Himachal situated in the heart of the western Himalaya, identified as "Dev Bhumi" and is believed to be the abode of Gods and Goddesses. The entire state is dotted with stone and wood temples. The shadowy valleys, rugged crags, glaciers and gigantic pines and roaring rivers and exquisite flora and fauna are among its natural attractions. There are also many pilgrimage spots and places of anthropological value. The State has also the pride of being the home to rishis like Vyas, Parashar,Vashist, Markandey and Lamas.
While Himachal has traditionally been known as a summer destination, famous for hill stations such as Shimla, recently an effort has been made to turn the state into “A Destination for All Seasons and All Reasons”. Emphasis has also been placed on the development of activity-based tourism and opening up of new sub destinations.
Transportation and Getting to Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh is reasonably accessible from Delhi but getting there and traveling around Himachal is different than most places in India because there are few trains. Tourist destinations such as Shimla, Manali and Dharamsala are well connected by roads and reached by bus or hired vehicle. According to ASIRT: “1) Many roads are steep and winding. 2) Landslide risk is high in mountainous or hilly areas. Roads in mountainous areas often close in winter, due to heavy snowfall. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]
“3) Eight national highways pass through the state, including: NH-1A, NH-20, NH-22, NH-70, NH-21A, NH-88, NH-72. 4) The state’s Hamirpur District has an extensive road network. 5) The road network is less well-developed in tribal districts. Tribal districts are located the Himalayan Mountains near the Tibetan border. The districts include: Kinnaur, Lahaul, Spiti and the Pangi and Brahmour tehsils(small groups of towns or villages within a district) of Chamba district.
“6) Government-operated Himachal Road Transport Corporation provides bus transport to many cities in the state. Private bus companies also provide transport. 7) Traffic is congested in larger cities, including Sundernagar, Manali, Jogindernagar and Theog. 8) Taxis are readily available in larger cities.”
Himalayan National Park Conservation Area
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Himalayan National Park is one of the most protected areas in the Himalayas. It is home to almost 350 species of flora and 800 species of fauna, some of which are endangered. The park shelters four of the world's threatened species of mammals (snow leopard, serow, the Himalayan tahr and musk deer) and three of the world's threatened bird species (Western tragopan, koklass, cheer pheasants). A large part of the park's green cover is composed of three varieties of oak – ban, mohru and kharsu. This park offers an ideal opportunity to experience camping and trekking through serene alpine pastures. The best time to visit the park is during summer and autumn. It was recognised as a national park in 1999. The park is sprawled across 1,171 square kilometers and shares its boundary with several other natural reserves like the Pin Valley National Park, the Rupi Bhaba Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kanwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Parvati valley. It can be reached from Bhunter, Manali and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh as it covers several sub-Himalayan regions. The park is a hotspot for both wildlife and adventure enthusiasts as it offers an opportunity to organise a large number of treks, which range from easy to difficult, in the various sub-regions of the park. Since several villages have also been included in its expansion since 2004, visitors get a chance to witness the symbiotic relationship of the locals have with their environment.
Himalayan National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. According to UNESCO: “The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is located in the western part of the Himalayan Mountains in the northern Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. The 90,540 hectares property includes the upper mountain glacial and snow melt water source origins of the westerly flowing Jiwa Nal, Sainj and Tirthan Rivers and the northwesterly flowing Parvati River which are all headwater tributaries to the River Beas and subsequently, the Indus River. The property includes an elevational range from high alpine peaks of over 6,000m a.s.l to riverine forest at altitudes below 2,000m a.s.l. The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area encompasses the catchments of water supplies which are vital to millions of downstream users. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]
“The property lies within the ecologically distinct Western Himalayas at the junction between two of the world’s major biogeographic realms, the Palearctic and Indomalayan Realms. Displaying biotic elements from both these realms, the Himalayan National Park Conservation Area protects the monsoon affected forests and alpine meadows of the Himalayan front ranges which sustain a unique biota comprised of many distinct altitude-sensitive ecosystems. The property is home to many plants and animals endemic to the region. The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area displays distinct broadleaf and conifer forest types forming mosaics of habitat across steep valley side landscapes. It is a compact, natural and biodiverse protected area system that includes 25 forest types and an associated rich assemblage of fauna species.
“The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is located within the globally significant “Western Himalayan Temperate Forests” ecoregion. The property also protects part of Conservation International’s Himalaya “biodiversity hot spot” and is part of the BirdLife International’s Western Himalaya Endemic Bird Area. The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is home to 805 vascular plant species, 192 species of lichen, 12 species of liverworts and 25 species of mosses. Some 58 percent of its angiosperms are endemic to the Western Himalayas. The property also protects some 31 species of mammals, 209 birds, 9 amphibians, 12 reptiles and 125 insects. The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area provides habitat for 4 globally threatened mammals, 3 globally threatened birds and a large number of medicinal plants. The protection of lower altitude valleys provides for more complete protection and management of important habitats and endangered species such as the Western Tragopan and the Musk Deer.”
Conservation in the Himalayan National Park
The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is characterized by high alpine peaks, alpine meadows and riverine forests and embraces several rivers, and the catchments of water supplies that are vital to millions of downstream users. According to UNESCO: “The GHNPCA protects the monsoon-affected forests and alpine meadows of the Himalayan front ranges. It is part of the Himalaya biodiversity hotspot and includes twenty-five forest types along with a rich assemblage of fauna species, several of which are threatened. This gives the site outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]
“The Himalayan National Park Conservation Area is at the core of a larger area of surrounding protected areas which form an island of undisturbed environments in the greater Western Himalayan landscape. The diversity of species present is rich; however it is the abundance and health of individual species’ populations supported by healthy ecosystem processes where the Himalayan National Park Conservation Area demonstrates its outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation.
“The property is of a sufficient size to ensure the natural functioning of ecological processes. Its rugged topography and inaccessibility together with its location within a much larger ecological complex of protected areas ensures its integrity. The altitudinal range within the property together with its diversity of habitat types provide a buffer to climate change impacts and the needs of altitude sensitive plants and animals to find refuge from climate variability.
“A 26,560 hectares buffer zone known as an Ecozone is defined along the southwestern side of the property. This buffer zone coincides with the areas of greatest human pressure and is managed in sympathy with the core values of the Himalayan National Park Conservation Area. The property is further buffered by high mountain systems to the northwest which include several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. These areas also offer scope to progressively increase the size of the World Heritage property. Human settlement related threats pose the greatest concern and include agriculture, localised poaching, traditional grazing, human-wildlife conflicts and hydropower development. Tourism impact is minimal and trekking routes are closely regulated.”
Shimla (340 kilometers, 6½ hours north of Delhi by road) is the first, largest and most famous hill station. Known as the Queen of Hill Stations, it rests at an elevation of 7,267 feet and was established in 1822 by the East India Company as a place to escape from the malaria, cholera and typhoid in Kolkata, and quickly became a retreat for people who wanted to get away from the dreadful heat of the plains of India in the dry season.
From 1830 to 1947 Shimla (also spelled Simla) was not only a popular vacation destination it was also the capital of British India and the headquarters for the imperial army for seven months of the year, from April to October. This was the equivalent of the bureaucracy in Washington and the Pentagon moving to the Rocky Mountains for the summer. Many of those who spent the summer in Shimla came from Kolkata, 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away.
Rudyard Kipling wrote in Shimla, Nehru and Gandhi met there and Britons enjoyed grand balls, cricket matches, dinner parties and tea times there. As one disapproving resident said, "Sedition, unrest and even murderous riots may have been going on elsewhere in India, but in Shimla the burning questions are polo finals, racing and the all-absorbing tennis tournament." Shimla was also a place people came to indulge themselves. Kipling described Shimla in “Plain Tales from the Hills: as a city "where all things begin and many come to an evil end." Lola Montez, “La Grande Horizonatale”, among others got her start in Shimla. For information on Shimla and its history read Barbara Crossete's “Great Hill Stations of Asia”.
Tourism in Shimla
Enveloped in mist, nestled within dense forests and silhouetted against snowy peaks of the mighty Himalayas, Shimla is much larger than most other hill stations. It is also the capital of Himachal Pradesh and popular vacation spot for Indians, some of whom carry walking sticks, wear cravats and tweeds and take tea at four and eat scones and custard as if they were British colonials. The city is essentially a Indian city built around a British colonial skeleton. The traffic, shops and restaurant are all Indian. The remaining colonial buildings mostly look tattered and worn. Monkeys roam around in packs and occasionally steal stuff from inside buildings that leave their windows open.
The best months to visit are from March to May and from June to August. It is cold from November to February. The journey to get there involves a ride on a dizzy road, and, if one comes by air, a plane ride that seems to brush past Himalayan peaks by mere inches. In the old days most people were carried by mule after a long train ride from Delhi.
Shimla is ringed by seven lofty hills. It attractions include British-era lodges, the bustling 12-kilometer-long Ridge, one of the oldest golf courses in Asia, colonial bungalows and the official retreat of the President of India. In recent years the city has tried to promote itself as outdoor sports like skiing, trekking, paragliding and ice skating, Shimla has also become something of a goose that laid the golden egg. It suffers from clogged roads, chronic water shortages and unsightly development resulting from too many tourists.
Orientation and Getting to Shimla
Shimla is set among seven hills and forests of oak, pin, rhododendron and cedar on 2,133-meter (7,000-foot) -high ridge in the Himalayan foothills. Above it is s 2,483-meter (8,000-foot) Jaktu peak and beyond it are snowcapped mountains. Shimla sprawls over a large area. The skyline is dominated by a Gothic church, a baronial flats and Victorian-era country mansions with rusty corrugated roofs. Some parts of the city lie on such steep slopes that stairways are used instead of roads. Sir Edwain Luyens once commented that if Shimla had been built by monkeys, "one would have said, 'What wonderful monkeys, they must be shot in case they do it again." At the heart of the city id the Mall, a twisting 2½-mile-long promenade that sweeps past three of Shimla’ seven hills was once regarded as the Fifth Avenue of India. Many people shop around the Tibetan bazaar.
Getting There: Shimla can be reached by a spectacular road or a narrow-gauge railroad. Passengers who arrive on the Himalayan Queen train from New Delhi change at the town of Kalka to the narrow-gauge railroad. By Air: The airport, located in Jubbarhatii, is about 23 kilometers away from Shimla. Daily flights connect it to New Delhi and Kullu. By Road: By bus, Shimla is connected to Kalka (about 88 kilometers), Chandigarh (about 113 kilometers) and New Delhi (about 360 kilometers). By Train: Broad gauge trains take visitors up until Kalka, which is connected by regular rail services to New Delhi, Kolkata and Amritsar. From Kalka, one can take narrow gauge trains to Shimla using the Kalka-Shimla UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed railway line.
Kalka Shimla Railway
Kalka-Shimla Railway is the popular narrow-gauge toy train that winds through the Himalayan foothills to reach Shimla, twisting and turning and offering views of panoramic landscapes dotted with oak and pine trees. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, the train passes through the beautiful Solan city on its way to Shimla.
The narrow-gauge train traverses about 98 kilometers (60 miles) and climbs 1,307 meters (4,290 feet) and passes through 103 numbered tunnels, blasted out during the time of the British Raj, and passes over 969 bridges. The train inches by sheer drops and traverses switchbacks at the speed of 10mph, allowing passengers to get a good look at the butterflies, terraced gardens and the changing vegetation. The trip trip takes about five hours. Before the train was finished in 1903 it was an eight journey by horse-drawn tonga to traverse the same distance. A steam engine was brought back to the route in November 2003.
According to UNESCO: “The Kalka Shimla Railway, a 96.6 kilometer long, single track working rail link built in the mid-19th century to provide a service to the highland town of Shimla is emblematic of the technical and material efforts to disenclave mountain populations through the railway. The world's highest multi-arc gallery bridge and the world's longest tunnel (at the time of construction) of the KSR were the a testimony toof the brilliantce engineering skills applied to make thisa dream a reality. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]
History of the Kalka Shimla Railway
According to UNESCO: “The Shimla region took on considerable political importance as the Indian colonial government decided to take up summer residence there, because of the healthier climate linked to the altitude. The question of transport to the Himalayan foothills, the Delhi region and the Ganges plain then became crucial. The possibility of a rail link was mentioned as early as 1847. The opening of the Grand Hindostan and Tibet Route was however the first major advance in this field. It was operational in this region in 1856. [Source: UNESCO]
“The first engineering development work was carried out in 1884-85, to establish a steam traction "adhesion line" with a gradient not exceeding 30/1000 (1/33), using the narrow gauge principle. The project was submitted to the government but was not immediately taken up.
“Development work was revived by the arrival of the Delhi railway line at Kalka, in 1891. Other shorter layouts and other technical solutions were then considered by the engineers, such as the rack system. Finally a contract was signed between the government and the Ambala-Kalka Railway, for the construction and operation of an adhesion line with a gauge of 2 feet. The final general design project was presented and approved in 1899. It comprised the technical development work, the costing and the rolling stock. The Railway had to meet the cost of construction on its own; only the land was provided by the public authorities.
“The work was begun, but at the request of the Army, the initial 2 foot gauge was increased to 2 feet 6 inches. The rails were in laminated steel, and were laid on wooden sleepers and ballast. “Traffic opened to the public on 9 November 1903. But exceptionally heavy snowfall damaged the track on 26 December of the same year, causing a large number of landslides. Difficult operating conditions were thus added to the high cost of initial establishment, and despite the high fares the Railway experienced serious financial difficulties. Its strategic importance led the government to acquire the line on 1st January 1905.
“The first steam locomotives were 4-wheeled engines (1900), and these were followed by 6-wheeled (1902) and finally 10-wheeled engines. They were made by Stewart & Co of Glasgow. The locomotive models were derived from those used on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. This rolling stock remained in service until 1953 with no major modifications.
“The locomotives were then modified by the German company Henschel: increase in water and coal capacities, modification of the grate, modification of the valve gear. The modified steam locomotives began to be scrapped in the 1970s, and the last ones remained in service until 1980. They were replaced by diesel engines from 1952 onwards. One of the steam locomotives initially delivered in 1905 (KC 520) has been restored by KSR, in 2001, in order to re-establish the tradition of steam traction in the mountains, which today has been almost completely forgotten.
“The carriages were built by the Railway itself from 1903 onwards. The first were very simple 4-wheeled carriages, light and short (17 feet). In 1910 new carriages were introduced using steel under-frames and bogies, thereby reducing the number of derailments. The KSR initially had 4 travel classes. Furthermore, extremely luxurious saloon cars could be rented. The second car of this type, built in 1912 (RA-2), has been conserved and restored. Subsequent passenger carriages were made lighter and protected against the effects of corrosion by the use of aluminium.
“In 1911, petrol-driven Rail Motor Cars were introduced on the line to carry mail. They were made by the Drewery Car Co. Ltd. in London, and were equipped with White & Poppe 17 HP engines. Car no. 12 of this type is preserved in the National Rail Museum, New Delhi. Diesel-electric motor cars were introduced from 1932, with large windows to give panoramic views of the magnificent Himalayan mountain scenery. One of these cars (no. 8) is known as the "Queen of Shivalik". With this type of car, the total journey time was reduced to 4½ hours, which is still the same today. Generally speaking, the KSR has always attempted to improve its rolling stock, both in terms of technical performance and passenger comfort.”
Mountain Railways of India: UNESCO World Heritage Site
Mountain Railways of India were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, 2005 and 2008. According to UNESCO: “The Mountain Railway of India consists of three railways: the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway located in the foothills of the Himalayas in West Bengal (Northeast India) having an area of 5.34 ha., the Nilgiri Mountain Railways located in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu (South India) having an area of 4.59 ha. and the Kalka Shimla Railway located in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh (Northwest India) having an area of 79.06 ha. All three railways are still fully functional and operational. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]
“The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was the first, and is still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, its design applies bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. The construction of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, a 46-kilometer long meter-gauge single-track railway in Tamil Nadu State was first proposed in 1854, but due to the difficulty of the mountainous location the work only started in 1891 and was completed in 1908. This railway, scaling an elevation of 326 meters to 2,203 meters, represented the latest technology of the time. The Kalka Shimla Railway, a 96-kilometer long, single track working rail link built in the mid-19th century to provide a service to the highland town of Shimla is emblematic of the technical and material efforts to disenclave mountain populations through the railway. All three railways are still fully operational.
“The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of hill railways. Opened between 1881 and 1908 they applied bold and ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. They are still fully operational as living examples of the engineering enterprise of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of the interchange of values on developments in technology, and the impact of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multicultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world. The Mountain Railways of India exhibit an important cultural and technologicaly transfer in the colonial setting of the period of its construction, particularly with regard to the eminently political function of the terminus station, Shimla.. The railway then enabled significant and enduring human settlement, of which it has remained the main vector up to the present day.
“The development of railways in the 19th century had a profound influence on social and economic developments in many parts of the world. The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of a technological ensemble, representing different phases of the development in high mountain areas. The Mountain Railways of India are outstanding examples of how access has been provided to the plains and plateaus of the Indian mountains. They are emblematic of the technical and material efforts of human societies of this period to disenclave mountain populations through the railway. They are well-maintained and fully operational living lines. They are used in a spirit and for purposes that are the same as those at its their inception.”
Food and Shopping in Shimla
In Shimla you can get afternoon take tea and scones and other British classics. As for dishes and snacks with a more Indian flavor, you can get sidu, a heavy kneaded bread that is stuffed and served with coriander chutney, lentils or ghee (clarified butter) and chana madra, lightly spiced chickpea curry that is made using yoghurt as the main ingredient and served with steamed rice. Patande are a kind of Himachali pancakes. Cream, condensed milk and sugar are whisked together and added to wheat flour. This mixture is then spread on a pan to make delicious sweet pancakes that are served with caramelised apples, plums, cherries and other fruit.
The Mall is a bustling shopping area lined with handicraft shops, branded stores and small shops selling a wide range of items. From shawls and woollen items to trendy jewelry and toys for kids. lovers. Himachal Emporium at Mall Road is run by the Himachal Pradesh Government. It is one of the best and most reasonable spots in Shimla to buy locally made handicrafts, pottery items, woollen wear, jewelry items, Kinnauri shawls and beautiful souvenirs. Lower Bazaar market lies below the mall road and is comparatively much cheaper. One can find a lot of silversmith shops from where exquisite silver jewelry items can be purchased. The numerous lanes of the bazaar are lined with shops selling handicrafts, wooden items, colorful earthen pots, shawls and other woollen wear. The market is also known for rare medicinal herbs that can be bought from here.
Tibetan Market is a good place to bargain. You can buy a range of woollen items like jackets, sweaters, scarves, mufflers and leather boots as well as antiques, Feng Shui items, silver jewelry, thangka and Tibetan carpets. Lakkar Bazaar is known for its wood-carving products. The shops of Lakkar Bazaar house an incredible collection of locally carved wooden artefacts ranging from decorative souvenirs, wooden toys, flower vases and candle stands to kitchen pots, key chains and spoons. The market is also noted for good quality dry fruits and fresh fruits like cherry, plum and peach.
Activities in Shimla
Sports enthusiast can enjoy gold, tennis and swimming in the summertime and skiing in the winter. The mall is Shimla's promenade and shopping area and the city is filled with delightful bungalows. Popular hiking destinations include Jakhoo Hill, Chadwick Falls and Prospect Hill. Taradevi Temple, Sankat Mochan and the Tibetan monastery are haves of tranquility. Shimla also has an interesting state museum with Pahari miniature pianting. The Bhuri Singh Museum has a collection f hill jewelry, arms and carved doors. Shimla is noted for its Ice Skating Rink, one of the largest in the country. People go paragliding in the scenic hill station of Kufri.
Skiing can be done at several spots in Shimla area, of which the best is Kufri. Lying 10 kilometers by from Shimla, Kufri (2,622 meters) is blanketed with thick snow from January to March. Tourists can visit Mashobra, on the outskirts of the city, which remains covered in snow from the months of December through March. Narkanda is among the oldest ski resorts in the country and lies about 60 kilometers from Shimla. Its unexplored and unspoilt slopes make for a great skiing stopover. Perched at a height of about 8,100 ft, Narkanda is known for delicious cherries and apples.
Trekking has been drawing people to Shimla for years. Surrounded by seven hills and a multitude of passes connecting them, the city offers scenic trails that will give you an experience of a lifetime. While the Dhauladhar range has more than two dozen passes, the Pirpanjal range boasts around 12 pretty routes. Some of the popular treks you can undertake are: Shimla to Banjar that goes through Luhri, Ani and Jalori Pass; Shimla to Chakrata that winds through Narkanda, Hatu Peak, Halau, Kandol, Koli; from Narkanda, Khadrala, Sungri to Rohru and back to Shimla; Banjar to Bathad, Sarahan, Arsu and then Rampur.
Golfing can be enjoyed in Naldehra, on the outskirts of the city, which is one of the few golf courses in the country. A nine-hole course later expanded to 18 holes, it was laid out by Lord Curzon, the former governor-general of India, who named it after his daughter, Naldera. Visitors can enjoy a playing golf amidst tall trees and lofty mountains.
Fishing can be done in and around Shimla. The city is cut by small shallow streams from which fish can be caught. One of the best spots is the upstream at Rohru, in the Pabbar Valley. To fish for trout, one can head to the hatchery in Chirgaon. You will find bountiful supplies of brown and rainbow trout. Tourists can also head to Sandsu, Seema, Mandil, Tikri and Dhamvari, which are popular fishing spots nearby Rohru.
Shimla is home to a number of private camping resorts and stores that provide necessary equipment for setting up your own camps in the hills. Some of the best spots to enjoy camping are Shoghi, Chail's Koti Neen, Mashobra and Basantpur village. Most of the private camping resorts provide excellent facilities for food, lodging and bonfire, depending on your budget.
Sights in Shimla
The grandest architecture in Shimla — with grandiose features such as porticoes, pillar buttresses, Tudor facades, bay windows with cut panes, gabled roofs, and decorated gutters — dates to the Victorian era. There are also old bungalows, beautiful gardens, modern resorts and lively bazaars. Residents in the old days longtime residents complained that relatives who said they were only coming for a couple of days often stuck around for weeks.
Building from the Victorian era include the Neo-Gothic Gaiety Theater (1887), a tiny place where amateur theatricals were staged; the Viceregal Lodge, described as cross between a lunatic asylum and a Gothic train station; St Michael's Church; Gorton Castle, the Anglican cathedral. Christ Church, built in 1857, is one of most well-known landmarks of Shimla.
The Woodville Place Hotel was once the home of the maharajah of Jubbal. Among the people who stayed there were Marlene Dietrich, Laurel and Hardy, Maurice Chevalier and Clark Gable. Summer Hill is where the dinner-jacket crowds attended their balls and dinner parties. Large bungalows include Holly Lodge, Romney Castle, The Bricks, Forest View, Sevenoaks and Fernside.
Viceregal Lodge is one of India's best and well-maintained British-era buildings. Surrounded by a lush green botanical garden, it once served as the summer residence of the Indian viceroy when the administrative center shifted from Delhi to Shimla. The lodge is also known as the Rashtrapati Nilayam or President's House as it now serves as a summer retreat for the Indian President. Lying at Observatory Hill, Viceregal Lodge offers panoramic views of the entire area. The building was designed by British architect Henry Irwin during Lord Dufferin's tenure as the Indian viceroy. Built in the Jacobethan style, the building draws influences from English renaissance period, which is reflected in the use of grey stones. The interior of the building is adorned with Burma teak and woodwork. Tourists can visit only a few rooms inside the building as part of a brief paid tour since the building has been changed into the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. During the tour, you will be told about the history of the place as you see rare photographs that have been exhibited.
The Ridge is regarded as the heart of Shimla: where you can find kids enjoying horse rides, tourists taking group pictures, elderly men and women sitting on benches and taking in the views of snow-clad mountains, vendors selling toys, newly-weds taking a romantic stroll and little eateries selling ice creams. The large open space is the center of recreational activity of the hill station and also the permanent venue for most of the events and cultural festivals held in the city. The most popular festival hosted at the Ridge is the annual Summer Festival, which is held every year during the months of April or May. The Ridge lies along the Mall Road and connects major places like Lakkar Bazaar, Scandal Point, Jakhoo Hill and the Mall with each other. The landmark Christ Church, a fine specimen of Neo-Gothic architecture and also one of the most visited tourist spots of Shimla, is also located at the Ridge.
The Mall is Shimla's main shopping and gathering place. It is a pedestrian street, about seven kilometers long (See Shopping above). The Mall is also noted for gorgeous colonial buildings. It is home to the Gaiety Theater, which resembles an old British theater and is a hub for cultural programs. Other important buildings include the Clarkes Hotel, Town Hall, a red brick mansion called Bantony, which was the home of the Maharaja of Sirmaur, and the post office. The Mall is located close to Lakkar Bazaar that is popular for local handicrafts. A passenger lift, set up by HPTDC, can be accessed from the Cart Road to reach the Mall.
Sankat Mochan Temple is the most visited spiritual site in Shimla after the Jakhoo Temple, and draws devotees with its tranquil vibes and amazing view points. Dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the temple was established in 1950 by noted religious figure, Baba Neeb Karori Maharaj, who was so amazed by the beauty of Shimla that he spent 10 days in the forest and decided to establish a Hindu temple. Known for its splendid architecture, the Sankat Mochan Temple also houses idols of Lord Rama and Lord Shiva. The temple not only casts a spell on visitors with its divinity, but also reels them in with the majestic views it offers. Tourists can sit at the iron benches outside the temple complex and enjoy amazing views of Shimla. Located at an altitude of 1,975 meters (6480 feet) above sea level, the temple lies on the Shimla-Kalka Highway.
Hills of Shimla
Summer Hill is one of the seven hills that surround of Shimla. Lying at a height of about 2,100 meters (6,890 feet) above sea level, it is dotted with gorgeous deodar and pine trees. Popularly known as Potter's Hill and regarded as a suburb of Shimla, it holds historical significance as well. Mahatma Gandhi used to stay at the grand mansion of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur located here, during his visits to Shimla. The streets of Summer Hill are lined with magnificent residential buildings and the Himachal Pradesh University is also located here. While travelling on the heritage Shimla-Kalka railway line, one can get spectacular views of the Summer Hill in the backdrop.
Prospect Hill is another one of the seven hills that surround of Shimla. It is best known for a glorious temple dedicated to Kamna Devi. Perched on the summit, this temple can be accessed by a 15-minute walk from Boileauganj on the Shimla-Bilaspur highway. It lies at a height of 2,125 meters (6,971 feet) above sea level, and offers pristine views of the town sprawled below. Tourists can also see the popular toy train winding through picturesque surroundings. The way to the temple is lined with deodar trees and according to popular belief, devotees who take the difficult climb to reach the temple, are blessed by Goddess Kamna Devi. Prospect Hill is also one of the best places in Shimla to witness gorgeous sunsets.
Elysium Hill (on the road leading to the Lakkar Bazaar) is yet another one of the seven hills that surround Shimla. Situated at the north-western fringes of the city, it is an amazing vantage point for views of the city. The highest point in Shimla, it is 2255 meters (7400 feet) high. and boasts the popular British era Auckland House, which once served as the residence of the then viceroy, Lord Auckland. Set amidst tall deodars and rhododendrons, the more than 150-year-old building has been converted into Auckland House Girls School, locally known as A lucky. There's also an orphanage located nearby that offers shelter to Tibetan kids. The hill is also home to the Longwood residential locality.
Jakhu Hill (2.5 kilometers east of The Ridge) is the highest peak of Shimla, at 2,455 meters (8,054 feet) above sea level. Due to its location on the highest point of Shimla, it offers sweeping views of the Shivalik ranges. The hill, the temple here and the surrounding areas are occupied by hundreds of monkeys. These naughty creatures are not afraid of humans and are infamous for snatching away objects like bags of parasaad, hats and sunglasses.
Jakhu Temple (on Jakhu Hill) is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and houses a 33-meter (108-foot) -tall idol of the deity.. According to legend Lord Hanuman stopped here in his quest for the sanjeevani plant, which was the herb needed to cure Lord Lakshmana as he was injured in the battle against Ravana. Another story suggests that one of Lord Hanuman's sandals fell at this spot, and thus a temple came to be built here. The temple is quite charming during monsoons when it is often shrouded in mist. .If you peep above the treeline near the Christ Church, you will notice the top of the 33-meter-high statue of the god staring back at you. The temple is situated a considerable distance from the town and its hustle and bustle. To reach it one can take a short cable car ride that goes to the very top of the mountain. The other option is the steep albeit scenic hike that goes up the beautiful mountainside and starts next to the church.
Naldehra (five kilometers north of Shimla) is famous as one of the oldest golf courses in the country, located at a height of 2,200 meters above sea level. An 18-hole course, it is considered as one of the most challenging in India. Originally designed by the British Viceroy, Lord Curzon, who was supposedly so taken with the beauty of the spot that he personally supervised the laying out of the nine-hole golf course, which was later expanded. Naldehra is crowned by a magnificent grove of deodar trees and carpeted with a springing turf. The wide areas that form the iconic Alps-like topography of the region are home to some endangered species of fauna.
Shoghi (14 kilometers southwest of Shmla) is a peaceful suburb set amidst rhododendron and oak forests. Home to ancient temples and dense foliage, this quaint town is also a haven for trekkers and offers amazing opportunities for trekking and camping. The Tara Devi Temple is the most popular attraction in Shoghi that draws devotees from all parts of the state. The temple can be reached by taking a walk through lovely deodar forests. Dedicated to Goddess Tara, one of the most significant deities of Tibetan Buddhists, the 250-year-old temple is perched on Tara Parvat. The temple invites large crowds during the Sharad Navratri and the Ma Tara Devi Festival, which is celebrated every year with great fervour during Diwali. Perched at an altitude of 1,851 meters above sea level, the temple offers spectacular views of the snow-covered Himalayas on one side and Shimla on the other. Shoghi is also very popular for its delicious fruit products like home-made pickles, syrups, juices and jellies. The gorgeous town is located at a distance of 14 kilometers from Shimla and is best visited during the summer season. Shoghi can also be reached by taking the heritage Kalka-Shimla toy train, which is an amazing experience in itself.
Mashobra (eight kilometers northeast of Shimla) is a quaint town Nestled amongst the lush environs of the Shimla Reserve Forest Sanctuary. Crisscrossed with narrow alleys, dotted with colonial buildings, serene churches and ancient temples, Mashobra also serves as the official retreat of the President of India, who arrives every year for two weeks to conduct official meetings with foreign dignitaries who stay at retreat. A gem of colonial architecture, the Presidential retreat is made entirely of wood and dates back to 1850. Shimla. Reserve Forest Sanctuary is filled with cedar, oak and pine trees and home to leopards, monkeys, baboons, jackals and barking deer. Visitors to Mashobra can enjoy paragliding and short but thrilling whitewater rafting trips in the summer and skiing in the winter. Hiking trails lead to 2,872-meter (9,423-foot) -high Shali Tibba.
Fagu (10 kilometers east of Shimla on the Hindustan-Tibet Road) is a secluded retreat that serve as a base for trekkers and people exploring Shimla's countryside. The deep valleys of Fagu are home to scenic apple orchards and beautiful flower fields. The place offers limited options for accommodation but tourists can book Hotel Peach Blossom which is run by Himachal Pradesh Tourism. One of the major tourist spots in Fagu is the Banthia Devta Temple, which offers a glimpse of the town's rich art and culture. The temple draws visitors with its beautiful wooden carvings and scenic beauty. Katir (13 kilometers from Fagu) is a popular camping spot. Theog is known for its markets. At about 2,450 meters above sea level, Fagu gets a fair amount of snow in the winter
An Hour or From Shimla
Chail (40 kilometers from Shimla) is a beautiful hill top resort with a palace hotel, several charming tourist cottages. and sprawling cricket grounds. The hill town once served as the summer capital of the princely state of Patiala and is spread across the Rajgarh, Sadh Tiba and Pandewa hillocks. Blessed with dense forests of chir, pine and deodars, Chail offers stunning views of the countryside. The main attraction is the Chail Palace. Built in 1891, it was owned by the Maharaja of Patiala and is now run as a heritage hotel. Its grand interiors and classic furniture are reminders of the princely lifestyle of the bygone era.
Cricket lovers can head to the School Playground, which was commissioned by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh (1891-1938), an avid lover of the sport. Perched at an altitude of 7,500 ft, the ground stands proudly as the highest cricket ground in the world. The Kali Ka Tibba or Kali Temple is not only a major spiritual site but also offers majestic views of the city. Tourists can also visit the Chail Gurudwara that dates back to 1907. Chail is home to a rich variety of animal and bird species like Himalayan black bear and flying squirrel that can be spotted at the Chail Wildlife Sanctuary. For trekkers, Chail offers amazing trekking trails like the rocky trails of Gaura and Jhajja, which take you to some of the best viewpoints.
Hatu Peak (65 kilometers from Shimla and 130 kilometers from Kasauli) is the second-highest mountain in Shimla district. Located at an elevation of 3,400 meters (11,155 feet) , the imposing Hatu Mata Temple, dedicated to Goddess Kali is built in typical Himachali architecture. It draws large crowds on the first Sunday of the Hindu calendar month, Jyeshta (May-June). One of the major attractions of the temple is a small stove-like structure, which, according to popular belief, was used by the Pandavas to cook food during their exile.
Narkanda (on Hatu Peak) is a popular ski resort and hill station and transit point for travelers heading to Spiti Valley and other higher reaches of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh.. Located around and at a height of 2,708 meters (8,885 feet) above sea level, Narkanda is an ideal tourist retreat, offering picturesque views of the surrounding snow-clad mountains. During winters, it becomes a skiing hub. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation organises short skiing courses for visitors. Tourists can also visit the Hatu Mata Temple, also a well-known skiing location, on Hatu Peak, which is surrounded by spruce and pine trees. The best time to visit Narkanda is during autumn when the weather is not too cold. The nearby Hatu Peak offers a better view and is higher than Narkanda. It is also popularly known as the gateway to the apple country of Himachal Pradesh.
Kasauli (40 kilometers southwest of Shimla, 65 kilometers northeast of Chandigarh and 350 kilometers north of Delhi) is closer to Delhi than Shimla and near Kalka where the toy train to Shimla starts and thus serves a gateway to Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by the snow-capped Shivalik Hills, Kasauli was established as an Army cantonment in 1842. Lined with a number of sprawling colonial bungalows, quaint cottages tucked amidst oak and pine trees, cobbled pathways, serene churches and small souvenir shops, Kasauli is where colonial tales come to life. Tourists can experience this rich legacy while staying in the Raj-era bungalows that have now been converted either into homestays or hotels. With its lush green mountains home to a wide variety of species of birds and animals, Kasauli has a rich reservoir of flora and fauna.
Folklore says Kasauli has derived its name from a flower found in the hills called kasool. A two-hour drive from the city of Chandigarh, Kasauli is home to several ancient temples. According to legend Kasauli is the place where Lord Hanuman's foot touched land on his way back to Sri Lanka from the Himalayas, while carrying sanjiwani buti (a medicinal herb) to bring Lord Lakshmana back to life in the epic, Ramayana. Kasauli is also popular as the birthplace of famous Indian author of British origin, Ruskin Bond. The town is chilly during winters with temperatures falling to 2 degree, while summers are pleasant.
Getting There: By Air: The nearest airport is at Chandigarh, about 65 kilometers away. By Road: It is well-connected through reasonably good roads, expressways and interstate bus services. By Train: Kalka is the nearest railhead, 25 kilometers from the hill town.
Sights in Kasauli
Kasauli Distillery makes Scotch and is one of the oldest distilleries in Asia. The distillery was set up in the late 1820s by the British. The distilling and brewing equipment was brought to India from England and Scotland on ship and carried here on ox-drawn carts. The copper pot used in distillation process date to the 19th century and are still in use today. It is said that the brewery launched Asia’s first beer, Lion. The first product that rolled out from Kasauli Brewery was Indian pale ale and malt whiskey. then. Its first customers were mainly British soldiers stationed in Kasauli. As time passed, more and more people started settling down in Kasauli, which resulted in them using the spring water more and more. Therefore, the brewery moved to Solan where it still exists today. However, the distillery at Kasauli is still operating and is said to be the oldest distillery in continuous operation in the world. Kasauli Distillery produces single malt whiskey brand, Solan No. 1, as its main whiskey brand. This has been its main product for over a century. Today, the company is known for Old Monk Rum, Colonel’s Special, Diplomat Deluxe, Summer Hall and Black Knight. Tours are offered between 7:00am and 7 pm. And don’t miss the old steam engine near the entrance of the brewery.
Baba Balak Nath Temple is one of the most popular pilgrimage places in Himachal Pradesh. It draws a large number of devotees all year round, especially during the Navratra (a holy nine-day festival) period. The medieval cave temple, lying on the outskirts of Kasuali, has been carved out in a hill and is considered to be the natural abode of Baba Balak Nath. An impressive idol of the deity is worshipped in the cave. A stone's throw away from the temple is the Shah Talai, another important tourist spot as Baba is assumed to have done penance here. It is considered sacred by the pilgrims who observe Sunday as an auspicious day of Babaji, who is said to be an ardent follower of Lord Shiva. It is widely believed in the region that a childless couple that offers prayers at the temple will soon be blessed with progeny. A traditional sweet bread made from wheat flour and jaggery is offered in the temple as prasad. The temple is located in village Chakmoh of district Hamirpur on Dhaulagiri Mountain at Ghadkhal.
Monkey Point is the highest point in Kasauli Monkey Point ay 1981 meters (6,500 feet). From the top of this hill top, tourists can get a picturesque view of the town and the city of Chandigarh on a clear and sunny day. A temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman stands here, and invites devotees from all over the area. According to legend when Lord Hanuman was returning with the sanjeevini booti (divine medicine) for Lord Lakshmana in the epic Ramayana, his foot touched the hilltop of Kasauli. Interestingly, the hilltop is in the shape of a foot. The area hosts a large number of monkeys who are quite friendly and mischievous. As it falls under the territory of the Indian Air Force, visitors are not permitted to carry electronic devices inside the temple complex.
Solan (10 kilometers east of Kasauli, 46 kilometers from Shimla, on the Kalka-Shimla Railway) is a quaint town and popular camping and trekking site. Located at an elevation of 1,467 meters above sea level, Solan is surrounded by lofty hills such as Matiul Peak to the east and the Koral Peak to ther north. Solan is home to some ancient temples including the most visited Shoolini Mata Temple. Dedicated to Goddess Shoolini, it is one of the oldest and the most revered temples in the region. Every year, an annual fair is held in the month of June that is celebrated with great fervour. Tourists can also visit Jatoli Temple and Karol Tibba. Solan is known as the city of red gold, thanks to the abundant growth of tomato in the region. Another notable attraction is the historic Gurkha Fort, which was occupied by the Gurkhas during the early 1800s. Don't miss the splendid murals made in Pahari style that adorn the fort. Solan serves as a gateway to other popular hill stations like Kasauli and Chail. The Kalka-Shimla Railway passes through Solan on its way to Shimla.
Subathu (near Solan) is a small picturesque town with several British colonial-era buildings constructed in 1829, when Lord William Bentick, former governor-general of India, built a viceregal lodge and 20 other buildings here. The British established Subathu as a cantonment area and it is a relatively unexplored and unspoilt spot. A regimental center for the Gurkha Rifles, Subathu boasts a museum, which displays souvenirs that were brought back by the regiments after the war. Among the most popular is the Boxer Rebellion in China, which was crushed by Subahtu Gurkha regiment after marching through Peking in 1900 and bringing home a couple of stones from the Great Wall of China as trophies. Subahtu was also a major center of trade between India and Tibet with Kinnauri and Tibetan wool and Pashmina being in great demand.
Kuthar (10 kilometers north of Solan) quaint and picturesque town best known for the magnificent Kuthar Fort, one of the oldest fortified structures in the state. A fine example of Rajasthani architecture and Rajputana artistry, it once served as the residence of the royal family of Kuthar. Spread over an area of 52.8 square kilometers, it houses a beautiful garden, an ancient temple and freshwater springs. One can get a picturesque view of the Subathu Fort and the snow-capped Himalayan peaks from the fort. It is said that the fort was originally built by Gurkha rulers around 800 years ago on a hilltop, around 1,300 meters above sea level. A section of the fort has been converted into a resort but one can pay an entry fee and visit the fort between 8:00am and 6:00pm.
Dagshai (near Solan) is a picturesque hill town off the tourist map situated at a height of 1,734 meters (5888 feet). One of the oldest cantonment towns in Solan, it provides sweeping and breathtaking views of Chandigarh and Punchkula at night. During the day, visitors can see the Parwanoo Timber Trail from here. Dagshai was founded by the East India Company in 1847 by taking five villages free from Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala. The town was primarily built to house tuberculosis patients and has a British graveyard that overlooks the valley.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020