Nestled at an altitude of 2,159 meters (7197 feet) above sea level, Shimla was discovered by the British as their summer capital. Even today the hill station continues to be patronized by holidaymakers from within and outside the country who come here to escape the torrid heat of the plains and revel in its scenic surroundings, Some of the most notable attractions here include Viceroy Lodge, Christ Church, Gaiety Theater and century-old temples such as the Sankat Mochan Temple, Tara Devi Temple and Bhimkali Temple on the outskirts of Shimla.
The history of Shimla begins in the early yeas of the 19th century. In 1804, the Gurkhas suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of the Sikhs at the Battle of Kangra. It is believed they lost thousands of men in battle and to disease. The troops retreating from Kangra went on a rampage in the hills. By 1808, the Gurkhas had captured all fortified posts between the rivers Jamuna and Sutlej. They also built a number of fortresses in the hills around Shimla.
Controlled from the capital at Akri, the rule of the Gurkhas was ruthless. The people of the hills suffered and were eventually forced to raise their plight to the British. A small British contingent led by Major General Sir David Ochterlony was sent to help the hill folk, where a number of local chiefs joined them. The Gurkhas were finally defeated in 1815 after a tough battle at the 3750 ft high Ramgarh Fort of Nalagarh. The Gurkhas eventually surrendered and peace was restored to the hills.
Since then, Shimla’s history has primarily been that of British rule. Within four years of the conquest, a Scottish civil servant, Charles Pratt Kennedy, built the first British summer home in 1822. A few years later, the Governor-General of Bengal, Lord Amherst set up summer camp here. The next decade saw rapid growth in the numbers of town’s British inhabitants. The cool summer of the hills was a welcome relief to the British who found if difficult to adjust to the heat of the ‘burning plains of Hindoostaun’.
Till 1911, the capital of the British Empire was Calcutta. Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy of India 1864–1869, decided to move the capital and the Raj’s business to Shimla, over a 1,000 miles away for the duration of the summer. Since then, the British carefully managed the planning and development of Shimla.
Much of Shimla can be accessed via car or bus. The most popular forms of transport in these areas, which includes central Shimla are walking and horse riding, which can be easily hired.
The areas surrounding central Shimla are connected by a circular road and local buses ply regularly on them. All roads connecting the Mall Road to the Ridge are sealed to traffic, as are the roads from Scandal Point, Kali Bari Marg to Kali Bari and Chotta Shimla Chowk to Kennedy House. Light vehicles can ply without permits on roads specified as unrestricted link roads that include the route from Cart Road to Annandale, Chotta Shimla, IGMC Hospital and Marina Hotel.
Rental cars are also easily available; just ensure that you fix on the price well-beforehand while hiring one. In an endeavor to regularize the fares, the state transport government has demarcated the rental taxis as metered and non-metered taxis, with separate parking areas and taxi stands for both. Metered taxis can be taken from Lakkar Bazaar, IGMC main entrance opposite the dental college, in front of the railway station booking counter, at the main bus stand’s Shimla-Kalka Union counter and its main exit point, near the band box, and HPTDC lift on Cart Road. Metered taxis can also be hired from Chotta Shimla, New Shimla and other nearby areas.
The Mall Road, the Ridge and the nearby markets are pedestrian-only areas. Another option is to take the lift from near the parking lot on Cart Road to the Mall Road. Operated by HPTDC, the lift connecting the east end of the Mall Road and Cart Road takes just a few minutes and is functional between 0800 and 2200 hours. The cost for a one way lift ticket for one person is 7 INR.
The Mall Road in Shimla is lined with shops offering beautifully embroidered shawls, traditional Himachali caps, and vibrantly colored hand-knitted socks and other woolen clothes from Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul.
Intricately carved wooden items such as walking sticks, toys, and key chains peek out of the shops’ display windows at Lakkad Bazaar. Local specialties such as apple jam preserves, squashes and pickles are popular bought by tourists. Handcrafted Chinese shoes, antiques and rare first editions of books and maps, miniature paintings, Buddhist banners and silver trinkets are some of the other stuff that you can buy.
At the state government-run Himachal Emporium on the Mall Road, you can find everything that is exclusive to Shimla.