Shimla (also spelt as 'Simla') derives its name from goddess 'Shayamla Devi', which is another manifestation of Goddess Kali. The capital of Himachal Pradesh came into light when the British discovered it in 1819. Till then, it was a part of the Nepalese kingdom. In 1864 Shimla was declared as the summer capital of India. After Independence, Shimla became the capital of Punjab and was later named the capital of Himachal Pradesh. In 1903 a rail line was constructed between Kalka and Shimla.
Shimla has been blessed with all the natural bounties, one can think of. Dwelling on a panoramic location, the hilly town is surrounded by green pastures and snow-capped peaks. The spectacular cool hills accompanied by the structures made during the colonial era create an aura, which is very different from other hill stations.
Bulging at its seams with unprecedented expansion, Shimla retains its colonial heritage, with grand old buildings, among them are the stately Viceregal Lodge, charming iron lamp posts and Anglo-Saxon names. The Mall, packed with shops and eateries, is the centre of attraction of the town, and Scandal Point, associated with the former Maharaja of Patiala's escapades, offers a view of distant snowclad peaks.
Have A stroll Around The Summer Capital
Shimla is one of the few places in the world where an enormous amount of history and heritage has been distilled into such a small place in so short a time. The town came into being in the first quarter of the 19th century and some four decades later, became the "Summer Capital' of British India. Till the coming of India's independence in 1947, momentous events and memorable architecture packed the town.
Today, the colonial order is gone, but its architectural bequest is now a part of the legacy for a free India. And the seven hills of Shimla hold a variety of architectural styles from all over the world- made all the more distinctive, for manstructural elements are local. In addition, the town has one of the longest stretches of purely pedestrian road and shopping anywhere in the world - the Mall. Shimla also holds what may well be the Earth's only 'urban forest'.
Shimla's Seven Hill Attractions
The seven hills of Shimla are - Prospect Hill in Western Shimla, which has the temple of Kamna Devi; Summer Hill in Western Shimla, which has the campus of the Himachal Pradesh University; Observatory Hill in Western Shimla, which holds the estate of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study; Invererarm in Western Shimla, whose top has the State Museum; Bantony in central Shimla, which has the Grand Hotel; Jakhoo in central Shimla, which is crowned by the temple indicated to Lord Hanuman, and Elysium in north-western Shimla, which holds Auckland House and Longwood and reaches out towards the Bharari spur.
As the town of Shimla grew through the 19th century, its Mall steadily developed as the town's commercial street and the hub of its social life. The road, which some 5-km in length, starts in the west at the gates of he former Viceregal Lodge , the present day Indian Institute of Advanced Study and ends at Chhota Shimla or 'Small' Shimla, in the east.
The route has bends, as one would expect any hill road to have, ut its nature essentially follows a wide sweeping curve along the hills. The primary aspect is south facing and affords a view of the valley below the town and of the foothills that reach out to the plains from its habitation. In pockets, snatches of the northern aspect spring up for a dramatic view and hold woods of Pine and Himalayan Cedar - the majestic Deodar. This picture of nature's bounty is framed by the distant snow ranges of the Greater Himalaya.
The Intriguing Architectural Grandeur
The core of the Mall is a row of shops that take the approximate mid section of the road and traverse for about a kilometre and a half along is length. At one point of time, it was regarded to be as fashionable as the finest streets of London, Paris or St. Petersburg and every morning, the tarmac was washed down by 'Mashkis' carrying goatskin bags full of water.
Architecturally, this stretch is often likened to an English small town market place. Elements of Tudor framing, a varied roofline, assorted columns and numerous decorations have given this row considerable character. The row also has a variety of windows that range from bay, to sash barred and to diamond cut panes and some unusual elements also find expression and take the form of Mughal inspired cupolas that hold bay windows.
Reminiscent of Italy, acroteria of urns can be found in a couple of structures. While decorative devices abound, the aspects of safety were hardly neglected. The presence of 'fire walls' between buildings ensured that fires remained contained and did not spill over to the adjoining structures.
Apart from the shops, where several buildings still retain elements of a bygone glory, the street holds the famous Gaiety Theatre whose neo-Gothic structure was completed in 1887 and once towered above the town. The theatre itself is modelled after the prize winning design of Bijou theatre and is remarkable for the quality of its acoustic that allow the lowest whisper to carry to the farthest corner of the hall.
Magnificent Specimen's Of The Bygone Era
Adding to the malls ambience, are the municipal offices housed in an impressive dressed stone building. The general post office and the spire of Christ Church on the ridge, add their own touches of background atmosphere. At the cross road, where one arm reaches to the ridge and another to the post office is the famous scandal point and the apocryphal tale goes that a former Maharaja of Patiala carried off the British commander in chief's daughter from this spot. The story is as unlikely as any, and the truth of the place name probably stems from the fact that earlier - as now - it was the place where people gathered for both conversation and gossip.
The southern slopes immediately below this row of shops are regarded to be one of the most densely populated hill slopes anywhere in the world. Over a hundred years ago, the celebrated writer Rudyard Kipling described this stretch in Kim as, "The crowded rabbit-warren that climbs up from the valley to the town hall at an angle of forty five. A man who knows his way there can defy all the police of India's summer capital. So cunningly does veranda communicate with veranda, alley way with alley way, and bolt hole with bolt hole" The description holds true even today.
A Colonial Supermarket With Indian Lifestyles
A major determinant of the town character and social ethos, the mall has modified its colonial and rather snooty ambience to reflect the Indian market centric lifestyle. Yet, the original colonial architecture, somewhat crumbling, somewhat forlorn and yet, almost unforgivingly still its spine, the street remains the town's social hub and for many, also its economic core. There is hardly a person who lives in Shimla who regards his day as complete without a daily salute to its tarmac or an evening promenade.
A Heritage Zone
There is hardly a visitor who will not rush there on his very first day in town. Its stores may be expensive in comparison with the lower bazaar that runs parallel to the mall some metre below, but yet this street is perhaps one of the most visible reflections of the principle of democracy anywhere in the world. This, perhaps, is born out of the fact that this stretch remains one of the longest stretches of open public road anywhere in the world that is lined with stores and where motor vehicles are not allowed through its core. Only select cars, ambulances and fire engines may ply through the street.
Interestingly, before 1947, only three carriages and later, cars were allowed into the town. These belonged to the viceroy, the Commander in Chief and the Governor of Punjab.
This combination of law and local feeling has billionaires practically walking arm in arm if they are not jostling for space in crowded summer evening. This area has also been declared a 'Heritage Zone' by the State Government.
Mahatma Gandhi's Retreat Georgian Mansion
Witness Of The Independence Movement
A magnificent mansion, majestically standing close to the 'Administrative Block' of Himachal Pradesh University at Summer hill, a suburb of Shimla, was the house of Late Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, a veteran freedom fighter and close associate of Gandhiji and the first Union Health Minister of India.
A Royal Heritage
A number of memorable happenings of country's freedom movement are associated with this historic building. This house has the unique distinction in as much as that, 'Father of the Nation', Mahatma Gandhi, stayed here during his visits to Shimla between 1935 and 1946. Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur gave this house to the All India institute of Medical Sciences - 'AIIMS', Delhi and is now under their administrative control and is being maintained as a guesthouse.
The building was the property of Maharaja of Kapurthala, an erstwhile state of Punjab and was inherited by his daughter, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur. It was one of the three buildings in the entire estate of the Maharaja. The other two buildings came to the share of her two brothers, Sir Maharaj Singh, the first Governor of Bombay (Mumbai) after Independence and Mr. Dalip Singh, Chief Justice of Lahore High Court before partition of the country.
The houses of her two brothers got gutted and now the 'Administrative Block' and 'Library Block' of the Himachal Pradesh University stand on those sites. Another building near Chadwick falls belonged to her third brother, colonel shamsher singh and is now in the possession of "All India Radio", Shimla. Gandhiji used this place in serene environments, for evening prayers, which were attended bya large number of shimlaites. The central Government has handed over this building to the state government for setting up a gandhian study centre in it.
Mansions Exquisite Interiors
The entire area on which this building is constructed is about 5 Bighas. The building has three floors besides the basement. In addition to the Reception cum drawing hall, it has a kitchen, pantry and suite nos. 5 and 6 on the ground floor. First floor has suite no. 1 to 4 while the attic floor houses suite no. 7.
A major attraction of the house is the exquisite teak and walnut furniture, carpets and wall hangings adorning the rooms. Gandhiji used to stay here, along with his two private secretaries, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur and Ms. Sushila Naya, in suite no. 6, which is the smallest one. The same old, large sized portrait of Gandhiji is placed on a high mantel in this suite even now.
It was from here that Gandhiji, with a galaxy of leaders like Shri Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Dr. Rajender Prasad and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, set out to meet the then Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell in June 1945, for discussions regarding country's independence. There were many servant quarters where nearly 20 servants of different disciplines stayed.
Shri S.D. Sharma, who is on the establishment of the AIIMS, is the present caretaker of the building.