Shimla or Simla is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. It is a very popular holiday-retreat during the summer months and is well-known for its Victorian architecture, which is reflected in certain areas of the Mall and The Ridge.
There are quite a few theories regarding the origin of the word Shimla. Locals insist that the name originates from Shyamali Devi, a re-incarnation of the fearsome Goddess Kali.
Christ Church on The Ridge
Shimla has a population of around 145,000. Most of the residents are from the Pahadi communtiy (the natives of Himachal Pradesh), but there is also a sizable minority from Punjab and Sindh, who moved to Shimla during the partition. As a result, the languages spoken in Shimla include Hindi, Punjabi, Pahadi and English, which serves as a lingua-franca.
Sitting majestically above the searing plains, the British designated the town as the summer capital of India. The higher levels of the town reflect this British connection, comprising mostly of buildings in the Victorian style, while the lower slopes are occupied with Indian bazaars and restaurants. Traffic is banned from the historic central area, (known as the Mall) which means that the atmosphere is calm and the air pristine.
Cart Road runs south of the Mall and is connected to it via the lifts. The Ridge, north of the Mall, is a good place to view the the seven majestic hills of Shimla. Further along the same road is Lakkar Bazaar, which a good place to buy some handicrafts and other souvenirs.
Shimla's cool climate is the precise reason why it is such a popular summer retreat. Located at an altitude of approximately 2000m above sea level, the region has a hilly terrain and is covered by dense evergreen forests. A few visitors choose to visit Shimla during spring or autumn, when the place is less crowded and the views are too spectacular for words.
Shimla Season Summary
10°C to 20°C
Clear skies. Occasional rain and thunderstorms.
16°C to 28°C
Generally clear skies. Air might become smoky due to forest fires.
13°C to 20°C
Cool and humid. Continuous rain.
10°C to 23°C
Skies are clear, chilly evenings.
-7°C to 10°C
Generally dull weather. Frequent snowfall.
The main Tourist Office is located on the promenade.
HPTDC, The Mall, +91 177 225-2561 & 225-8382 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax:+91 177 225-2557). Reservations for most hotels can directly be made at this office. Besides, they have a decent guide-book (Rs 25) of the state, plently of free brochures and a good map of Shimla.
There are Tourist Info Booths scattered all over the town, marked by a large blue i. Branches include the Summer Hill station, Victory Tunnel (tel:+91 177 225-4589) and the ISBT shopping complex, just outside the bus terminal.
Reservations can be made at the Delhi branch as well.
HPTDC, 36 Janpath (Metro: Rajiv Chowk, yellow/blue lines), +91 11 2332-5320 & 2332-4764 (email@example.com, fax:+91 11 2373-1072). The ideal place for booking seats on the luxury Volvos to Shimla if you plan to travel by bus.
The nearest broad gauge head is at Kalka - an unimpressive journey of about 6 hours from Delhi. After that, take a toy train from Kalka to Summer Hill. The view is stunning, with the line passing through an amazing 103 tunnels. The fastest way to get to Kalka is to catch the Shatabdi Express, which departs early morning from the New Delhi Railway Station, arriving four-and-a-half hours later.
You can also choose to get off at Chandigarh (en-route to Kalka), and catch a taxi from there.
Shimla has its own airport at Jubbarhatti (IATA code:SLV) that accommodates turbo-props Dorniers, while Jet, Airbus A310, 320s and Boeing 737s can all land at the larger Chandigarh (IATA code:IXC) airport. Commercial service at the Jubbarhatti Airport is limited with six flights a week operating to and from Delhi, all operated by Jagson Airlines. Chandigarh offers far better options. Major airlines including Indian, Jet Airways and Air Deccan operate flights to Delhi, Jammu, and Mumbai. Most of the flights to Mumbai require a stop-over in Delhi, but low-cost Indus Air operates a daily non-stop flight in the afternoons. Kullu and Dharamsala are smaller towns which are connected to Chandigarh through Jagson Airlines' bi-weekly flights. Tip, confirm the flights till the very last moment, bad weather often delays flights during the winter fog.
After landing at the airport, take a pre-paid taxi to minimize hassle. Chandigarh is a good four-hour drive away, so stop for a bite on the Kalka-Shimla highway.
The restaurant at Hotel Pinewood, Barog (tel:+91 1792 238-825 & 238-387) serves cheap Punjabi fare. There's also a Cafe Coffee Day outlet at Solan, which sells pastries, coffee and sandwiches.
A taxi from Kalka costs approximately Rs 1100 and takes about three hours. There is a pre-paid taxi stand just outside Platform 1 of the railway station.
If you are driving from Delhi, head north on NH 1 to Ambala, bypassing Panipat and Karnal. At Ambala, turn and drive along NH 22 all the way upto Shimla, bypassing Chandigarh. En-route halts are not a problem since Haryana Tourism has many highway motels on NH 1. Most have a restaurant, bar, phone booth and clean toilets. Among the better options are the Oasis Complex near Karnal and the Kingfisher at Ambala.
Even though it's highway driving all through, caution must be exercised since the road can get quite crowded. This is especially the case during summer, when hundreds of Delhiites choose to flock to Shimla for a cool vacation.
Taxis are easily available and are generally hired from taxi-booths that are liberally scattered all over town. However, walking remains the best way of exploring The Mall and The Ridge. Locals will be happy to show you shortcuts which cannot be traversed with a vehicle.
Rajdhani Taxi Service, Lakkar Bazaar, +91 177 262-3456. A good fleet of cabs, ranging from the quintessential Ambassadors to large and well-maintained Scorpios. You can choose between A/C and non A/C cars. Vehicles with air-conditioning tend to cost a third more than those without.
Jakhu Temple, Jakhu Hill. Open every day. Offers spectacular views of the mountains from its location above the town. According to the epic Ramayana, the monkey god Hanuman rested here during his journey to the Himalayan mountains. The climb up is a physically demanding one-hour walk. However, you can drive up the hill - a 4WD is recommended. The temple and hill side is populated with very aggressive and cunning monkeys. Be extremely careful with your camera, glasses, bag and (especially) food. Entry free, donations welcome (Sticks for warding off the monkeys can be rented at the entrance to the temple for Rs 5).
Statue of Mahatma Gandhi just outside Christ Church
Dorje Drag Monastery, Sarasvati Garden Estate, Kusmuti. A monastery in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Thubten Evam Dorje Drag. Entry free, donations welcome.
The Ridge, Jakhu Hill (North of The Mall). Built at the top of the town at 2230m, The Ridge is the center of Shimla's cultural and social life - an excellent place to view the surrounding mountains.
Christ Church, The Ridge (Near Municipal Library). Open every day, services Su 8AM-11AM. Constructed in 1846, this is one of the oldest churches in North India. The stain-glass windows and 19th century organ are particularly impressive, and the fresco that surrounds the chapel window was designed by Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard Kipling's father. Entry free, donations welcome.
Lower Bazaar, The Mall (Below Central Section). Shops Open Mo-Sa. The Lower Bazaar is home to the city's less expensive hotels, cheaper restaurants and stores, and a congested wholesale vegetable market. Although less opulent than its upper neighbor, the Lower Bazaar retains an old worldly charm and is an excellent place to try some Shimla specialty dishes, like Uradh Dal with rice or Shepard's Pie.
Viceregal Lodge, The Mall (Atop Observatory Hill), +91 177 283-1375. Open every day (Only the entrance hall and gardens are open to the public). An imposing British-raj mansion built under the guidance of Lord Dufferin in 1888. Manicured British style gardens surround the mansion on three sides, while the fourth side is a place to relax and watch the sun dip below the Himalayan foothills. The teak-paneled interior is impressive, and well worth a viewing. Entry Rs 10, cameras not allowed inside (Guided tours available).
Shimla houses a few excellent museums. The State Museum is perhaps the most well-known.
State Museum, Chaura Maidan (Near Oberoi Cecil), +91 177 280-5044. Open Tu-Su, 10AM-5PM. Housed in a reconstructed Raj-style building, the State Museum displays a collection of around 10,000 artifacts gathered from all over Himachal Pradesh. The Pahari miniatures and 6th-11th century Gupta sculptures are especially impressive. Entry Rs 10 (Cameras free, flash prohibited).
Image Art Gallery, Potter's Hill (Near HP Univ.), +91 94180-11172. The gallery displays more than 20,000 photographs of Himachal taken by the celebrated photographer Inder Pal. It's a wonderful place to explore and learn more about the beauty, culture and flora and fauna of this Himalayan state. In addition, Potter's Hill is scenic area, so as well as visiting the gallery, visitors can also enjoy hiking, climbing, observing wild life and enjoy the fresh Himalayan air. Entry Rs 5 (Cameras free, flash prohibited).
View of Cart Road and surrounding hills from The Mall
Take a leisurely walk at the Mall — this 7km thoroughfare is famous for its Victorian Architecture, and retains much of its Raj-era charm. To get there, take the lifts from Cart Road, an ingenious system designed to save pedestrians from walking. Rs 5 per trip. The central area of the mall is composed of half-timbered buildings and is the place to rub shoulders and clash knives and forks with Shimla's elite. A statue of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai is located at Scandal Point, the highest point on the Mall. Further along is the very pleasant Clarkes Hotel, which is an excellent place to take a break and relax over a coffee.
Visit the zoo at Kufri (tel:+91 177 265-2911) — home to native species such as the great Himalayan Snow Leapord, and varieties of Musk Deer. Open daily, Rs 15 per person. Special free passes are available during weekends.
Ice skating is possible in Shimla from November to March, though Kufri and Chail on the outskirts of town offer better options.
Trek in the local mountains. Walk along the meandering roads to the meadows at Annadale, 5 kms out of town. The Glen, further west, is a favorite picnic-spot with locals. Head north and visit Wildflower Hall, the former retreat of Lord Kitchner. Furthur on along the Hindustan-Tibet Road lies the quaint village of Mashobra. A gravel-road indicates the entry to the Seog Wildlife Sanctuary. The annual Sipi Fair is held in a little steep pathway off Mashobra.
Tee off at the Naldehra Golf Course, on the northern outskirts. The 9-hole golf-course, set amidst sloping meadows, was designed by Lord Curzon in the 19th century. The fauna is impressive, ranging from alpine grass to pine and deodar.
The long-running Gaeity Theatre at The Mall first opened its doors in May 1887. It continues to regularly screen English plays and is also an architectural marvel. The center of Shimla's cultural scene, the Gaeity Theater has nurtured talents ranging from Indian film-stars to British actors who went on to perform at West End and Broadway. Among the leading personalities connected with the theater are Lord Kitchner, Mrs Deane, Rudyard Kipling, Anupam Kher, Sir Dennis Fitz Patrick, Prithviraj Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah. Sessions mainly during weekends.
There are a number of smaller theaters on The Ridge, where you can experience some Himachali puppet-shows for Rs 25-35.
Further down the Mall Road is the Lakkar Bazaar, which has quite a few shops selling wooden handicrafts. The Mall is full of shops selling woolens (most of which find their way to Shimla from Ludhiana, Punjab) and Kullu shawls. Other favorites have included wooden toys, walking sticks and Tibetian carpets made in nearby Kinnaur. As the center of the food-processing industry in Himachal, jams and squashes made from local produce are indeed worth purchasing. The stretch between Combermere Bridge and the Telegraph Office is full of small stores which stock handcrafted Chinese shoes. The more well-known ones include Hopsons, Tatung and Hugh & Co.
Himachal Emporium, 3 The Mall, +91 177 280-1234 (fax:+91 177 265-3164), . Open Mo-Fr, 10AM-5PM. An excellent place to purchase locally-made handicrafts at set prices. Run by the Himachal Pradesh Government.
DOCKERS San Francisco, DCAR, The Mall, . Open every day, 11AM-7PM. Virtually the only international brand-store in Shimla, Dockers is a trendy and upmarket place. A favorite haunt of college students.
Maria Bros, The Mall (central section, near Baljees). Antiques and rare books dealers.
Minerva Book House, Hotel Minerva, +91 177 225-2043. A good selection of novels.
Most of the restaurants in Shimla are cheap, comfortable, atmospheric and offer good multi-cuisine food. However, if you are looking for local cuisine, the options are suprisingly limited.
The Devicos, 5 The Mall, ☎ +91 177 280-6335. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Serves good South Indian vegetarian food, kebabs and snacks. Try the masala dosa.Rs 100-200.
Baljees, 26 The Mall, ☎ +91 177 265-2313. 9AM-11PM. Among the town's oldest eateries, Baljees offers delicious Western and Indian fare. Their desserts are not to be missed.Mains Rs 100-150, Desserts Rs 50.
Cecil, Chaura Maidan (in the Oberoi), ☎ +91 177 280-4848, . 24 hours. A good selection of European and Asian dishes. Chandeliers and wood-paneling add to the old-world elegance. The perfect setting for a quiet dinner.Rs 300-400, Special rates for children.
Silver Oak, Circular Road, ☎ +91 177 225-7588. 7-11PM. Serves Mughlai and Chinese. The food is not great, but passable. Nice decor and a comfortable atmosphere.Rs 150.
The Lutyens Room, Springfields, Chhota Shimla (opposite Tibetan School), ☎ +91 177 222-1297, 222-1298. 11AM-10:30PM. Continental and Indian food.Rs 150 and above.
Ashiana & Goofa, The Ridge, . Open for lunch and dinner. Whatever little can be had of Himachali cuisine can be found at these twin-restaurants run by Himachal Tourism. The food is cheap and served piping hot. Sit-in or takeaway.Dishes Rs 50, Thali Rs 80.
Himachal is known as the fruit-bowl of India. It has a thriving food processing industry that churns out fruit-based drinks, squashes and concentrates. The most famous flavors are plum, litchi, strawberry, mango and guava.
You can also try the real aqua minerale spring water available near the source (if you are trekking)!
For alcoholic drinks, try the locally brewed wines such as apricot, plum and apple & ginger cider. In predominantly Tibetan areas, a rice wine known as Chang is popular.
Lobby Lounge, Chaura Maidan, . 24 hours. The Lobby Lounge is in the soaring 5-story atrium of the Oberoi. A good place to enjoy tea or a quiet drink in an elegant atmosphere. A roaring fire in the winters adds to the colonial charm.Drinks Rs 200-250.
Barista, 38 The Mall, . Open till 11PM. Great coffee, or try the Ginger Fizz.Coffee Rs 60-100, Snacks Rs 50-80.
Cafe Coffee Day, 5 The Mall (in The Devicos), . 9AM-11PM. Similar to Barista, although more expensive. Another branch at Mama's Kitchen NH22, Dharampur, Solan District.Cappuccino Rs 120.
There are lots of options from dormitories to luxury resort hotels. Online booking is the most convenient way to reserve a room. Alternatively, the tourist office can supply a list of hotels, and you can phone or trek over an reserve a room in person. Rooms in Shimla range from as low as US$ 5 to a whopping US$ 600.
This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Under Rs 1500
YMCA, The Ridge, ☎ +91 177 225-0021. checkin: 8AM; checkout: 12PM. A centrally located, charming Victorian style building. Rooms have clean attached bathrooms.Rs 250 and above.
Hotel White, Lakkar Bazaar (500m NE of The Ridge), ☎ +91 177 265-5276 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +91 177 265-5276), . A wide variety of comfortable rooms, most with spectacular views.Rs 500-1500.
Hotel Mayur, The Ridge, ☎ +91 177 265-2393 (email@example.com, fax: +91 177 2652398). checkout: 12PM. A centrally located hotel on the Ridge. Rooms have clean attached bathrooms, color television, wall to wall carpets. The room service is fairly decent.Rs 1000-1700.
Hotel Peterhoff, Chaura Maidan, ☎ +91 177 221-3335 (fax: +91 177 221-3801). Nice, clean rooms with air-con, heaters, mini-bars and the usual mid-range amenities.Rs 2000-7000.
Combermere, The Mall (opposite the lifts), ☎ +91 177 225-1246 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +91 177 225-2251). checkout: Late checkouts on request. Although some of the suites are rather unreasonably priced, this remains a good option, mainly because of its convenient location. Facilities include a bar, an internet cafe and a terrace garden.Rs 2400-6000, 2 Nights Package with meals Rs 7699.
Woodville Palace, Raj Bhavan Road, ☎ 91 177 262-3919 (email@example.com, fax: +91 177 262-2156), . checkin: 12PM; checkout: 4PM. This converted palace was built in 1938 by the Maharaja of Jubbal. It has its own private woodlands, which provide an excellent place for a leisurely evening stroll.Rs 4000.
Oberoi Cecil, Chaura Maidan, ☎ +91 177 280-4848 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +91 177 281-1024), . checkin: 12PM; checkout: 12PM. An elegant hotel with log fires and a heated pool.Rs 10000-23000, Beakfast Rs 1500.
Chapslee Hotel, Chapslee, ☎ +91 177 280-2542 (fax: +91 177 265-8663), . checkin: 12PM; checkout: 12PM. Formerly the residence of the ruler of Kapurthala. Reminiscent of the days of the Raj with croquet lawns and mature gardens.Rs 9500-12500, Winter Surcharge upto Rs 1000.
Wildflower Hall, (PO Dhalli), ☎ +91 177 264-8585 (email@example.com, fax: +91 177 264-8686), . checkin: 12PM; checkout: 12PM. A stately stone building built among cedar and pine forests. Considered the most luxurious hotel in Himachal Pradesh.Rs 15000-39500.
The area dialling code for Shimla is 0177. From overseas, dial +91 177 XXX-XXXX. There are plently of STD/ISD booths. The amount is calculated on a digital meter, and is paid after the call. A short STD call will cost you around Rs 10.
It is very easy to get a Prepaid mobile, which is very cheap to get, and calls are cheap too. One needs to give a Photo ID proof and a photograph for prepaid as well as postpaid connection as per the Govt. regulations.
CellOne - GSM 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz.(Tri-Band)
Airtel - GSM �900, 1800 and 1900 MHz.(Tri-Band)
Reliance Telecom - GSM 900, 1800 and 1900 MHz.(Tri-Band)
Tata Indicom - CDMA
Internet cafes are plentiful in The Mall, most of them are concentrated near the lifts. However, it is best to avoid these (Windows 98, dial-up connection, poor security) and check your mail at the hotels instead. Nearly all hotels have internet access, and it is not terribly expensive either. Expect to pay Rs 50 per hour in a hotel, and Rs 10 outside.
Kinnaur. An area located on the Tibetan border. Home to ethnic Tibetans. Several traditional Buddhist monasteries.
Manali, Kullu Valley (260 km). An area of hot springs, traditional buildings, and Buddhist monasteries. Jagson Airlines flies to Kullu.
Dharamsala. Home of H.H. Dalai Lama and the Tibetan-Government-in-exile. Many Buddhist monasteries in the area.
Chail (43 km). Originally a private reserve created by the Maharaja of Patiala who was banned from Shimla. Now a A 75 acre resort that meanders over undulating hills. Home to the world's highest cricket pitch.
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