Shimla or Simla, the capital of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, is one of the most popular hill-stations in India and has been since the time of the Raj. They even declared it the summer capital of British India as early as in 1864, and part of me is quite ashamed it took me 27 years to visit.
A birds-eye view over Shimla
If you’re a first-time visitor to Shimla, like I was, follow this great itinerary and you won’t be disappointed.
Getting to Shimla is fairly simple. You could take the Shatabdi Express from the New Delhi Railway Station that will get you to the town of Kalka in around four hours. From there, try taking the Kalka-Shimla Railway, which is one of the Mountain Railways of India that enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status and is said to be a gorgeous journey. Alternatively, you could hire a Taxi from the Kalka station that will get you to Shimla in another two to three hours. You also always have the option of driving down from Delhi yourself, but we all know how unreliable traffic usually is on Indian Highways, so do keep in mind that this could take you upwards of ten hours.
If you’re planning your trip from other parts of the country / world, fly to Delhi and then follow the route above, or fly into Chandigarh, 110 Kms away from Shimla and take a cab that will get you there in four or five hours.
If you’re taking the Heritage Mountain Train from Kalka to Shimla, your lunch will probably be on-board and en-route. But if you’re on the road, whether you chose to drive from Delhi, or get to Kalka / Chandigarh and then take a cab, kick off your weekend getaway in true Indian style by stopping for lunch at a dhaba along the way. Dharampur, just 65 kms away from Shimla, is a popular choice with travelers, and there are a number of restaurants / dhabas you could choose from.
Butter Chicken and Butter Naan… The best way to kick-start any Indian holiday
Once you have reached Shimla and settled in to your hotels, don’t waste another minute and head straight to The Mall. The Mall is the main street in Shimla, and is lined with shops and restaurants. Cars are not allowed on to The Mall beyond a certain point, making this an ideal place to stroll around and soak in the relaxed atmosphere. Walk around, linger a while, and enjoy the wonderful old-world charm that this sleepy hill-station has managed to retain despite all the commercialization.
Soak up the atmosphere at The Mall
Enjoy the wonderful old-world charm at the iconic Town Hall, and the Gothic building of the Gaiety Theater
Located at the far end of The Mall, is the Oberoi Clarkes Hotel, a heritage property with a quaint appeal. Pop into their welcoming bar for a drink. While they don’t have an open terrace, the glass façade makes for a great place to enjoy the views of the sunset.
Sunsets and Beer <3
Feel free to grab a bite to eat as well, but don’t forget to stop at Embassy Restaurant on your way back, just a few minutes from the hotel, for dessert. There’s something about slurping an ice cream in nippy weather, and Embassy sure knows that. You’ll always find a crowd here, taking their pick from the myriad flavours on offer.
Wrap up Day 1 with Ice Cream from Embassy
If you’re lucky, and if you’ve booked way in advance (as these are much in demand), you might get to go on a Heritage Walk of Shimla with Raaja Bhasin. A local historian and an author of five critically acclaimed books, including Simla – The Summer Capital of British India, Raaja Bhasin conducts fascinating and intriguing walks around town. There wasn’t a single dull moment on our two-hour walk with Raaja, and the insights into Shimla’s history, architecture, people and places were priceless.
On a Heritage Walk with Raaja Bhasin
He is such a treasure trove of information and anecdotes; he even threw in gyaan on the local flora and fauna.
Highly recommended. For more information, check out – www.raajabhasin.com
The Walk will end at The Mall itself, so you could pop into any of the restaurants around for a quick bite. There are options for Pizza, for Chinese, for Indian. You’ll even find a Café Coffee Day if you’re not in the mood to experiment. The Fish and Chips at the Combemere Hotel come highly recommended. Extremely popular, though I can’t seem to understand why, is Indian Coffee House. An old establishment and an institution of sorts, the place is always packed and getting a table immediately is next to impossible. But the ambience is next to impossible as well. Dark and dingy, with frayed upholstery and an ageing clientele, I personally did not want to even linger long enough to be seated.
Stroll around The Mall some more, you’ll definitely find something that will catch your fancy. Or go to Lakkar Bazaar (Wooden market), just a little further down the Mall Road, for odd knick-knacks and wooden souvenirs. As another option, you could make your way to Jakhoo Hill, the highest point in Shimla for some stunning panoramic views; or take an excursion to Chadwick Falls, seven kilometers away. But for a truly wonderful evening, make your way to Wildflower Hall (unless of course you are staying there). Formerly the residence of Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, Wildflower Hall is now a luxury hotel that is run by the Oberoi Group. The original building burnt down in a fire in 1993, but the new building constructed and restored by the Oberoi Group, is gorgeous. There’s a spa, Jacuzzi and heated swimming pool to pamper yourself with, and stunning views of the Himalayas from the restaurants.
Pick up souvenirs from Lakkar Bazaar
After a leisurely breakfast, make your way to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, for a glimpse of one of British India’s most stunning creations. The Viceregal Lodge, also known as Rashtrapati Niwas, has been the official summer residence of the President of India ever since Independence, and was officially handed over to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in 1965.
The Viceregal Lodge
The construction of this Elizabethan building, designed by Henry Erwin, was completed in 1888 and the then Viceroy, the Earl of Dufferin was the first resident. Today you can find many articles and photographs from the times of the British Raj here. This is where the historic Simla Conference in 1945 took place btw. The building is magnificent; but even more beautiful is the lush green lawns and wooded estate that the lodge is housed in. Check before you visit, there are guided-tours conducted daily at fixed times, covering some basic history about the building.
A comfortable twenty or thirty minute walk from the Viceregal Lodge is the Oberoi Cecil Hotel, an elegant property reminiscent of the Colonial era. A heritage hotel that is over a 100 years old, it’s a great place to stop by for lunch. The Restaurant has both European and Asian options, and Cedar Garden is the outdoor restaurant offering a light menu but only up to 3 pm. The Lounge is smack in the middle of the hotel, in the 5-storey atrium lobby, which also has a bar. The Pizza is quite good.
Nothing is complete without Pizza
Pack your bags, and begin your journey back. But not before planning your return. There’s still so much left to see and do, and let’s face it, Shimla has surely charmed you.