Quick Guide Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

The hustle and bustle of a city combined with the charms of a sleepy heritage hill station, Shimla, is a complete package when its comes to weekend getaways
The Kalka-Shimla toy train passing through verdant mountains
The Kalka-Shimla toy train passing through verdant mountains

It is easy to see why Shimla tops most Indians&rsquo must-visit list it&rsquos the only hill station to combine the beauty of the high Himalaya, the energy of a city and the sleepy charms of a hill station. At 6,890 ft, it boasts lovely deodar forests and mountain views. As the capital of British India, and now of Himachal Pradesh, it offers the complete package you&rsquoll easily spot your Barista and ICICI here, though they will be sheltered in atmospheric old buildings. At the same time, it&rsquos very much a hometown for its own denizens who keep daily appointments with friends on The Ridge and flock to The Mall to eat bhuttas under their umbrellas in the rain.

Things to see and do

The Mall
With a ban on motor vehicles in place for the most part, the Shimla Mall is one of the longest stretches of open-air, pedestrian eating-shopping-walking promenades in the world. For all practical purposes, the tourists&rsquo walkable Mall stretch extends from The Ridge to the Viceregal Lodge for some 3 km, though strictly speaking, the entire Mall runs for 6 km from Chhota Shimla, a suburb, to the Viceregal Lodge.

The Ridge-to-Viceregal Lodge bit of The Mall forms the core of the notified &lsquoHeritage Zone&rsquo of Shimla. The horse rides and ice-cream vendors draw children, while the hot bhuttas and the bars and restaurants draw adults. 

The Ridge
This small, flat, open area is the place of action horse rides, photographers, battery-operated Helicopter rides for children, shops and restaurants, a couple of ATMs, the HP Tourist Info Centre with its bus and railway ticket counters... all of it is here. At one end of The Ridge is Scandal Point, named because of the number of romantic rendezvous that were, in Colonial times, arranged here. The glamorous area of The Mall&rsquos big shops as well as Lakkar Bazaar, where you can pick up wooden souvenirs, are close by.

Christ Church
The silhouette of Christ Church (in operation since 1857) and its cream-coloured spires can be seen for miles as you approach Shimla. The Sunday morning service is a musical pleasure with the church choir and the historic organ. The charming little red-roofed stone building of the State Library (1860) is near the church. The erstwhile Bandstand (1907) is recognisable as it houses HP Tourism&rsquos Ashiana Restaurant.

Jakhoo Hill
Jakhoo is the tallest of Shimla&rsquos hills (7,500 ft), and towers over The Ridge. It&rsquos crowned by the famous Jakhoo Hanuman Temple and a gigantic statue of the god. There are viewing points and benches looking out to enchanting sunrises and sunsets. Behind Jakhoo Hill, Elysium Hill affords views of Shimla spread out below. Lord Auckland chose this hill for his home, Auckland House, now a school.

Heritage Buildings on the Mall
As you come out of The Ridge stretch, a veritable parade of historic buildings accompanies you down the winding Mall. &nbspMoving out of The Ridge area, just as the shops to the left taper off, look out for the red, green and grey Telegraph Building on your right. A Telegraph Office stood here from 1886 to 1922, but this building, now housing the BSNL office, is over 90 years old. If you take the path going down to your left, you&rsquoll reach the Catholic Church (1885) built under Lord Ripon. The grey sandstone building is austere but lovely. Back on The Mall, you can stroll on to see the pretty State Bank of India Building (1903) which once housed the Imperial Bank.

Up on the hillock behind State Bank Building is the Kali Bari Temple, over 150 years old. Walking ahead from SBI is the Railway Board building (1896), an unusual looking structure. It has a metallic outer frame fixed with just nuts and bolts.

Next comes the impressive Gorton Castle, the red roof and turrets of which you can see from various points in Shimla. The present building is the HP Accountant General&rsquos office. Right behind Gorton Castle is the Vidhan Sabha. If you go on straight, you come to The Oberoi Cecil, at Chaura Maidan. &nbspA road leading upwards takes you to the State Museum on Inverarm Hill. Or go onwards to the Viceregal Lodge. From Chaura Maidan, take the road to the right of the hill through quiet, woody stretches. You can see the old house called Yarrows in which Muhammad Ali Jinnah once lived.

Viceregal Lodge
His residence (at the spot where Hotel Peterhoff now stands) not being grand enough for the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin got himself a new house in 1888. The Viceregal Lodge may be called a lodge but it is far more imposing. When it was built, Maples of London supplied the furnishings, and it&rsquos said that the Indian income tax was introduced to pay for it all One can still walk around in the main hall and the small museum here. 

Annandale and Glen
Annandale is best known as a helipad but the area is a large glade with a golf course, surrounded by thick deodar woods, with a charming temple by the edge. It was once the place for fairs and polo. The Glen is a thickly wooded ravine. A small stream flows through it. Buses go down to Annandale while the footpath to Glen branches off about midway on this road.

Where to stay

Woodville Palace (www.woodvillepalacehotel.com) was the home of the Maharaja of Jubbal. This colonial-style hotel is a 1930s mansion, roughly 2 km from shops and eateries along Mall Road, and 3 km from mountaintop Jakhoo.

The green-and-white building and towers of The Oberoi Cecil (www.oberoihotels.com) are a landmark.&nbspDating back to 1884, this iconic Colonial-era hotel offers stunning views of the Shimla Valley and is conveniently located just a 10-minute walk from Simla railway station and 1 km from the Mall Road. The hotel boasts elegantly furnished rooms and suites, featuring classic Colonial style with marble bathrooms, Burmese teak floors, and period antiques. 

The Oberoi Group also runs the Clarkes Hotel (www.clarkesshimla.com), on the lower Mall. Built in 1898, this charming heritage hotel is situated just a 13-minute walk from Christ Church. It features an upscale restaurant, a cozy bar, and a terrace, along with a banquet hall and a lobby lounge, providing a relaxing atmosphere for its guests.

Originally built in 1835, the Chapslee (www.chapslee.com) was home to Lord Auckland, before it was bought by the Maharaja of Kapurthala. The Maharaja considered it his summer residence. It is located in Longwood. 

Hotel Springfields (hotelspringfields.com) is a lovely option in Chhota Shimla.The Hotel Springfields of Shimla, operated by Usha Lexus Hotels, is a heritage property that was originally constructed by Mohammad Yahya Khan, a nobleman from Lahore. The property includes the main house, two outbuildings, and stables.

Woodrina (www.hotelwoodrina.com), on Kufri Road is another heritage hotel option. It is Outlook Traveller's favorite choice, since it is a sustainable hotel led by Eco-hospitality. With your stay, experience serenity amidst the tranquil Deodar Forest and witness the 360-degree view, along with a stunning sunset, from the deck. In terms of history, this property served as the home of a British Army officer and his family during the British Era. The hotel now features 4 cottages, including one-room, two-bedroom, and four-bedroom cottages, with a total of 12 rooms, and a restaurant located in the main block.

Set amidst cedar forests, Radisson Hotel (www.radisson.com/shimla) in Lower Bharari offers good views.&nbspNestled at the foothills of the north-western Himalayas, the Radisson Hotel offers breathtaking views of the lush cedar forests and majestic mountains that surround the property.

Where to eat
Most eating places are on or just off The Mall. Himachal Tourism&rsquos Ashiana Restaurant, right on The Ridge, is very popular, as is Alfa on Scandal Point. Devicos has Indian, Continental and Chinese, and a bar. Baljees is hugely popular, with a choice of Indian, Chinese, Continental and Thai cuisine. Barista, Cafe Coffee Day, Subway and Dominos, Sagar Ratna have outlets on The Mall. Trishool Bakers, next to Gaiety Theatre, has good confectionery. Embassy, near the Lifts, has nice window seats and good food.

The Sol Restaurant at Hotel Combermere on The Mall is a glass-and-plastic atrium affair with a Continental menu. For the ultimate dining experience, there&rsquos always The Oberoi Cecil. If you are in a hurry, try the chhole bhature at Sita Ram&rsquos in Lakkar Bazaar.

Where to shop

The bustling markets of Shimla offer a wide variety of goods, ranging from traditional handicrafts to modern-day gadgets.

The Mall Road, located in the heart of Shimla, is the most popular shopping destination in the city. It is lined with shops and boutiques selling everything from trendy clothing and footwear to souvenirs and handicrafts. Visitors can also find a variety of eateries, cafes, and restaurants on the Mall Road.

Another must-visit market in Shimla is the Lakkar Bazaar, located near the Ridge. The market is famous for its wooden handicrafts, including intricately carved walking sticks, furniture, and decorative items. Visitors can also find traditional Himachali caps, shawls, and blankets in the market.

If you are looking for local produce, then the Lower Bazaar is the place to be. The market is known for its fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices, as well as locally produced honey, jams, and pickles.

For those interested in Tibetan handicrafts, the Tibetan Market near the Mall Road is the perfect place to shop. Visitors can find a variety of items, including Tibetan carpets, prayer wheels, and Buddhist artifacts.

When it comes to souvenirs, Shimla has a lot to offer. Visitors can take home traditional Himachali caps, shawls, and blankets, as well as wooden handicrafts and Tibetan artifacts. They can also buy locally produced tea, honey, and jams as well as colorful, hand-painted items made by local artists.

Getting there

Air &nbspChandigarh Airport (120 km)
Rail&nbspNearest metre gauge railhead is Shimla
Road&nbspRoute from Delhi NH1 to Ambala via Panipat, Karnal and Pipli NH22 to Shimla via Dera Bassi, Panchkula, Kalka and Kandaghat

Fast facts

State&nbspHimachal Pradesh
Distance&nbsp342 km N of Delhi
When to go&nbspBest from March to June winter for snow 
Tourist Offices&nbspHPTDC, The Mall, Shimla
Web himachaltourism.gov.in
STD code&nbsp0177

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