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Sightseeing in Shimla

Sightseeing in Shimla is all about visiting the focal point of Shimla which is the Ridge and the Mall running around its south slope. From this central area, the town spills downwards, with winding roads linking up settlements and stone steps connecting each layer. Other places to visit while in Shimla are mentioned below for your convenience.

The Cart Road encircles the base of the main settlement, and is the highest motorable road of Shimla. The Mall is open only to pedestrians. There is a lift run by the Himachal Tourist Department that connects the railway stations and Cart Road to the Mall.

The Mall is the main attraction in Shimla, lined with shops selling woollen garments and shawls, handicrafts, departmental stores, eateries and old colonial timber houses. There is a palpable change of character from the times when the Mall was strictly out of bounds for all natives except royalty, to the noisy and very Indian crowds that walk down it today.

Dominating the eastern end of the Ridge is the Christ Church, which was consecrated in 1857. It is a prominent yellow painted building with a Victorian-Gothic spire. Inside, some of the finest stained glass windows in India depict faith, hope, charity, fortitude, patience, and humility.

Next to the church is the mock- Tudor Library, built in 1910. It has a collection of historical books and subscribes to most English language dailies.

On the other extreme of the central square is the Scandal Point. A statue of the Punjabi freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai now dominates the place and groups of local people gather here in the afternoon for some casual chit-a-chat.

The Kali Bari close to Scandal Point enshrines the idol of Shyamla Devi, the presiding deity of Shimla.

Other reminders of Shimla’s colonial past include the Town Hall, the timber lined General Post Office and the old Gaiety Theatre. This popular hall was home to the Shimla Amateur Dramatic Society, complete with a gentlemen’s club where the discussion veered around the noble pursuit of cricket and horse racing.

Down from the Mall stands the gracious Cecil Hotel, originally built in 1877 and now rebuilt to its original grandeur. Leading away from the Mall are the narrow alleys and busy side streets of the market. This part of town, with its rickety shacks, corrugated iron sheet roofs and colourful stalls, has a distinctive local flavour.

The Lakkar Bazaar is famed for its woodcrafts and souvenir shops, while the Subzi Mandi or lower Bazaar has stalls stocked with fruits, vegetables and dry fruits. A cluster of Tibetan shops sell imported goods, though some could be fakes.

The other important church, St. Michael’s Cathedral, which is built like a cruciform, is just off the Mall. The most impressive colonial edifice of Shimla is the Vice Regal Lodge, now known as the Rashtrapati Niwas (President’s House). Sitting on the flat top of Observatory Hill, this Elizabethan mansion was built in 1888 for Lord Dufferin. It now houses the Institute of Advanced Studies, and is open only in some parts to the public.

The grey building still retains its grandeur, with a lion and unicorn guarding the entrance, immaculate lawns, and original brass fire hydrants from Manchester. The Lodge has a chapel and an indoor swimming pool. Inside, the rooms have rich woodcarvings and wooden panelling.

The ballroom has now been turned into a library, while the conference room has photographs of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi in consultation during the run-up to independence. The Lodge also has a botanical garden and a café. Towards the rear is a stone terrace with a view of some major Himalayan peaks. There are streams running down from top of the hill, flowing into the Sutlej, Yamuna, and Ganga.

The Prospect Hill, which can be reached by a short cut through the forests west of the Viceregal Lodge, is a popular picnic spot. A tarmac path leads up to the top at 2,176 metres, crowned by the Kamana Devi temple. Here you get a grand view of the southern side of Shimla, the undulating hills and valleys of southern Himachal and beyond to the plains of Punjab in the distance.

The Jakhu Temple, sitting on top of Jakhu hill at 2,455 metres is the highest point on the ridge. This temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the monkey god, is quite appropriately beset with hordes of very aggressive monkeys. It is best to steer clear of them and keep all eatables well out of reach.

Shimla has some other interesting places in Shimla that warrant a quick tour. Some are The Glen, a thickly wooded area 4 kms to the northwest past the Cecil Hotel, Chadwick Falls, at 1,586 metres where the river drops 67 metres and is best visited during the monsoons, Tara Devi Temple, the Sankat Mochan Temple about 7 kms on the Shimla-Kalka road and the Himalayan Aviary close to the Viceregal Lodge, with a selection of birds like the monal, pheasant, pea fowls and peacocks.

The suburb of Summer Hill, about 5 kms away from town and a stop on the Kalka-Shimla rail line, has quiet walks through wooded surroundings. The University is also located here.

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