It’s been a couple of years since I undertook a road trip to Shimla, the erstwhile summer capital of British India, and I still carry fond memories of the whole experience. I, my wife and ten year old son had left our home in the Ghaziabad suburb of Delhi at about 4 am in the morning in our family car, hoping to beat the highway traffic. I was driving, and the first stop we made was at Dharampur, high in the Himalayan hills about 65 kilometers short of Shimla. This small settlement is a mandatory stop for all motorists en route to Shimla and good place to gorge on the most amazing parnathas for breakfast. Thus fortified we reached our destination in another couple of hours driving through some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. This was pine, oak, and rhododendron country and the air was as pure as it could get.
Shimla, a little England rising from the dusty plains of India to provide succor to the vast numbers of British expats who helped govern India. Photo from Flickr
Shimla itself is situated upon a crest in a Himalayan mountainside some 8000 feet above sea level. It’s cool climate and breathtaking vistas and its ample tree cover comprising of Adlers, Oak, Deodar, Blue Pine, Fir, Spruce and Birch trees, attracted the former colonial masters of India, the British to make Shimla their very own home away from home. A little England rising from the dusty plains of India to provide succor to the vast numbers of British expats who helped govern India. This legacy is clearly still visible in Shimla. There is the spectacular Kalka- Shimla train service that connects Kalka in the plains to this impossibly high city in the hills. The piece de resistance is the Mall road, that elegant street that houses the very old and quaint Gaiety Theater, the many shops and showrooms that date back to the old days, including the quaint bakery and confectionery outlets that sell you treats that you won’t find elsewhere- Shimla truly is very different from your typical Indian town.
We had the time of our lives walking up and down the Mall road, gorging on ice-cream, shopping for curios and generally enjoying the sheer majesty of the Himalayan mountain ranges which surrounds you. We also went a few kilometers out of town to Kufri, which is even higher than Shimla and boasts of some of the most breathtakingly beautiful views of pine lades mountain slopes and deep valleys that you ever saw. In winter the snow over here is usually many feet deep, and is often frequented by film crews from Bollywood, who shoot here for the snowy ambiance.
There is a fair amount of wildlife in the wooded hills and it is not rare to spot the elusive snow leopard, as also the musk deer and brown bears. Like many other tourists we went for a long horse ride on a popular mountain trail that took us deep into the pine forests, through some amazing terrain, that looked straight out of an old American western. You could hear the animals deep inside the forests, and the whole ambiance was quite exciting. The trip to Kufri included a visit to the local zoo which was at a picturesque location on the spur of a hill, and housed some spectacular specimens of Himalayan flora and fauna. In Kufri you also come across the Yak, a high altitude bovine animal, and like everyone else, we posed for pictures standing next to it.
We were back in Shimla the same evening and returned to our favorite haunt the Mall road. At night the whole road is light up and snakes up and down the mountain side like a long glowing Chinese lantern. In the days of the Raj, the European masters lived in houses near the Mall road and led an active social life which included visits to the many cafes, bars and night clubs, which used to exist on the Mall road then. At the far end of the same road was the main church of Shimla, which still exists and is now a popular tourist destination. There was a lot more to explore in Shimla, but unfortunately we were a little short on time.
The next morning, we reluctantly started on our long drive back home, but not before we bought ourselves a basket full of peaches, apricots and cherries from a roadside vendor to take back with us.