Saturday, July 4, 2015


SHIMLA: the former 'summer capital’ of British India

In 1864, Shimla became the ‘summer capital’ of British India.  It is about 6500 feet above sea level and has seven hills as a protective barrier for the British enclave.  The weather, being a hill station, was more appealing to the British rulers and their aides, as the mountain air also protected them from the hot malaria infested monsoon summers of Delhi.  During the first years, they carried all their necessary records up from Delhi by train to Kalka and then by donkeys, for their yearly seven months stay in this mountain capital.  Later, after the Kalka-Shimla cog train (referred to now as the ‘toy train’ and a UNESCO Heritage site) was built in 1906. Then the transport of records became easier, as they were carried by the little train up the mountain to Shimla through the train’s 103 tunnels.

Today Shimla although nestled in the lower Himalayas has the aura of a worn-out English seaside village. Must of the ‘Tudorbethan’ architecture still exists and much of it still house government and military offices.  The Mall which is the ‘main street’ of the town ends at the Ridge which is filled during most seasons with Indian tourists, their children enjoying pony rides and ice cream as their parents rest on the benches and marvel at the stunning mountain side views that surround the area. 
Anyone for a horse or pony ride?

 Also on the Ridge is Christ Church in which Rudyard Kipling’s father designed the windows.  
Christ Church

French Papier-Mache on the Gaiety  Theatre walls

Inside the Gaiety Theatre
Just as one reaches the Ridge on one side is the Gaiety Theatre, built in 1838, it is one of the last of seven Victorian theatres left in the world.  Jane and I were very fortunate to have a private tour of this lovely theatre by the Theatre Director, himself. The Gaiety has been called a miniature of London’s Albert Hall and is still in constant use and also in a constant state of renovation.  Recent improvements have been the replacement of the French papier-mâché decor on the inside walls, a large modern multi-purpose hall on the top floor and a historic picture gallery of theatre productions preformed over the years.  The Amateur Dramatic Club has been presenting performances since the theatre’s inception.  During that time, men playing women’s parts was the norm.  Many army officers acted in the plays and it was not unusual for a mustached Ophelia to delight the theatre’s audiences.
My pleasent but messy room at Spars Lodge

Jane with Joey, who with his mother owns Spars
The view from my room:  for some reason there is always a haze on the landscape

The staff on the porch at Spars Lodge
 We stayed n one of my favorite guesthouses, Spars Lodge.  Here the owner, Pratti, greeted me with a big hug.  The Lodge is located on a steep hill, about a 60-degree hike up, but worth the walk.  The rooms are cozy; most with incredible views, there is lots of hot water, and great food. It is situated just below Shimla’s wonderful local museum and just above The Cecil Hotel, which in its lovely appointed bar, served us Baileys and molten Chocolate pudding many nights after dinner, and nice lunches during the day. 
Monkey statue at the Monkey Temple

One of many
Shimla is a place full of great walks particularly for the hardy: to the Monkey Temple - having been there and disliking monkeys, I sent Jane off on her own carrying a big stick to ward off any of the too ‘Curious Georges.’ Note: Shimla is riddled with monkeys and visitors are warned to keep all their windows locked so the little devils will not come in and steal your personal items.
Monkey families 
You're not the only one who likes ice cream cones

 There is also a very interesting Military Museum, 
Military Museum

Model soldier in uniform

and the Viceroy’s House where one can enjoy not only the lovely gardens but also a very pleasant brief tour of the residence. Additionally, there are little English mountain cottages to be found nestled here and there thorough out the wonderfully wooded hillsides.  All in all, Shimla is a delight to visit and our stay was wonderful.

British Viceroy's Residence in Shimla
Jane with our charming and intelligent guide at
the Viceroy's Residence

The very knowledgeable Director of the Gaiety Theatre

Note: Shimla also is known for its excellent schools, universities and research centers.  Shimla, Darjeeling, and OOty are all known as outstanding educational centers, where during the British era many English children, whose parents lived in India, and extremely rich Indians, sent their youngsters for their beginning basic educational experiences.  
Three bright, charming Birts who had just finish cylcing the
Spiti Valley on Enfields.  


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