This might as well be the British town still. After all, they turned this mountain region into the present day active town that we see today. True, we must have fashioned this hill retreat to what we wanted it to be. But these changes do not, in any way, lessen the charm of this Queen of Hill Stations. You would still find, and we promise you, spectacular views of the Himalayan range and superb walking trails amidst the pine and deodar. In fact, ask the locals and they'd swear that the best way to discover Shimla is on foot, while occasionally stopping over to warm yourself sipping hot masala tea from kullars. Visit it anytime of the year, especially during the rains when the hills turn a shade greener or during the chilling winters, when the soft cotton-like snow covers the land in a pristine white. Walk through the ancient temples or the oldest churches and stop by for a second, if only to watch the awesome scene of the mist engulfing everything around you...
While locals generally walk around town, buses and private cars ply the town area. Buses traverse the entire circular road around the city centre. Private vehicles are prohibited on the mall, ridge, and nearby markets.
The Mall: This is the heart of the city, the hub of all social activities. Always busy with a tourists and locals alike, The Mall is lined with bright shops selling all possible wares, the clubs, banks, hotels and post office. It remains especially crowded during the peak season and is extremely neat owing to the fact that no vehicle is allowed here. The Scandal Point here joins the Ridge Road towards the west of the Mall. The name of this point is derived from the story that a British lady eloped with the Maharaja of Patiala! Also located here is the Gaiety Theatre, where a number of popular film personalities have performed. Today it is used by the schools here as a centre for performing arts. The Kali Bari Temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali and houses a wooden image of the goddess. Also worth watching is the Town Hall, which, in its well-preserved grandeur, is reminiscent of the British era. The Ridge Road provides an easy access to Lakkar Bazaar, a market where wooden arts and artifacts are available.
Christ Church: Located on the Ridge end of the Mall, this distinctly yellow Church is famed to be among the oldest churches of North India. Built majestically, it is known for its stained glass windows that have illustrations representing faith, hope, charity, fortitude, patience and humility.
St. Michael's Cathedral: Another Roman-Catholic Church worth taking a look at is this church, also known for its splendid stained-glass paintings. This is the only church with five marble altars transported from Italy. Especially watch the central window, which carries a unique depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. Also located inside are idols of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Theresa.
Jakhoo Hill: Said to be the highest peak in Shimla, it naturally affords superb views of the town and of the sunrise and sunset. At its peak is an ancient Jakhoo Temple dedicated to Hanuman. Watch out for the numerous monkeys that play around this area as if keeping guard over their favourite god!
Bhimakali Temple: Believed to be over 800 years old, this temple is dedicated to Goddess Durga. Built in typical Tibetan-style, it showcases both Buddhist and Hindu elements and has a slanted roof, golden towers, a pagoda and a silver carved door. This temple is especially popular during Dussehra.
Sankat Mochan Temple: Dedicated to Hanuman, this temple complex also includes idols of Lord Rama, Lord Shiva, the Navagraha Temple and a Ganesha Temple. Also visit the 3-storey Langar Hall, where prasad is distributed every Sunday. Also located here is a Marriage Hall and residential quarters for priests and temple staff.
Tara Devi Temple: Dedicated to the Goddess of Stars, this temple is located on the hill by the same name. The temple provides spectacular views of the surrounding region.
Shimla State Museum: Started in 1974, this museum houses a fine collection of miniature Pahari paintings, sculptures, bronzes wood-carvings and folk costumes, textiles and jewellery of the region.
Indian Institute of Advanced Study: Housed in the Viceregal Lodge, this institute facilitates and promotes studies in the areas of Humanities, Indian Culture, Religion and the Social and Natural Sciences. The building is distinctly British and has spacious gardens bordered by pine trees. Also housed within is a library and documentation facilities.
Summer Hill: Also known as Potter's Hill due to the number of potters who used to gather here to collect clay, this hill is known for its scenic walking tracks. Almost entirely covered in pine and deodar trees, the hill houses the ancient home of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. This place was also frequented by Mahatma Gandhi when he was visiting the Himachal Pradesh University.
Annandale: Also called the playground of Shimla, this spot is located almost 3 kms from the ridge and is known as a popular picnic, cricket and polo spot.
Thanks to its proximity to Delhi and Chandigarh, you'd find a huge amount of typical tandoori fares in the region. Most restaurants are located near the Mall, so you're bound to get all options including Indian, Chinese, Tibetan and Continental. For good Punjabi fares, head out to Sita Ram's at Lakkar Bazaar - they serve great chole-bhaturas. Himachali cuisine consists mostly on non-vegetarian fares with a generous dose of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and red chillies. For typical Himachali cuisine at low prices, try the Goofa or Ashiana Restaurant. Quite popular with tourists, Devicoes is known for its continental cuisine and superb pastries and muffins! More upbeat is the multi-cuisine Baljees Restaurant. Slightly expensive but worth the money is Alfa at Scandal Point and Aunty's Chinese Dhaba, which serves a range of Indianised Chinese dishes. For those looking for a range of continental dishes, try Krishna Bakers on the Mall - their burgers are immensely popular. One of the oldest confectionary points, Trishool Bakers is especially known for its range of home-made ice creams. Relatively more expensive is the Clarke's and Combermere and the Cecil, maintained by the Oberoi Hotels. If you're looking for some South Indian fares, try Tripti on Lower Mall Road. Mehru Halwai also in the Lower Bazaar area serves excellent vegetarian cuisine, especially aaloo-puris.
Definitely worth buying are the Himachali woolen shawls and colourful Kullu caps. Also known are the exquisitely carved wooden walking sticks available at the Lakkar Bazaar. Also popular are the Kinnauri mufflers, scarves, Chamba embroidered rumaals, bright Buddhist Thangkas and Kangra miniatures. These and more souvenirs can be picked up from Diwanchand Atmaram, Lalsons and Comarsons. Handicrafts are best available at the Himachal Emporium on The Mall. One of the oldest industries that flourished in Himachal was of the Chinese shoemakers. Now they are only made-to-order and can be checked at Hopsons, Tatung, Fook Chung and Hugh & Co. Book lovers and ancient art patrons can find much at Maria Brothers - it is full of rare books, maps and replicas of ancient manuscripts. Extremely popular is the Tibetan Refugee Shop, which is known for its bright Tibetan woolens and wooden artifacts. Also check out some of the freshest fruit jams, jellies and toffees here. Remember that bargaining is a must! Himachal is known for its orchards growing apple, pear, peach plum, almond, walnut, citrus, mango and raisin grapes. The HPMC store stocks up on a range of fresh fruit products, including fruit jams, apple cider, mango, litchi, strawberry and orange nectars, kiwi squash, mixed pickles and mushroom pickles. Also available here are apple and plum wines and jam-jelly-squash gift hampers for those back home!
Undoubtedly the most popular festival in Shimla is the Ice Skating Carnival held in December, January and February at the open-air natural ice rink. The event is organized by the Ice-Skating Club of Shimla and features exciting events including skiing, skating competitions, ice hockey or simple snowball throwing! Skates are available for rent at the rink itself. Another must-see festival is the Rhyali Festival, celebrated during monsoons in July and dedicated to the rain gods. The ceremony begins with seeds of five or seven crops sown in a tiny basket and kept near the idols of gods almost ten days prior to the celebrations. Thereafter, on the ninth day, the marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati takes place and the clay statues of the gods are placed near the basket. Thereafter prayers are offered for the harvest season.
Shimla Summer Festival is possibly the most important reason for visiting Shimla in May. Attended by all, this festival organizes several sports events for all to enjoy. Highlights of this colourful event include cultural performances, photography competition, poster-making competition and fashion show showcasing folk dresses. Another important festival celebrated in Shimla is Baisakhi, held in April before the onset of the harvest festival. Held in November for three days, the Bhoj Fair is attended by devotees who pay respect to the popular deity, Devta Bansoor. The Lavi Fair symbolizes a tribute to the signing of a mutual trade treaty between Tibet and the former Bushahr state. Several cultural shows are organized for the benefit of the small-scale trade and businesses among shepherds and locals. Held in May, the Sipi Fair is dedicated to Sip Devta and includes several programs, like archery, magic shows, jugglers and acrobats.
If you can brave the cold, we recommend visiting Shimla during Christmas and New Year. Almost entirely covered in white snow, the famous Christ Church is decorated beautifully during these two events. Lohri is celebrated to mark the advent of the sowing season in January and is distinguished by numerous bonfires that light up the place. Navaratri too is celebrated with much fervour during October, when huge effigies of Ravana are burnt to mark the triumph of good over evil.
Considering the number of tourists it records every season, places to stay are aplenty and range across all budgets. Located at Shilon Bagh, Toshali Royal View offers 77 valley-facing rooms and a multi-cuisine restaurant. Another well-known hotel is Hotel Springfields, by Usha Lexus Hotels. This 4-star hotel is located opposite the Tibetan School and offers 11 heritage rooms, a multi-cuisine restaurant and a travel desk. Located amidst pine woods, Hotel Woodpark is a 3-star budget hotel consisting of 24 comfortable rooms and an in-house restaurant called Perfect Harmony that serves multi-cuisine delicacies. Located below the Kali Bari Temple, Barowalia Resorts is a pure vegetarian hotel providing splendid views of the snow-capped hills from its 14 rooms. An additional highlight of this resort is the fact that it provides taxi services for sightseeing purpose. Located on the Kufri-Fagu Road, Galleu Hill Resort has 24 mountain-view Swiss cottages. This hotel is an ideal spot for indulging in various adventure sports like trekking, hiking and jungle walks. One of the ideally located hotels, Honeymoon Inn is close to the Mall and is a popular budget hotel offering 20 comfortable rooms. Its multi-cuisine restaurant serves the choicest of Indian, Mughlai and Chinese cuisine. Located in the heart of Shimla on Circular Road is the budget hotel Crystal Palace. It comprises of twenty seven comfortable rooms that overlook the pines of the Shivalik. For those looking for complete luxury combined with fine service, Wildflower Hall, part of the Oberoi Group, offers 85 rooms overlooking the cedar and pine forests. Another popular hotel near The Mall is Hotel Doegar with 18 comfortable rooms and an open air restaurant that provides a superb view of the surrounding hills. Counted among the popular budget hotels, Hotel Sun - N - Snow provides basic amenities and a superb view ideal for families and groups. Conveniently located on the Mall Road, Little Inn is a 2 star budget-class accommodation has chic interiors and 21 comfortable rooms maintained with 24 hour room service. Hotel Willow Banks on The Mall houses a total of 35 aesthetically designed rooms, which are centrally-heated. Located near the High Court is the 3-star Hotel Silverine, which has 22 valley-facing rooms maintained with 24 hour services. Another popular luxury hotel is the East Bourne Resort & Spa, which is located conveniently on the Mall and features 39 garden-facing rooms amidst oak and deodar forests.
The origin of the Scandal Point at The Mall is rooted in this popular folklore. It is believed that the King of Patiala had an affair with the daughter of the Viceroy of India. One day while she was walking at this place, he kidnapped her, thus rendering the place its name, Scandal Point. Thereafter, the king was banished from Shimla. To avenge his insult, he swore that he would establish a hill station much finer and more beautiful than Shimla, thus laying the foundation of the splendid retreat of Chail.