The quintessential hillstation, Shimla, known as Simla under British rule, is the capital of Himachal Pradesh state. Reached by a long and winding road that climbs from the baking plains up to the 2160m high ridge on which the town is situated, the air is cool and there are panoramic views of the Himalayas with their snow-covered peaks.
Shimla retains an atmosphere of the Raj, as befits the town that was the summer capital of British India, and bungalows, mansions, churches and cricket pitches all contribute to the colonial ambience. Today the town is a main holiday resort, popular with nouveau rich Indian families and couples who flock here in May and June during the run-up to the monsoons, much as their British predecessors did.
The complexities of relocating the capital every year were phenomenal, and long baggage trains of packhorses carried people and documents up the winding road to the town. Many of the administrators of the Raj were obliged to remain at their posts all season, but their wives often headed up to Shimla, so the social scene was one endless succession of garden parties, bridge games, balls and invitations to tea. This led to a curious mixture of Victorian propriety and an abandonment of the constricting morals of life elsewhere - Scandal Corner, at one end of the town’s main square, is named after the elopement of a high-ranking official’s daughter with an Indian prince, although there were undoubtedly many more such incidents that went unreported.
Although Shimla today spreads across 5 hills, the main part of town is still known as the Ridge, and in high season it is bustling with young people who have nowhere else to meet. The most prominent landmark is the Victorian spire of Christ Church, which is known for its stained-glass windows, which depict Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Patience and Humility. The Mall is the main shopping street, lined with unmistakably British buildings, and was out of bounds to all ‘natives’ until World War 1. Narrow lanes lead off the Mall into a warren of backstreets, lined with stalls, shacks and minarets, which culminate in the bazaar. At the other extreme, the Viceregal Lodge, seat of the summertime government until 1940, looks down from its elevated position on top of Observatory Hill. From here streams trickle down the hillsides, one leading to the Arabian Sea in the west, the other towards the Ganges and Bay of Bengal to the east, spanning the breadth of India.
Housed in a 19th century colonial building in the heart of Shimla, the 5 star Oberoi Cecil has been beautifully restored to its orginal grandeur.
Once the summer retreat of Lord Kitchener, Wildflower Hall is a luxury resort and spa in the forested foothills of the Himalayas.
Time: GMT +5½ hours
Flight time from London to Delhi is 8 hours 30 minutes and to Mumbai is about 8 hours.
Language: The official language is Hindi, which about 30% of the population speaks. English is very widely spoken and is used for official and commercial purposes.
Required for British travellers. Other nationalities should obtain advice from their embassy.
There are no compulsory vaccinations.