Shimla — cool respite from Delhi 

By Inga Aksamit
This item appears on page 43 of the January 2020 issue.

In Shimla, the former residence of the British Viceroy of India now houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Photos by Inga Aksamit

My husband, Steve Mullen, and I traveled independently through India for a month in November-December 2017 (Nov. ’19, pg. 30). We started with the Golden Triangle, a tourist circuit taking in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. We loved it, but some of my most vivid memories are of other places we visited, including Shimla.

I think of Shimla as a spur of the Golden Triangle. From Delhi, we traveled north to Shimla, a historic town in the Himalayan foothills. Every hot, humid summer during the 200 years of British reign, they moved the government from Delhi to Shimla (then called Simla) for a few months to take advantage of the cool mountain air.

I had two reasons for going, one serious and the other frivolous.

Shimla hosted important conferences that took place prior to the tumultuous partition of Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) from India in 1947. This event held particular significance for me because, just 14 years after partition, I lived in Lahore, Pakistan, as a young child.

Though I was too young to appreciate the physical and emotional wounds that were still fresh for those affected, I now understand the implications of these events.

Steve Mullen on a hike in the Shimla Water Catchment Sanctuary.

The frivolous reason for visiting was we had been watching the Masterpiece Theatre production of “Indian Summers,” which featured Shimla, and it looked intriguing. 

The small hill town of Shimla was charming, with colorful buildings cascading down the steep slope via narrow lanes that switched back and forth. 

The core of the town was closed to automobile traffic, making it a rare place in India pleasant for strolling. Beautiful buildings left over from the British could be seen on a walking tour. And impish monkeys created a racket as they scampered across roofs and leaped into thickets of trees.  

The toy train (a narrow-gauge railway) is a highlight of a trip to Shimla. Because trains can be plagued with delays in India, I recommend taking faster transportation (plane or private car) to reach Shimla and saving the toy train for the return trip. Otherwise, you could end up being on the toy train at night, like we were, and miss seeing the 103 tunnels and 912 turns up the steep mountainside as the track rises 4,656 feet.

Hiking at Chadwick Falls near Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India.

A train ticket from Shimla to Kalka or Delhi can be purchased online (www.yatra.com/indian-railways/shimla-sml-to-kalka-klk-train-tickets) for a little over $16 ($4.92 from Shimla to Kalka, and $11 from Kalka to Delhi on the fast train).    

Highlights of our 4-night stay in Shimla included a self-guided walking tour in the pedestrian core, with interpretive signs in English; the Viceregal Lodge, now known as the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, which is the destination most tourists want to see (the British Raj mansion, built in 1888, is magnificent); Chadwick Falls, where we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon walk in the woods on the trail easily accessed from town, and Shimla Water Catchment Sanctuary, a large swath of forest that offered an opportunity for a longer hike over several hours (I appreciated the protection of open space). 

We stayed at the 5-star Clarkes Hotel (The Mall Road Shimla 171001, India; phone +91 177 2651010, www.clarkesshimla.com), a wonderful heritage hotel located in the historic part of town on the Mall. The staff was top-notch, the food was excellent, and the service was impeccable. We paid $94 per night for our 4-night stay.

Since we knew to expect cold temperatures in Shimla, we had packed a few small items to keep us reasonably warm during this otherwise hot-weather trip, including hats, scarves, gloves and packable lightweight down jackets. 

Showcasing a unique hill town region of India, Shimla was a wonderful escape from the heat and bustle of Delhi. 

INGA AKSAMIT
Kenwood, CA


The Clarkes Hotel in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India.

Clarkes Hotel staff member — Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India.