I had been to Simla when I was 11 and even then people spoke about the crowd, excessive development, commercial establishments ruining the city and the downward slide of the once summer capital of India. I don’t remember much about that trip. I had gone with my parents and my cousins, and like all family trips, the children tend to run around, while the adults do the more serious ‘touristy’ stuff. The four of us cousins hung out at the guest house, ate daal and roti, played with pillows, hit each other, fought, exchanged words and then made up again. That sums up my memory of this trip to Simla at 11.
I wasn’t expecting much when I visited last month, knowing that even 20- years- ago it was no longer the ‘Queen of the Hill-Stations’ - a term coined by the British.
But I was surprised. I thought of many reasons to explain why I liked what I saw - maybe we went off-season, maybe because it was not a weekend, maybe… maybe … maybe… Simla offered us a lovely holiday. It let us take long, meandering walks about the main road with no cars honking to make us jump out-of-the-way. It gave us a range of food from road-side chaat to tiny shops with warm, delicious gulab jamun, to five-star hotels with brilliant daal. There was lots to do, so much that we didn’t even do the typical points that seem to exist without fail in ALL hill stations in this country. We walked, got lost, found another route, talked, clicked and walked.
There were two highlights of this trip - two things that each of you must absolutely do if you visit Simla. The first one is a heritage walk - it is a DIY heritage walk, so you set your own pace and it’s a nice long walk.
Just in front of the main square, there is a green board that says Heritage Walk 1.
This walk was more than 2 kilometers long, so be ready for it. Parts of it are not via the main road, and those bits are pedestrian paths, curved, quaint and with lots to see.
There are 24 stops and each stop can be easily identified with a green coloured board and a bit of history of the building you are looking at… read it… and then walk on ahead.
I walked, marvelled and loved so many of these old structures, read the little bits about their history and made my way to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. If there is anyway to sum up my memory of Simla, it is this building. Imposing and beautifully maintained, it is a wonderful treat, also given that you have tours inside. It stands like a regal Renaissance styled building, belonging to another world, surrounded by green grass (that you are not allowed to walk on) and luxurious trees. I went for a guided tour inside the building and there are stories, secrets and gasps to be shared.
And the second is this brilliant, one-of-its-kind heritage theatre in Simla called Gaiety. It has been renovated really well and is open for all to ogle at.
Simla was fun. It wasn’t disappointing and far from boring. And it made me realise that you are never completely done with any city, even if it is one of the oldest tourist hill stations in the country… there is always more to see.
Go to Simla, include it in that plan next time and you might also be surprised!
— Bhavani is a traveler by choice, photographer by interest and writer by desire. She crafts tours at Audiocompass.In and blogs at merrytogoaround.com.
■ Stay at a place near Mall Road, makes walking about much easier. That’s if you like to walk around a city - I feel that’s the best way to get under the skin of any place.
■ Definitely visit the Institute of Advanced Studies.
■ Even if you cannot walk the entire heritage trail, try to see some of the key stops on the way. There are some marvellous buildings under various states of disrepair and one never knows when some might collapse. You can also take a car for more than half of the route.
■ Get into the bazaar road, the lane below the main mall lane - it’s narrow, crowded but has all the local stuff. You also get to mingle with the locals as they muddle about their Sunday shopping sprees. The jalebi is brilliant at Nathuram’s - fresh, hot and juicy. There are many shops to choose from, am sure any other one will be equally good.