/ Adventure Travel
adventure — By Vawn on April 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm
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What to do in Shimla, summer capital of the Raj

After reading Climbing the Mango Trees, a memoir of a childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey, you may want to replicate the experience of picnicking in the Himalayan foothills on meatballs stuffed with raisins and mint tucked into freshly baked spiced pooris. Here, ordinary picnic spots were not enough – they were “picked not only for their natural grandeur but for their inaccessibility in terms of distance or the climbing required.”

During the 19th Century, the British Raj established hill stations in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas – from Dalhousie to Dharamsala – where they retreated from the summer heat of the plains. But Shimla has endured, and is now the state capital of Himachel Pradesh in India. Shimla is a patchwork of buildings that cling rather precariously to the sides of the hills, making you marvel at their ability to stay put. Here are some of the sights worth seeing in the former summer capital of the British Raj:

The Mall and Lower Bazaar

The Mall is a pedestrian-only street with plenty of shops, restaurants and hotels – drink coffee at the old-school Indian Coffee House or sip a gin and tonic on a patio at a Raj-era hotel for some colonial ambience. Perhaps even more interesting is wandering the narrow alleyways of the Lower Bazaar (make your way down one of the paths off the Mall), where the locals do their shopping – from tin pots to school uniforms to bindis and bangles. Snack on samosas, channa puri and momos from the street stalls.

Jakhu Temple

Dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, Jakhu Temple involves a steep half-an-hour hike starting at the east end of the Ridge (above the Mall). The walk takes you through pine forest to the temple at the top of the hill, which is, rather appropriately, swarming with macaques. If you’re not careful, one of these monkeys might just snatch your sunglasses or camera (if this happens, you’ll have to entice him with sweets to get your property back). You can rent walking sticks to scare away the monkeys if they get too close – highly recommended. If it’s a clear day, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts by a view of the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance.

Historical Buildings and Scenic Walks

After reading Ragtime in Simla, a Raj-era murder mystery, you may want to check out the Gaiety Theater, built in the neo-Gothic style. Today, you may be able to catch a performance of the Shimla Amateur Dramatic Club; if not, it’s worth just taking a peak inside.

The Viceregal Lodge and Botanical Gardens was once the official residence of British viceroys, built in the English Renaissance style with blue-grey stone masonry and tiled pitched roofings, and looks like something out of a Harry Potter novel. But it’s also historically significant – in 1947, the decision to partition India and carve out Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was made here.

If you’re up for a scenic walk, head to Prospect Hill (4km from Shimla) or Summer Hill (5km from Shimla). A short walk on from Summer Hill will take you to Chadwick Falls.

I traveled to Shimla as part of a traveling book club to India organized by independent bookseller Nicholas Hoare Books in Toronto and arranged by Going Places Together. The best time to visit Shimla is May to July and September to November.

Photo Credit @ 2010 VH Media

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