Shimla Barbara Kingstone March 19, 2011 Asia, India There is a scenic resplendence about Shimla. As if the approach to it through the Himachal evergreen scenery doesn’t blow you away then the sunrise peaking through the snow capped mountain range over a colonial steeple with lively shadows of the pines and rock fissures, most certainly will. At an altitude of 2202.2 meters above sea level, this bustling town of Shimla has been an escapade from monotonous rigors throughout its history. From the Maharaja of Patiala to the British: everyone has made it their summer sojourn. With its enmeshing of the colonial architecture, alleys of history, the fantastic gardens all bordered with mountains and sunlight, it seems as a chapter right out of Wordsworth’s pastoral fantasy. Perhaps one of the major assests to Shimla is the opportunity to start your voyage on the colorful and legendary Toy Train as it chugs and climbs to its destination, Darjeeling. Always hooting, slowly traveling on the narrow spiral tracks,the enjoyable experience often is a handshake away from cars as they speed along side on the highway close, at times even crisscrossing at intersections. Eventually the Toy Train, with its two seat classes, ascends the nape of the mountain while it smokes and grunts cheerily while the passengers become friends discussing this delightful dinasaur of a train. From the window, you see the constantly changing scenery, each frame a different photos showing the astonishing variety of flora and fauna. During the constant stops, there’s the opportunity to purchase food and quench your thirst from the small stalls or track-side vendors. With an eternal spring except for the snowy winters, Shimla doesn’t require much fore-thought before a visit. The Viceregal Lodge and its accompanying Botanical gardens entice you with some of Shimla’s sights. The six storey building owned by Lord Dufferin is located in the Observatory Hills and is more locally known as Rashtrapati Niwas. Its well trimmed gardens and lawns within the Himalayan grove and the columns of the colonial regime make it a vision to remember. As you move into the heart of town you’ll cross the Ridge. You can’t miss it! Its Neo-Gothic Christ Church and the Tudor Library are some the most visited places in Shimla. The statue of Lala Lajpat Rai greets you as you enter the Mall. This is where most of the attractions of Shimla can be found. From the shopping at the Lakkar Bazaar which has some of the choicest wood craft in the world to the Gaiety Theatre where you could catch a quick show and the emporiums where you could indulge in the finest cashmere and handicrafts, there’s the Mall bustling with activity to reckon with. The Mall also has a skating rink, billiard rooms and cultural exhibitions in the main square in front of the rustically beautiful town hall. You’ll be hard pressed to find time to soak in all the beauty of Prospect Hill, Summer Hill, Potter Hill, Elysium Hill and the Glenn Forests. Since you’re in India, you’ll witness the convergence of all faiths within a miniscule radius no matter what part of the country you visit. Shimla is no different. It houses the Christ Church and the St. Michael’s Cathedral in full tandem with Jakhu Temple and Kali Bari. Spirituality derives a whole new meaning here because of the scenic beauty and refreshing air that welcomes you as you enter these sacred folds. Shimla is very receptive to its visitors and therefore offers a plethora of accommodations options. Cottages and hotels dot the hillside where there’s never a dirth to hamper your enjoyment. Food and dining options are also plentiful with a great variety of cuisines to jump-start your palette. The people too, are very hospitable and are always willing to go the extra mile to lend a helping hand. It seems obligatory that they feel it their job to point you in the direction of their native elixir- the apples, jams, squashes, preservatives, pickles. There’s one word that would describe Shimla…indulge. The Queen of the Hills has been the Summer Capital during the British occupation, the center of an important Indo-Pak agreement and always a welcoming hostess. Therefore, to luxuriate away from the engaging chaos that is India, recline in the lap of nostalgia and nature and spend a lazy, easy-going vacation in Shimla, It’s a city that fills the needs of all your senses and expectations.