Shimla - Queen of Hill Stations

Perceived and established by the British during colonial period  in first half of
19th century as their Summer Capital, Shimla acquired global fame  by   the
time  they  left  in the year 1947.  At the dawn of independence, Shimla was
known as ‘Capua of India’, the Indian Mount Olympus, the Viceroy’s
“shooting box” “Home of the heaven born”,  “abode of little tingods”. It was popularly   known  as Jewel of Orient”,  “Queen of Hill Stations”, “Star of Hill Resorts”  and “Town of Dreams”. 

Location

 

Shimla, the Mountain City  of India” located at 30 6`N latitude, 77 13` E
longitude and at 2100 metres above sea level, extends along a ridge and its
several flanking spurs.

Located at a commanding site in the interior Himalayas, connected   by road, rail
and  air, it  has  traditionally been a preferred destination for tourists from all over
the world.   Thousands of miles away from their mother land, amidst picturesque
Himalayan environs, Shimla can be called ‘a Wonder of Colonial Era’.
The British established many architectural masterpieces such as Vice Regal Lodge, Gorton Castle, Railway Board Building, Gaiety Theatre, Town Hall, Auckland House, Ellerglie, Barnes Court, Bungalows, Churches and  Challet Day School. Shimla also has a building called Western Side of  Gaiety Theatre North Bank where in 1907 Nobel Laureate writer Rudyard Kipling lived in 1907.  It was a dreamland of cool comfort in a very hot land, and full of promise of fun and frivolity. The 96.5 kilometre section of Kalka-Shimla railway line with 103 tunnels is an engineering feat and provides unique experience to  those  who  travel  by  this historic  route. It  is  the  most spectacular  narrow gauge railway line in the world.
The city possesses distinct British heritage including institutional buildings,
bungalows, churches, socio-cultural spaces, hotels, cemeteries, coffee houses, clubs,
theatres, schools, hospitals,  street   pattern  and street   furniture,   immensely   add
to  grace of the city with their distinct expressions. The facades of buildings,
sloping roofs, dormers, windows, doors, entrances and chimneys of numerous types
replicated from European buildings leave an ever- lasting impact on one’s mind and
provide an opportunity to understand the Western saga of art  and architecture. 

Shimla, prior to its development as a hill station was described as an “obscure
village. The village was named ‘Shimla’ after the temple of Goddess Shyamala
located in the village. In 1817, it was “a middling village”, where a fakir used to
give water to the travelers. Another legend is that ‘ Shimla’ or ‘Simla’ is named as
is pronounced by the hill people. According to Mr. W.H. Carrey the original
village of Shimla was situated on the ground lying to the east of present
secretariat buildings, above the road leading to the  Ripon hospital, and
immediately below the Roman Catholic  chapel, S. Michael’s school, and the
Court house.
Shimla, the Summer Capital of British India, is popularly known as ‘Jewel of the
Orient’. Amidst the Central Himalayas, it is a charming hill resort for tourists
from all over the globe. Ever established by the British on hill top, with unique
urban design, it is known as ‘Queen of Hill Stations’. Shimla possesses distinct
British heritage. During recent decades, after acquiring the status of state capital of
Himachal Pradesh, it emerged as a major cultural, educational and institutional
centre. Still considered as the star of India’s hill resorts, Shimla is dominated
by 19th Century colonial buildings. 

 

History

Shimla town has a very interesting history of its origin,  gradual growth and
development. At the beginning of last century, Shimla was taken from the Jhind
Rana in 1815 and given to the Patiala Raja for assistance rendered by him to the
British in the Nepal War. Subsequently, it was used by the Raja for a sanatorium.
It is said that the first person who brought Shimla to notice was a British officer,
who, when moving Gurkha troops from Sabathu to Kotegarh in about 1816,
passed through Shimla was impressed by its cool climate. It was a dense jungle
infested with wild beasts. It is however, claimed by Mr. A. Wilson in his ‘Abode
of Snow’ that the hill on which Shimla is situated was first made known by
Gerard brothers. These two Scotch officers were engaged in the survey of the
Sutlej valley. Their diary, dated August 30th, 1817, Shimla, a middling sized
village where a fakir is situated and gives water to travelers. They encamped on
the side of Jakhu, and had a very extensive and beautiful view.

In 1819, Lt. Ross Assistant Political Agent in the Hill States built a cottage of
wood and thatch. This was probably the first British House in Shimla. By 1824,
invalids from the plains had been given permission to establish themselves in the
locality on rent free sites provided by  the Maharaja of Patiala and Rana of
Keionthal. In 1825, a political agent,  Major Kennedy constructed a permanent
house on a rent free site. It was named as Kennedy House. In 1827, Lord
Amherst, the then Governor General of India, after completing progress through
North-West proceeded for the summer months to Shimla. This was the foundation
of Shimla’s Greatness. In 1828, Lord Combermere with his staff and the whole
establishment of Army Head Quarters came upto Shimla. During his stay, he
superintended the construction of a bridge known as ‘Combermere Bridge’ and
also a fine broad level road about three miles in length around Mt.
Jakhu. In 1829, a  house named ‘Bentick Castle’ was built for the Governor
General, Lord William Bentick. Later on, it was known as ‘Pleti’s Grand Hotel.”

The movement of British Officers to Shimla in the summers  became a  regular                
phenomenon. This was perhaps the basic contributing factor to the evolution of
“Shimla Village” into a proper town and its fame as a hill station  and
convalescent depot. Another factor that enhanced the popularity of Shimla was
its health giving attribute- ‘climate’,  which combined with every imaginable
beauty of nature-terrain, natural vegetation, springs and streams presented a very
homely atmosphere to the British. By 1831, Shimla had about sixty permanent
houses and a bazaar. Communication between these was secured by well-formed
narrow but quite safe communication routes. Following the example of British
Officers, native chief also started visiting Shimla in the summers. An
announcement regarding summer movement to Shimla reads-“should the
Governor General and Commander-in-Chief come up next season, it will consist
of British subjects-200, and native 8000 and when the tributary chieftons and
followers come in, it will be nearly 20,000. Again in winter, when but few
remain, it will probably not exceed-British subject 20, natives-2000”. Despite the
two distinctly different faces, one in summers and the other in winters, Shimla
had achieved fame as a reputed hill station within a short span of time. Shimla
during this period was accessible from Kalka by bridle path, passing through
Kasauli, Kakkarhatti, Hurreepore and Syree covering 43 miles and entering the
town at Boileauganj, one of the suburbs of Shimla. A distance of 43 miles up the
hills from Kalka had to be accomplished in a two wheel cart drawn by a couple of
ponies under the auspices of the ‘Mountain Car Company’.  Jhampan and dandy
were the other means of travel. 

Despite of the difficulties of traveling over this track, the British used to visit
Shimla every summer season like a flock of the faithful, to escape the scorching
heat of the plains and to smoothen their home sick feelings and were considered
“wise to surround themselves as far as they can with an English atmosphere”. By
1844, the number of houses in Shimla had risen to 100 as compared to 60
residences reported in 1831. Rapid growth led to necessity of providing amenities
and services. Some of the social institutions through a central authority promoted
the Municipal Committee at Shimla in 1851. The Committee was responsible for
establishment of the Town Hall with a library, Gaiety Theatre, and Police Station.
Municipal Market and Fire Brigade Services were also provided in subsequent
years. Shimla was declared the Summer Capital of Indian Govt. in 1864. In the
following years, the older, narrower track from Kalka to Shimla was improved.  A
new road named Grand Hindustan-Tibet road, 58 miles in length, passing through
Dharampur, Solan and Kiaree Ghat was built.

The emergence of Shimla as the Summer Capital also resulted in the acquisition
of several old buildings by the Govt. for its offices. In addition, construction of
new buildings was also started. A new Secretariat building, very close to the Mall
was constructed on the site of Gorton  Castle. In 1840, Peter Hoff became the
official residence of the Viceroy and remained so till 1888 when a new residence,
Vice Regal Lodge was constructed.

In 1871, the Punjab Govt. also decided to use Shimla as its summer capital. In
order to meet the water requirements of the much-increased population of the
town, the Municipal Committee installed powerful water pumps in 1901 at Churat
Nallah near Sanjauli, to lift up 200,000 gallons of water. In 1902, Walker Hospital
was opened. Prior to it there was only  one medical institution, Ripon Hospital,
built in 1885. In 1903, the electrical lighting system was introduced in the town
and the first place to benefit was the railway station. In 1904, the Kalka-Shimla
railway line was commissioned to make the town easily and comfortably
accessible. Shimla by now had grown considerably, mainly extending along the
entire length of ridge, the extreme ends of town were separated by a distance of
six miles.  Limits of the town were  bounded by the states of Patiala, Keionthal
and Koti on the Northwest, Southwest  and northeast respectively. In 1913, to
meet the increased demands of water supply, two steam pumping engines were
installed at Churat Nallah, supplying 150,000 gallons of water daily. Chaba
electricity generating station was also installed on the Sutlej, to supply electricity
to the town.

Queen of Hill Stations

Popularly known as ‘Mountain City of India’, Shimla is located at an altitude of
2100  metre above mean see level. The city extends along the east-west spinal
axis extending on either side of  the  Ridge and several flanking spurs. It was
planned and developed by the British on seven hills namely 2257 metre high
Elysium Hill, 2070 metre Summer Hill, 2449 metre Jakhu Hill, 2160  metre
Pleasant Hill, 2175 metre Prospect Hill, 2135 metre Observatory Hill and 1860
metre Annadale.  Majesty of Shimla and  its rare British heritage amidst the
serene  environs can be viewed from commanding sites  of Jakhu- the crown of
town, Kamna Devi, Tara Devi, Parimahal and Elysium Hill. The insequent,
obsequent and subsequent tributaries joining consequent streams through wooded
terrain, on one hand and deep gorges  on the other,  make Shimla more complex
and difficult to be understood and interpreted  which  add to the  mystery of  this
place. Health  giving attribute-  ‘climate, combined with every imaginable beauty
of homely, atmosphere to the British, made it a place for recoupment and
enjoyment. According to G.P. Thomas Shimla was “ A Good land, a land of
brooks of water, of fountains and deoths, that spring out of  the valleys”. It makes
an imprint on ones mind by virtue of reading about it, hearing its name and seeing
its rare setting and masterpieces of art  and architecture in it. This is the
enchantment of natures generous bounty. The air is fresh, crisp and scented by the
luxuriant forest wealth. It enters into blood and never leaves. Popularly known as
‘God of Timbers’ Deodar or Cedrus deodar forests are the pride of premier tourist
city of Shimla.

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