|The Kalka-Shimla Railway track, a unique feat of engineering, was built under the supervision of H S Harington|
Himachal Pradesh, the capital city of Shimla, was declared as the summer capital of British India in 1864. The destination still has some of the most impressive landmarks of those times, for example Lord Elgin’s Memorial and Viceregal Lodge. Many of the buildings are finest examples of Tudor revival and Neo-Gothic architecture. The most recognisable edifice in the city is the Christ Church, which is the second oldest church in north India. Built in the neo-Gothic style in 1857 the church was designed by Colonel J T Boileau in 1844.
A significant section of tourists who are interested in colonial heritage tours are from UK. “We do a lot of tours on the heritage of the Himalayas. These are mostly FITs. Every year we host as many as 10,000 inbound tourists, of which 60 per cent are Britishers. About 6,000 to 7,000 people are very keen to ride the Kalka-Shimla train,” says Ritesh Sood, owner, Himalayan Saga. His company also organises Heritage Motorbike Tours, which is quite popular among a niche clientele. The tour includes stays at heritage hotels like Judge’s Court at Pragpur and visit to McLoedganj, an erstwhile British cantonment which is now a Tibetan settlement.
An important landmark is the Kalka-Shimla Railway, one among Mountain Railways of India UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which was constructed in 1906. The 95 km long Kalka-Shimla Railway track, a unique feat of engineering, was built under the supervision of H S Harington, chief engineer. “With the growth in the Shimla population, permanent and floating, the Motor Car Company was not found capable enough to cope with the growth transport of passengers, luggage and the provisions of everyday consumption which had to be brought in from the markets in the plains and a necessity was felt to find a better alternative means of transport. So a Mountain Railway Project was planned in 1847,” says Satish Vashisht, owner, Travel Himachal, adding that, the narrow gauge track winds its way through 103 tunnels and passes, 800 bridges and 900 curves.
Best of colonial architecture
|The Gaiety Theatre produced the best of the plays performed in London|
It is a well known fact that Shimla has some of the world’s finest examples of British colonial architecture. Notable is the former Viceregal Lodge (now the Indian Institute of Advanced Study), the Gaiety Theatre and the former imperial Civil Secretariat (now the Accountant General’s Office), the Barnes Court (now the Raj Bhawan), and the Vidhan Sabha. “While many of the buildings have been and converted into government offices or educational institutions, some have been burnt down. There are quite a few structures that need restoration and all these impressive buildings can be a great draw for tourists,” says Vashisht.
The Viceregal Lodge was built as a home for Lord Dufferin, Viceroy of India from 1884–1888. The subsequent viceroys and governor generals of India also stayed in this building. It occupied Observatory Hill, one of the seven hills that Shimla is built upon. Shimla is surrounded by Seven Hills. These hills offer a wide variety of trails to visitors to explore.
One of the most striking buildings of the British empire, Gorton Castle is a new-Gothic structure. Swinton Jacob was the architect. “The Rajasthan jaali work on its balconies obviously came from his forty five years of experience as the executive engineer of the princely state of Jaipur, completed in 1904, of India and housed the legislative, lands, education, home health and finance departments. Today, this houses the offices of the accountant general of Himachal Pradesh,” mentions Vashisht.
The Gaiety Theatre was opened on the May 30, 1887, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year. The theatre was a major source of entertainment and, consequently became a cultural necessity for the English elite. Shimla became the home of amateur theatre and the Gaiety Theatre produced the best of the plays performed in London.
One of Shimla’s best known tourist spots is the Scandal Point. According to Vashisht it was the hub of the town’s social life, where The Ridge and the Mall (road) converge. The story goes that this is the place where Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala, eloped with the British Viceroy’s daughter in 1892. There used to be a mechanical equestrian statue at Scandal Point.