As Shimla came into view, I gaped at what looked like a vertical city. Buildings appeared as if they were growing behind each other – from where I stood, what was someone’s top floor was the start of someone else’s ground floor. The road went on bending, dipping and climbing again as I made my way closer, and from every angle, it appeared to be the same – a colourful, tiny-looking bunch of lego block buildings, and all that separated me and the city was a valley.
As I write this, I’m one week into my Himachal Pradesh exploration, and I started off with it’s capital city, Shimla. At first glimpse, it was easy to tell why it is the preferred summer vacation spot for most of North India – with its sleepy hill-station atmosphere, the energy of a city and the gorgeous Himalayan vistas.
I was quick to find out that the hill-stations in this part of the country are unlike those in the South. Who would have thought that when you take a turn off the main road, you’d come face to face with an elevator that takes you to various heights/levels of the city! And yet, if you don’t want to pant and puff your way up the hill, standing in a serpentine queue and taking an elevator is the only way to get to the motor-free zone called Mall Road – the hub of activity here. Bellowing with old world-charisma, this road is definitely one I’d like to get to know better – if it wasn’t so crowded!
The street is charming! Branded stores stand side by side with those selling Himachali handicrafts, cute-sy cafes alongside tea stalls and old ‘chakhna’ sellers sitting under umbrellas; and it was hard to resist walking into rickety looking shops selling old maps and books! Ever-so-often, while walking along the open-air promenade, I caught glimpses of rocky hills and green valleys. I stopped for a moment on the Ridge for a post-card perfect view, and took in the sights of soap bubbles in the air, horses trotting behind me and the sounds of photographers hankering customers to purchase a picture they would then proceed to take – a little outdated in the age of 12 megapixel phone cameras, but it did match the vibe!
THINGS TO DO IN SHIMLA
You’ll inevitably come across Christ Church on Shimla’s Mall Road, its cream coloured spires reaching up to the pastel blue sky. While it is small, by Goa standards, the plaques on the wall make for an interesting read as most of them are for war veterans and faithful worshippers at the church in the early 1900’s.
I walked down a section of Mall Road called Lakkad Bazaar, one of Shimla’s popular markets that, as the name suggests, sells everything made of wood. This is a great place to pick up some souvenirs, but if you’d rather snack, you’ll find some of the oldest eating stalls to stop at here.
One of the things you should do in Shimla is taking a visit to Jakhu Temple. Rated as one of the best experiences in Shimla, this holy Hindu shrine sits atop a very steep hill. One can get there by starting on an arduous 800 mt trek from Mall Road, which is a motor-free zone, or via your vehicle, which takes longer, but will get you there minus aching muscles.
Legend has it that during the epic battle of Ramayana, Lord Hanuman set out to find Sanjeevani Booti (medicine) from the Himalayas to revive Lord Lakshman, who was injured in battle. He stopped at this spot to rest. Standing below this ginormous statue, I had to strain my neck to see right up to its head. This 108 foot statue is one of the tallest in the world, situated at such a height above sea level, surpassing the statue of even Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Hundreds of monkeys loiter around the temple and snatch anything they see – spectacles included! So I secured my bag around my shoulder and wore a coat on top, keeping it safely out of view, but with a huge bulge under my arm. Tourists consider the monkeys here to be sacred and feed them, thus emboldening them and turning them almost violent.
WHERE TO EAT ON MALL ROAD
Mall Road in Shimla has endless restaurant options for every budget! I found 3 of them unique and ended up doing a restaurant-hop for lunch.
Wake and Bake – Grab a seat by the yellow windows – they have a great view of Mall Road! Wake and Bake is a teeny, rustic café and folks usually order the coffee, crepes and waffles. As they’re well-known for their Mediterranean food too, I ordered hummus and pita, but was underwhelmed with the dry serving.
Café Sol – It looked a little upscale for this sort of place and was brimming with people, so I decided to check it out. While the burger was quite basic, the fries were fantastic and lime-soda, perfectly balanced! The pizza on the next table looked and smelled delicious.
Honey Hut – Adorably honeybee themed, Honey Hut Café adds a dash of honey to everything on the menu, and I loved it! You’ll be spoilt for choice over what drink to order – smoothies, teas, cold coffees..! I finally settled for a honey cappuccino and paired it with a slice of banana-honey cake which was unbeatable! Notice the attention to detail – from the honey-comb embossed door handle to the bee-coloured combinations – it’s a darling place to hang out and VERY easy on the wallet.
Being the summer capital of the British Raj, parts of Shimla still hold scents of that legacy, the inheritance, the charming architecture that even South Mumbai holds dear. And while modernization and tourism is making that aspect of the city vanish into oblivion, it appears to be more of a dingy town than a hill-station. Only time will tell how long Shimla will be able to keep that charisma alive.
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