Shimla: the "Queen of the Hill Stations", an old city once the summer playground of the Raj, graced by colonels and viceroys. Today, the capital of Himachal Pradesh sits at 2,213 metres above sea level right on the edge of the foothills of the Himalayas. Stretching along a 12-kilometre ridge, surrounded by steep forested hillsides of oak, deodar, pine and rhododendron, Shimla is one of India’s most popular hill resorts, buzzing with a vibrant flow of holiday makers, revelling in the cool and breezy mountain air.
Shimla was first occupied by the British in the early 1800s and was declared as their summer capital in 1864. It was enormously important to the empire in its heyday, and today, the hilly town centre is dotted with memories from a bygone era. With a firm connection with the colonial past there is an interesting core of Victorian buildings, particularly around the long and winding main street, the Mall, and the Brighton-like promenade, and scattered throughout one can spot nostalgic relics of the towns previous life as the summer capital of British India. Traffic in this area is also banned so one can pleasantly explore on foot. To the south, with many visitors and a lot of building in recent years, it is no longer the cosy little town it used to be; maze-like alleys of the bustling bazaar cascade steeply down to the traffic-infested Cart Road.
The famous, much-loved "toy train", which runs on a narrow-gauge railway built in the 1920s, rolls delicately and rather slowly up from Kalka, passing through over a hundred tunnels, trundling over a series of elevated bends and bridges, and stopping at numerous pretty little stations on the way. It’s often named as the most beautiful railways in the world, and if anything remains unchanged, it’s the awe-inspiring sweeping mountainscape views that are so inherent for Himachal Pradesh.
Nearby Mashobra is just 12 kilometres from Shimla, at 2,600 metres above sea level, and is surrounded by nature on a grand scale: everywhere you look, snow-capped Himalayan vistas dominate the landscape. A trek to the highest nearby peak, Shali, makes a lovely day trip from Shimla, but there are numerous shorter walks through thick deodar, pine and horse chestnut forests, as well as opportunities for picnics, rafting and even golf.
The best time to visit Shimla is from March to May, when the weather is at its finest and it is most pleasant for outdoor activities, and after monsoon season until the first snowfall (from October until December). Monsoon season is from July to September, and heavy rainfall means it is frequently wreathed in cloud. The winter months often sees a beautiful carpeting of snow and sub-zero temperatures.
>> Read our blog: Shimla: Queen of the Hills
Features in the following itineraries
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Mr David Wallace, North India
- Leslie Siben, India
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka