The capital of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, Shimla is popular with Indian holidaymakers but less so with foreign tourists. With average temperatures reaching highs of 35 degrees between May and August, it is a welcome escape from the scorching temperatures of Indian summer in southern parts of the country. James and I visited in January and, despite the freezing temperatures at night, we found Shimla to be simply magical. I’ve compiled a list of the seven main reasons I believe you should spend some time in this quaint Indian town – nicknamed ‘Queen of the Hills,’ Shimla is not to be missed!
1) The Kalka – Shimla Railway is a UNESCO world heritage site
The most popular way to get to Shimla is on the ‘toy train’; the ‘Himalayan Queen’ offers beautiful views as she winds up through the mountains, under hundreds of bridges and through 102 tunnels. From Delhi, it takes around 4 hours by train to reach Kalka, a quaint railway station at the foot of the mountains. Before boarding the ‘toy train’, the captain offered us a freshly cooked traditional thali for lunch, which cost 60R each and was absolutely delicious! The journey up to Shimla took 5 hours and the train stopped numerous times en route, allowing us get off and stretch our legs, buy some snacks and some masala chai. You can slide the windows open, meaning you can take some great photos of the breath-taking scenery.
The platform at Kalka railway station
All aboard the Toy Train!
2) It’s a great example of how diverse India is
If you have seen any other parts of India, one of the first things you will notice upon arrival in Shimla is just how different it feels. The town is a far cry from the hot, bustling streets of New Delhi, the over-packed tourist hotspots of Jaipur and the overwhelming splendour of the Taj Mahal. Shimla is a peaceful, slow-paced town with an understated charm; it feels safe, friendly and we had hardly any hassle from hawkers or touts. “Discovered” by the British in the 1800s, Shimla is renowned for its beautiful Victorian architecture. Scandal Point, the main town square, features not a Hindu temple, but a Christian Church (although you do have to take off your shoes upon entry). It felt welcomingly bizarre to visit a town so different to the more popular Indian tourist hotspots.
A street sign close to Scandal Point, and the shops along Mall Road
Christchurch at dusk
3) The town centre is like something out of a fairy-tale
Shimla is essentially a town built into the mountainside, with buildings layered up the side of the hills. The streets are comprised of tiny winding paths, with staircases, elevators and ascending walkways snaking through a maze of buildings. Strolling through the Mall, the main street in Shimla, you feel almost as through you have stepped into a different era, with the Victorian architecture lining the road. Scandal Point offers beautiful views of the landscapes: hills that fold out into mountains in the distance, and the layers of multi-complex hotels alongside run-down shacks in the foreground. You can also visit the Lakkar and Lower Bazaars, of which the latter is a bustling, crowded market, selling woollens, spices, electronics… you name it!
Overlooking Mall Road as a fog appears
4) There is a giant red statue that overlooks the town
To reach Jakhu Hill, which is located 2455m above sea level, you are challenged to a fitness test! The path up the hill winds through the trees – some parts were covered in snow when we went! – until you reach Jakhu temple. At 2470m tall, the enormous statue of Lord Hanuman towers through the trees and can be seen watching over the town from below; it is in fact the tallest stature in the world, at 10m taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Legend has it that Lord Hanuman stopped to rest here whilst looking for a special herb to heal his injured brother. The temple itself can be visited, provided that you remove your shoes, and locals ring the bell for good luck upon entry. As Lord Hanuman is also known as the Monkey God, it seems fitting that this is a place for many monkeys to reside – usually they won’t bother you but they can be aggressive.
A physical fitness test to reach Jakhu Temple, where a statue of Lord Hanuman watches over Shimla from a distance
5) You can eat lunch looking at the mountains
All along the Mall, there are many restaurants to choose from, many which offer stunning views of the backdrop behind. We ate at a restaurant at the eastern end of the Mall, which had an upstairs balcony and delicious food. I’m cursing myself for not remembering the name of the restaurant! This was our view:
James enjoys a vegetable jal-frezi
6) It’s unbelievably clean
Shimla is surprisingly pollution-free; the main town centre is completely pedestrianised and there is minimum traffic on the roads that are used anyway. Perhaps this is because it’s just easier to take the staircases? Smoking is prohibited throughout the city and can result in a 100R fine if you are caught doing so! Littering is also forbidden, with fines starting at 50R; accordingly, there are many bins dotted around the town and hardly any rubbish. Shimla is the only place I visited in India (besides Goa) where you could actually smell fresh air and escape the hustle and bustle of typical Indian life. No wonder so many natives come here on holiday!
Scandal Point, with Christchurch on the right
7) Rudyard Kipling got inspiration for The Jungle Book from Shimla
Kipling spent his early years in India and took his annual leave in Shimla throughout the 1880s. He wrote many stories about Shimla in the Gazzette, the local Indian newspaper. Some argue that Kipling got the inspiration for The Jungle Book from his time in Shimla and the surrounding areas; seeing as the first edition of The Jungle Book was published in 1893, it’s definitely possible!
Have you taken the ‘toy train’ from Kalka to Shimla? Have you been to Shimla or the North of India? What was your favourite thing about it? I would love to hear your opinions!
Thanks for reading,