Summary : 'Mount Jakho seems to be the pivot around which the Shimla community revolve in their morning and evening perambulations.
The early morning climb up to Shimla’s highest point, Jakhu Hill (2438 m), practically a tradition. Many travellers wish it wasn’t. The ascent is relentlessly steep and can take anything between 40 minutes (if fit) to 2 hours. Don’t be shy of hiring a pony if you need one (about Rs45 return). To get there on foot, start up the slope alongside the church on the Mall, walk up to Hotel Dreamland, then bear right and follow the blue-and-white railings. These peter out near the place selling ‘monkey sticks’, but the path onward is clear. At the top, your effort is rewarded with spectacular views down over Shimla and environs, and across to snow-clad mountains.
Also at the summit is the Hanuman Temple. Inside, it’s like Christmas—masses of bright, glittering tinsel, balls, decorations and streamers. The resident fakir sits warming himself at a single-bar electric heater, his hot-water bottle hangs on a rusty nail in the corner. The shrine is said to house the footprints of Hanuman, the monkey god, left when he paused here for a breather on his way over to Laxman, the injuried brother of Rama, with some curative herbs.
The temple itself is full of scampering very acquisitive brown monkeys. Writing of this place in 1837, the commentatator Gerard wrote of the curious sight ‘of the old fakir in his yellow garments standing in front of the temple, and calling “ajao, ajao” to his monkey children’.
They all had pet names, and one it seems fell from a tree while feeding. The jogi seemed much concerned at this unusual occurrence, but lost no time in making his apologies. ‘Forty years ago,’ he remarked, ‘when I first knew that monkey, she could climb as well any here, but even a monkey can grow old in forty years. Alas, poor Budheer !’ Mr J, French added in his 1838-9 journals:
‘Mount Jakko seems to be the pivot around which the Simla community revolve in their morning and evening perambulations. While the evening is so often a scene of animation—sometimes the road is entirely taken up with conveyances—at this spo t, in the morning it is generally one of perfect solitude.’
In the afternoon, try a pleasant walk down to Glen Forest. This is a pretty, secluded picnic spot located some 4 km (2 1/2 miles) below the Ridge, beyond the cricket/pola grounds of Annandale. One of Shimla’s best walks, the Glen is famous for its lovely waterfall, best just after the monsoon, and for its rushing, ice-cold streams fed melting mountain snows.
To get there, walk past the tourist office to the bottom of the Mall, take them right-hand turning just past Cecil Hotel, then follow your nose. Allowing for ‘scenery stops’, the return journey should take around 3 hours. On the way back, you can turn left at Cecil Hotel for a peek at the old Viceroy’s Lodge. This huge six-storey building, once the site of so many elegant balls and festivities, is now the province of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, with a fine reception hall and library.
Other good walks include Prospect Hill (5 km: 3 miles), down from Cart Rd to Baileauganj then a 15-minute climb, with its pretty temple of Karnana Devi affording excellent views of Shimla, Jutogh, Summer Hill and, if you’re lucky, the toy train chugging past below. Views also of Chadwick Falls 2 km (1 mile) beyond Summer Hi11, famous for its 67-m waterfall and deep gorge. A couple of places best seen by car or bus are Wildflower Hall (13 km: 8 miles) with spacious landscaped gardens and numerous varieties of wild flowers; and Mashobra (13 km: 8 miles) with famous apple oprcharpds (bleset in April), oak and pine-forested picnic areas, a big anual fair in June.
RECREATION Shimla offers a lot more than just scenic walks. Go to Kulfri (16 km: 10 miles) for skiing (best in January/February, equipment for hire); to Chail (45 km: 281 miles) for tennis, squash and golf, and to see the world’s highest cricket ground; and to Hatkoti (104 km: 65 miles) for trout-fishing. Best golf is on the scenic 9-hole course at Naldehra (23 km: 14 1/2 miles).
In Shimla itself, the better hotels arrange golf and tennis. In the winter (mid-December to mid-February only), try Shimla’s famous ice skating rink, the only natural rink in India, situated below the Mall adjacent to the bus-stand. There is year-round roller-skating in the old Regal cinema building. Both rinks hire out skates. There is a rank for pony-rides on the main square, below the church.
Amongst Himachal Pradesh’s handicrafts, woodwork pieces are special to Shimla. Visit Lakkar Bazaar along the eastern fork from the Ridge. Rolling pins are in great DEMAND (husbands beware), as are exquisitely carved walking sticks, bowls, spoons and toys. Kuhr shawls and dolls are other specialities. Try the Himachal Emporium, opposite the Telegraph Office on the Mall, or Him Udyog. Below the tourist office, just above Rivoli, is a makeshift Tibetan Market selling ‘imported’ jackets, woollens, and shoes, along with ‘smuggled’ articles like wrist watches and radios. A lot of unusual curios, often from the old Viceregal Estate or from the homes of long departed British officials, tend to make their way to this market. In the shops on the Mall and in the Middle and Lower Bazaars, you can find rabbit-fur purses, jute Handbags, woodwork items, handpainted wall-hangings, and attractive brass wall- plates. chinese shoemakers can be found on the Mall, and are still good value. One inerteresting shop is the antiquarian bookseller on the Lower Mall. Maria Brother are notorius for their high prices but their fascinating stock is worth browsing through.
WHERE TO STAY
Shimla’s hotels are very good, but there simply aren’t enough of them. During the lowSEASON (November to mid-April), you should have no problem finding a 30-50% discounted room. By May, however, all hotels fill up rapidly and you’ll be lucky to find a broom cupboard to sleep in. All prices quoted below are for the high season.
Expensive(US$35–75/Rs1000-2150 per room night) Hotel Oberoi Clarkes on the Mall (tel 6091/5, tix 351-206) has all the Oberoi tradition, and more, behind it. It launched M.S. Oberoi’s career in 1934, and is still the hub of the city’s social life. A pleasant combination of old-world charm and modern-day conveniences, it offers spacious and well-furnished rooms (with individual views of the city) at US$48 single, US$91 double. Facilities, food, and in-house recreations are first-rate.
Two of Shimla’s most pleasant places to stay are private homes. Chapslee, Lakkar Bazaar (tel 78242) is one of Shimla’s oldest surviving buildings and was once the summer residence of the Maharajahs of Kapurthala and has rooms from Rs1500. The food, especially the afternoon teas, is excellent. Woodville Palace located in Chota Shimla (tel 72763, 6422) set in large grounds has attractive rooms from Rs1200 and a homely atmosphere.
Mid-range (US$10-30/Rs250-1000 per room night) There are several good bets in this category. HPTDC’s Hotel Holiday Home (tel 72375), is a short walk down Cart Rd from the Tourist Lift. It has a good restaurant, fine location, and double rooms (some with a view) from Rs425 to 1150. Hotel Asia The Dawn (tel 77522, 3141 /4, tlx 0391-205), Tara Devi, although a few miles from the Mall has its own bus service to and from town. Rooms are from Rs750. Hotel Harsha (tel 3016/7) is quietly situated at the bottom of the Mall, near the rail station. Travellers recommend the Hotel Mayur on the Ridge, behind the church (tel 72392/3). It had an excellent dining hall (ask for the Mayur Chicken—it’s special), very helpful staff, good transport information, and smart single/double rooms.
Budget (under US$1O/Rs250 per room night) Budget hotels and guest-houses are not confined to any one area. Hotel White (tel 6136) is in Lakkar Bazaar, and gets consistently good mentions. Friendly people, meals service, hot water, and very nice views. There are a few cheaper places on thE Ridge, behind Christchurch. Best of the bunch are Hotel Dreamland (tel 5057), Hote Ridge View (tel 3914) and Ashoka Hotel. All three have rooms from around Rs1500, The Ashoka is most fun. It offers ‘overlooking balconies with mounting, snowing view’. That’s fine, but all the ‘view’ rooms have wire-grilled windows to stop them monkeys getting in. Finally, a special mention for the YMCA on the Ridge (tel 3341) This place is so popular, it’s often booked out weeks ahead, partly because of them cheap rooms from Rs50; partly because of the superb recreation facilities (abridge, badminton, billiards, even a gymnasium); but mainly because it’s such an unforgel table experience. Here you have lots of strange rules, an eerie boarding-scho atmosphere, a fire-place that even in sub-zero temperatures is never lit, no water after 7.30 am, vast ex-Raj bathtubs, and a TV room permanently full of dusty old character knitting things.
Shimla’s cuisine has, as one might expect, a distinctly British flavour. Lots of pLace have tiffin, ‘English breakfasts’ and china-service tea. There is also an American influence creeping in: hamburger stalls, fast-food joints and ice-cream palaces.
Quality multi-cuisine fare can be sampled (from Rs70) at Oberoi Clarkes or May: hotels. Around town, and outside of hotels, HPTDC’s Ashiana and Goofa on the Ridge serve good pizzas, ‘sizzlers’, soups, and Chinese ginger chicken, but you want ages for service, and they are far too crowded. Fascination is close to the fire station on the Mall. It’s multi-cuisine with a sprinkling of Italian and Thai fare. Embassy along the Mall, near the Tourist Lift, has popular fast-food combinations at mid-range prices. Baijee’s, below the GPO on the Mall, has a very ‘British’ menu—come here for sausage, egg and chips, great cakes and ice-cream, fast service and good sounds.
The Indian Coffee House still offers dirt-cheap dosas, thalis and South Indian coffee. It’s the most popular eating place in town.
HPTDC Tourist Office on the Mall (tel 78311, 77646) is open 8 am-7 pm daily. It’s overworked, understaffed, and not much use. There’s an Indian Airlines counter here, and a choice of local sightseeing tours (10 am-5 pm daily). The best tour goes to Narkanda (close-up views of snow mountains). The worst tour goes to Craignane (the much-publicised apple orchards are just a lot of dead trees till April).
The GPO is just up from the tourist office, on the Mall. It’s open 10 am-7 pm, except sundays. State Bank of India and better travel agents are nearby. A god bokshop is National Book Depot, near the Tourist Lift (Mall end).
A good map of Shimla is hard to find. The Rotary Club has posted a half-decent map down by the Tourist Lift (Cart Rd end). Both Vayudoot have offices in town.