Saturday, May 26, 2001

Exploring the heritage zone

BESIDES the western walks which we described in detail last week, a visitor can also explore the ‘Viceregal trails’ in Shimla. The Indian Institute of Advanced Study on Shimla's western arm, was the official residence of the British Viceroy of India. Completed in 1888, the building is built with light-grey stone and has a tiled roof. The main block has three storeys, while the kitchen wing has five. There is a tower above the building. Its height was increased during Lord Curzon's tenure (1899-1905). A public entry wing was added to it in 1927. The building has witnessed some of the most momentous events of Indian history — the decision to partition India was arrived at a meeting here. The leaders who visited the Viceregal Lodge before Independence included Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sardar Patel and C. Rajagopalachari.

The Cedar Lodge now serves as the Circuit House of the Punjab Government.The elaborate gateway of the Lodge was once called the Gorkha Gate as it was manned by brave Gorkha soldiers. The lawns and a portion of the lodge with its splendid woodwork are open to visitors. Tickets have to be purchased for gaining entry. Within the estate, stroll towards the back lawns and do take a moment to check the sundial and the map of the peaks and other landmarks visible from the spot. Turn back for the glass-house above, which is a rose pergola designed by Lord Curzon.

Veer back and descend about 100m along the drive and take the fork towards "Squires' Hall", now the residence of the Director of the institute. The narrow road passes through woods of oak and rhododendron and arrives at the University campus in Summer Hill.


If you wish to know more about Viceregal Lodge, a small booklet on it is sold at the ticket booth. Guides are available to take you through the building and there is a cafeteria on the grounds. Summer Hill has a number of eating places. You can even catch a train back to Shimla railway station from Summer Hill stop. The Holme, once the residence of celebrated artist Amrita Shergill, and Manorville, the property of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur — where Mahatma Gandhi often stayed— are also located in Summer Hill.

Besides the western walks and the Viceregal trails, Shimla also offers the ‘heritage miles’ to tourists.

The starting point of the Mall is the Telegraph Office, which was completed in 1922. A cornerstone carries this inscription in Latin — Molem Aedificcii Multi Construxerunt: Rationern Exegit J. Begg (Many men executed the stonework of this building: the work was directed by J.Begg).

The former Viceregal Lodge now houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.The right side of the building bears some resemblance to a steam locomotive. Till recently, the Railway Booking Office was located here. The pedestrian stretch of the Mall is often likened to the marketplaces in rural England and forms the core of the declared "Heritage Zone".

Scandal Point remains the hub of Shimla's social life and is said to be so named after a British Commander-in-Chief's daughter eloped from the spot with the Maharaja of Patiala. This story, however, is unconfirmed. It is also likely that the spot got this name because people often gathered here for talking and gossiping.

Near this point is the fire station, and towards its left lies the dressed-stone structure of the municipal offices and just ahead is the famous Gaiety Theatre. This building, originally a five-storey structure, was completed on May 30, 1887. Somewhat Gothic in style, its architect Henry Irwin designed the Viceregal Lodge as well. Major defects in the construction were noticed soon after its completion, therefore, in 1911, the upper portions were dismantled. Subsequently, some minor additions were made in brick. Those who have acted in Gaiety Theatre include writer Rudyard Kipling, founder of the Boy Scout Movement, R. Baden Powell, novelist M.M. Kaye and artist Amrita Shergill. Famous singer K.L. Saigal also gave a performance on its stage. Several contemporary Indian actors and film personalities like Anupam Kher have also performed on this stage.

Further down the Mall, just short of the lift is the Combermere Bridge which was built in 1828. Past the half-timbered structure of the Clarkes, is Day School of the Chalet. The name is indicative of its architectural style. It was once part of the United Services Club. Beyond this is the Cedars, and on its right is Oakover, the residence of the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh and once the property of the Maharaja of Patiala. A little further is Shimla's oldest cemetery.

Towards the left is Raj Bhavan, the residence of the Governor of Himachal Pradesh. Earlier called Barnes' Court, this handsome neo-Tudor building was the residence of various Commanders-in-Chief and then, the Governors of the Punjab. The historic Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan was signed here on July 3, 1972.

Carry on past Raj Bhavan on to the old Forest Hill road — once called the Lovers’ Lane. The turn on the right from the Forest Hill road will take you to St. Bede's College, the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Navbahar and Sanjauli. If you decide to take this turn, you could go up to the Sanjauli Chowk. From there you could turn left towards Government College. This track will bring you back to the Ridge and the Mall via Lakkar Bazaar.

Tips for walks

  • Wear a comfortable pair of shoes.

  • You may encounter monkeys in certain areas like Jakhoo. They rarely attack unless threatened, or if foodstuffs are visible. Do not tease them, look them in the eye or panic.

  • Carry some water and a little snack. A folding or regular umbrella, or a raincoat should also be carried — especially during the monsoon. Also be prepared for a drop in temperature after sunset.

  • Do not leave a trail unless you are very sure of where you are going — distances and directions can be deceptive. The Shimla hills do not have poisonous snakes except the krait and these are rarely, if ever, encountered. It is also suggested that for these trails, the services of a guide be engaged.

  • The best time to go for these walks is after breakfast.

  • Some trails — especially in the suburbs— can be undertaken by going part of the way by bus or car.

Helpline: Tourist Information Centre, Shimla (0177-254589, 252561), Chandigarh (0172-708569).