Shimla is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Given its unbridled beauty, it is easy to see why it was once the Summer Capital of the British in India. It is amongst the most famous and highly visited hill stations in the country. Nestled in the lower Himalayan ranges at an altitude of 2200m, Shimla is surrounded by dense forests of Pine, Oak and Deodar trees. Looking at these dense forests, it is clear that the Forest Department has been playing an active role in preserving and maintaining these natural reserves.
On the Western side, the higher snow capped Himalayan ranges form a majestic backdrop. Many viewing points have been erected around the hill station for witnessing these incredible views of the Himalayas. Add to this, deep whispering valleys, gurgling fresh water streams, historically symbolic Colonial buildings and it is easy to see why Shimla has such a high conversion rate of repeat visitors. It indeed has all the makings for ranking high as a traveler’s favourite destination.
Taking a small peep into this intriguing town’s history, it is chronicled that Shimla came into existence when the Gorkha Wars came to an end in 1815-16. The British decided to retain this village in the mountains as their military outpost. The reason being the underlined advantage of its location which gave it proximity to both Punjab and the Northern frontiers. A couple of decades later, in 1964, Shimla was declared the ”Summer Capital” of the British by Viceroy John Lawrence. It remained so till India’s Independence in August 1947. This eventually contributed and lead to Shimla’s growth and development into a capital city.
There are numerous places to visit in and around Shimla. One can but admire the beautiful colonial buildings and charming cottages lined with bright mountain blooms. A walk down the ridge is an exhilarating experience and sure to completely make you forget the stresses of city life. The mall road offers a varied shopping experience with a number of shops selling woollens, handicrafts and other knickknacks. The mall road is dotted with small eateries which serve cuisines right from Indian to Italian, Mexican and Chinese. Though some might find the commercialization and the crowds a little bit of a put off, Shimla does manage to capture hearts and makes for a wonderful hill destination.
It’s pleasant climes attracts huge crowds from the plains during summers and long weekend breaks. Thousands throng to Shimla between April-June making it extremely crowded. Traffic jams are a common sight. Being the state capital, it is clean and well maintained. The mall road has been lined with benches to relax tired muscles and dustbins to maintain cleanliness. The lift to the mall road from the parking lot near Hotel Combermere is run in an orderly manner through the day till 10 pm in summer and 9 pm during winter.
Shimla is also widely popular for winter sports. The Annual All-India Ice-Skating championship conducted here during last week of December attracts a huge crowd.
Recommended Shimla Itineraries
3 Days and 2 Night Shimla Tour
If you are travelling from Delhi, leave early morning around 4 am and reach Shimla by 12-1pm.
From Chandigarh or other nearby destinations (100-150 kms), leave by 7 am and reach by 11 am.
- Day 1
- 1pm – 2pm: Check into your hotel, freshen up and have lunch at your hotel or any nearby restaurant.
- 2pm – 3.30 pm: Have a power nap to regain your energies after the long journey.
- 4pm – 7pm: Take a walk down Mall road and the Ridge. Enjoy the sights and see the Christ church.
- 7pm onwards: Have a leisurely dinner at Ashiana restaurant (Bar and restaurant run by HPTDC) and retire for the night
- Day 2: Book a cab from your hotel or through local travel agents and visit the following places around Shimla:
- 9 am – 2pm: (Shimla-Kufri-Fagu, 17 kms 40 minutes drive): After breakfast, drive from Shimla to Kufri and Fagu. Enjoy spectacular valley views, colourful façade of the houses on the slopes in Sanjauli and the breathtaking dense Pine and Deodar forests along the way. At Kufri, if you wish, you can visit the Kufri viewpoint. I don’t recommend it as it is highly commercialized with people pestering you for a horse ride to the point. You can enjoy the same and better views from a little further ahead. So I recommend skipping Kufri and drive ahead. There are 2 amusement parks here. You can stop at the Kufri Fun World and spend an hour enjoying the rides and great valley views. Have lunch in one of the many hotels in the area or at the bustling dhaba’s lining the roads. On returning to Shimla visit Jhaku Temple (2.5 kms), perched on top of the Jhaku hill. There is a Hanuman temple and a massive statue of Lord Hanuman visible from Mall road. Return to hotel.
- 2 pm – 4 pm: Relax in your room or take a power nap to regain your energy.
- 4 pm – 7pm: Walk down to Mall road and the Ridge.
- 7pm onwards: Have a leisurely dinner at Ashiana restaurant (Bar and restaurant run by HPTDC) and retire for the night.
- Day 3
- 9.30am – 11am: After breakfast, visit the Viceregal Lodge and take the guided tour. It’s a must see place in Shimla. If time permits visit the Army Heritage Museum and Golf course at Annadale.
- 11am – 12pm: Take a final tour of the mall road before you return to your hotel, check out and head back home with wonderful memories of a great holiday!
Places To Visit in Shimla
- The Ridge (Above Mall Road): This large promenade is bordered by the Christ Church at one end and the mall and Lakkar Bazaar (main shopping areas) on the other. Being a vehicle free zone makes it is a pedestrians delight. The Ridge with its elevation and views is easily the most popular hangout in Shimla and one of my favourite places for a walk around dusk. Despite having been here dozens of times, this stretch never fails to refresh me with its crisp mountain air, colourful pedestrians and breathtaking views of snow-capped Himalayas. There is a view point on the valley side. The walk up to the Christ Church is definitely a must do. If you are there on a Saturday afternoon around 4pm, you can witness the NCC band playing. This has been a tradition followed since the post-independence years. This promenade which leads up to the church is mostly crowded during summers. It is heartening to see the world finally not in a hurry. Tourists and locals alike stroll around leisurely, enjoying the pleasant weather or a hot cuppa from the stalls around. Horse rides around the Ridge or down Lakkar Bazaar seems popular with the young and even the not so young.
- Christ Church (Ridge): Located on the Ridge, the Christ Church is a famous landmark in Shimla. Visiting Hours inside the Church are 10.30am-1pm and 2.15 pm – 5.30 pm (Monday -Saturday). English service is held at 9 am and Hindi service is held at 11 am. Discover more: Christ Church Shimla.
- Mall Road: The long Mall road is located in the heart of the city and extends from Scandal Point on one end to the Heritage Clark Hotel on the other. It is lined with shops, restaurants, bakeries and establishments like offices, banks, a post office, theatre etc. It is the hub of all retail and commercial activity in Shimla.
- Lakkar Bazaar (Off the Ridge): A crowded market located off the Ridge and gets its name from the wooden handicraft items sold here. Sita Ram’s Chole Bhature and Tripti Bakery are popular food joints. The indoor roller skating rink is also located here on the first gloor new ‘Sitaram chole’.
- Jakhu Temple (2.5 km): This temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman is perched on top of the Jhaku Hill at 2450m. The mammoth Hanuman statue in the outer area can be seen even from the Ridge and Mall. Lord Hanuman is said to have stepped on Jakhu Hill while returning with the Sanjeevani hill to Lanka. Take care of your belongings here as the place is infested with monkeys who snatch anything they can lay their hands on. There is a room to keep your shoes safe. Preferably take a cab to Jhaku temple, do not bother walking up.
- Viceregal Lodge or Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (4 km, Observatory Hill): A magnificent colonial building built by the British in 1888. It is a must visit for all going to Shimla. It was formerly the residence of the British Viceroy of India and functions now as the Institute of Advanced Studies. This building has witnessed many historical events including signing of the Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan. Rare photos from pre and post independence periods are on display here. There is a beautiful landscaped garden, a small cafeteria and souvenir store. Take the guided tour (for a small fee) to the section of building open to public. Timings are from 9.30 am to 5 pm, Tuesday – Sunday. It is closed on Mondays. A must visit in Shimla.
- Army Heritage Museum, Glasshouse and Golf Course in Annandale (6 kms): Located within the Army barracks is a beautifully maintained Heritage Museum displaying weapons, uniforms, decorations, information and history right from the Gurkha period till recent times. The Army Heritage Museum is about the Indian Army, its regiments, soldiers, captains of war and their brave and selfless contributions to the country. The museum is set in a heritage cottage overlooking the golf course. There is an award winning glasshouse with rare cactii and other plants. This absolutely serene and beautiful property is bordered by dense Deodar and Pine forests. Annadale, since its inception by the British in the 1930s was a favorite place for picnics, parties, fetes, birthday balls, flower & dog shows, horse races, Polo and football tournaments. The army now ensures its upkeep to maintain its legacy and glory. A must visit in Shimla.
- Prospect Hill (6 kms): Perched at an altitude of 2125m, it offers spectacular views of the surroundings. There is a temple dedicated to Goddess Kamna Devi.
- The Glen (4 kms): This serene spot lies at an altitude of 1830m. It is located in a ravine marked by dense forests and a gurgling stream meandering down. The Glen can be accessed by foot (7 km trek) through an isolated forest. The waterfall and stream have water after the monsoons but are mostly dry through the rest of the year. There is nothing much to see around here, but can be visited if you wish to have a quiet day out in the deep woods with a group of friends.
- State Museum & Library (2.5 kms): This museum is an art lovers delight. It displays a treasure trove of coins, ancient sculptures, paintings (including extinct pahari art forms) and rare photographs.
- Shimla Skating Rink (at Lakkar Bazaar): Children and Adults alike have a fun filled time skating at the rink. It is located on the first floor of a building near Sitaram’s chole bhature in Lakkar Bazaar. The rink is open all days of the week from 10 AM to 8 PM.
The charges are as below:
If you have carried your own skates: Rupees 30 for 30 minutes.
If you hire a pair at the rink: Rupees 70 (30 minutes) and Rupees 120 (1 hour)
- Sankat Mochan (7 kms): This is a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman.
Other interesting spots to visit near Shimla
- Mashobra (12 kms): A picturesque picnic spot at an altitude of 2149m surrounded by dense Pine and Deodar forests. The drive from Shimla to Mashobra in itself is very scenic. Pack a hamper, breathe in the crisp air and enjoy a day in the scenic outdoors.
- Fagu (22 kms): Fagu is a small town a little ahead of Kufri on the Hindustan-Tibet road. It offers breathtaking views of snow capped Himalayan ranges. Visitors who wish to escape the maddening crowds at Kufri can drive down to this beautiful hamlet. Himachal Tourism has a Hotel, Apple Blossom at Fagu with standard rooms and dining facilities.
- Kufri (16 kms): Located at an altitude of 2500m, Kufri has been famous since decades for its spectacular views of the snow-clad Himalayan ranges. Tourists get a glimpse of the snow covering the peaks even during summers. Kufri is also popular for adventure sports. Skiing activities are conducted on its slopes during the winter months from December to February.
- Naldehra (45 kms): This small picturesque hill station boasts of the highest golf course in . The Himachal Tourism hotel here – The Golf Glade has cottages and dining facilities.
- Chail (45 kms): This quaint location amidst dense pine and deodar forests was formerly the summer capital of the King of Patiala. The Palace has been converted to a Luxury Hotel and is run by Himachal Tourism. It is a quite and scarcely populated village with a small market. Recommended only if you plan to spend a night at the Heritage Chail Palace Hotel. You can also visit it as an alternate route from Shimla to Solan. The route is via Fagu from where you turn into the Chail road. This route is scenic but longer and more time taking than NH22.
- Tattapani (51 kms): Situated on the banks of the Sutlej River, Tattapani is famous for hot sulphur springs with medicinal value. There is no direct access to the hot spring accept through Hotel Hot Springs which has 2 private baths and a small open pool with the hot spring water and charge between 300-500 per person for 30-45 minutes. Not worth driving all the way from Shimla but can be visited if you are driving to Manali via this route. But please be warned, this route from Shimla to Manali takes 4 hours longer than the route via Ghagas.
Traveling options and Route to Shimla
#Driving Routes to Shimla:
From Chandigarh: Distance 110 kms, Time taken – 4 hours via NH22
Chandigarh – Panchkula – Pinjore – Parwanoo – Kumarhatti – Solan – Kiarighat – Shimla.
From Delhi: Distance 360 kms, Time taken – 8 hours via NH1 and NH22
Delhi – Ambala – Zirakhpur (turn right under the flyover) – Panchkula – Pinjore – Parwanoo – Kumarhatti – Solan – Kiarighat – Shimla.
From Manali: Distance 243 kms, Time taken – 8 hours via Darlaghat (MDR 34)
Darlaghat – Ghagas – Sundernagar – Ner Chowk – Mandi – Pundoh – Aut tunnel – Bhuntar – Kullu Bypass – Babeli – Raison – Patlikuhal – Manali.
From Chail: Distance 45 kms. Time taken – 2 hours.
There are 2 routes, one via Kufri-Chail road and the other via NH22-Kumarhatti-Chail
Volvo buses operated by Himachal Tourism (HPTDC) and private companies ply daily from Delhi, Chandigarh and Manali to Shimla.
- Chandigarh (110 kms),
- Jubbarhatti (22 kms, commercial flights are not operated from this airport).
Nearest Railway Station: Shimla. Narrow gauge railway plying the Heritage Kalka-Shimla Toy Train.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT!
Restaurants on the Chandigarh – Shimla Highway
Finding good food is always a challenge for travellers. There are limited options on the Shimla highway as well. Here are the few options that I have taken a pit stop at:
- Timber Trail (On NH22, just ahead of Parwanoo): Has a indoor restaurant and a nice terrace restaurant offering great views of the Shiwalik ranges. Its a luxury resort and the food is expensive here.
- McDonald’s: At Jabli (74 kms, 2 hour 30 mins. from Shimla)
- Cafe Coffee Day: At Sanawar (68 kms, 2 hours 15 minutes from Shimla)
- Cafe Coffee Day: At Dharampur (64 kms, 2 hours from Shimla)
- Haveli: Dharampur (64 kms, 2 hours from Shimla)
- Hot Millions: Dharampur (64 kms, 2 hours from Shimla)
- Giani Da Dhaba: Dharampur (64 kms, 2 hours from Shimla). A popular and crowded budget highway dhaba well known for its chicken and paneer dishes.
- Apple Cart Inn: Kiarighat (24 kms, 45 minutes from Shimla)
Best and most popular Restaurants in Shimla:
On Mall Road
Ashiana: Restaurant and Bar run by Himachal Tourism. The tables overlook the upper mall area near the church. It has a lovely sit-out area providing a nice view. Perfect for a leisurely lunch after all the walking in the mall.
Combermere Restaurant and Bar: Delicious Italian and Mexican. Located on mall road while walking towards the ridge. A little on the expensive side.
Honey Hut: On Mall Road. From here you can look straight up and see the Christ Church. Try the yummy muffins, brownie with icecream, doughnuts, pizzas, sandwiches, tea and coffee. All desserts and beverages are served with honey.
Wake n Bake: Try the pastas, pizza’s and pancakes.
Indian Coffee House: Transports you back to the British Era. Menu is varied and food is cheap. Walk on the path leading down from scandal point or post office. It is always crowded. Try the wada-sambar, dosa and omlettes. Food is cheap.
Baljees: Famous for its gulab jamuns at the outside counter. Restaurant is good as well.
Alfa Restaurant: Scandal Point, on mall road.
Krishna Bakers: Paneer Rolls, Veg. kebab sticks, puffs and momo’s are a must try. It is located a few shops away from the ‘Sher-e-Punjab restaurant, towards the lift.
Beekays Bakery: Veg. Puffs and other bakery items.
KFC, Pizza Hut: Located on Mall road near the lift above Madame showroom.
La Pino’s: Located on Mall road near the steps leading up to the church.
Dominoes: Located on Mall road near Gaiety Theatre.
In Lakkar Bazaar
Tripti Bakery (Just Baked): Delicious Pastries, Apple Pie, Veg Puff, Breads and cookies.
SitaRam: Popular for Chole-Bhatura and Aaloo Tikki. It is a small shop just as you walk into Lakkar Bazaar. If you are very particular about cleanliness and hygiene, it could be a slight put off.
Winter: Mid-November-March (-3°C – 10°C). Temperature drops to sub-zero levels with occasional snowfall, rain and chilly wind between December to February.
Heavy woollens are required. Carry extra winter wear and extra pairs of socks in case of snow. Carry an umbrella for protection from the sudden showers.
Summer: April-June (16°C – 30 10°C). Pleasant though the sun’s rays could get scorching during the day as you are at an altitude of 2100 m. Evenings are extremely pleasant. Carry light woollen and cotton clothing. Carry an umbrella/ hats/ caps and don’t forget to use a sunblock cream for protection from the sun.
Monsoon: July-September (12°C – 23°C).
Best time to visit: Shimla is very pleasant and not so crowded during November and March.