Himachal Tourist Guide

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Shimla’s Colonial Core

A walk over Shimla’s main spur will display some of shimla’s finest colonial structures. Starting in the east, Ellserslie in Chotta Shimla was the former Secretariat of the Punjab and now houses the Government of Himachal Pradesh. This is largely a dressed-stone and iron building that was completed in 1902. An interesting structure near this is the Tudor-framed Police Station.

Barnes Court, ShimlaBarnes Court, now Raj Bhavan, lies above this and is a splendid example of a neo-Tudor timber-framed building that is evocative of an English country house. It is now considered to be the Raj Bhawan which lies above the Ellerslie

oakover, ShimlaOakover, the official residence of the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh was once the property of the Maharaja of Patiala. Near this, by the rain-shelter, is Shimla’s oldest cemetery. Ahead is a fine example of the Swiss Bavarian architectural style in 'The Cedars'.

Past the Chalet, which was a part of the old United Services Club, lies the Tudor-framed Clarkes Hotel. Here, Shimla’s southern slope in the world. Along the ridge-line are most of the significant structures of colonial Shimla.

Crist Church, ShimlaOn Shimla’s prominent Ridge lies the neo-Gothic Christ Church where the first cornerstone was laid on 9 September 1844 and the church was consecrated on 10 January 1857, Even Today, the church has some interesting memorial tablets while the pews still mark the sheets of British Viceroy of India, the Commander-in-Chief and the Punjab’s Governor.

Gaiety Theatre, ShimlaThe Gaiety Theater abuts both the Mall and the Ridge. The First recorded amateur dramatic performance in Shimla was on 9 June 1838. The Amateur Dramatic Club was formally housed in the Gallery heater in 1887. Essentially Gothic in style, this building is undergoing a major restoration for its fine acoustics and without the aid of an amplifier, a whisper on the stage will carry to every corner of the hall.

The dressed stone building of the Muncipal Corporation lies by the Gaiety Theatre.

Mall road, shimlaWalking on the Mall towards the telegraph Office will reveal a variety of architectural details on the older buildings. For Example, at the common walls, the brick or stonework crosses the roof by a few feet. These were designed as firewalls to contain a fire within a premises and prevent it from spilling over to the adjoining structures. Their efficacy has been demonstrated time and again. Small details like the variation of columns and windows have added an enormous amount of character to the Stretch. There are little architectural idiosyncrasies too for example, the windows of the first floor of the Indian coffee house hold conventional bay windows in lotus-inspired cupolas.

Scandal Point, ShimlaScandle Point remains the hub of some 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. The story is unconfirmed and seems quite untrue. What is more likely a like that the name is the result of it long  having been the place where people have gathered for conversation and Gossip. The post office and the Bank buildings are by this stretch. The 'Northbrook Terrace' which now holds the Syndicate bank and the Playground video game parlour, is regarded to have held the earliest of Shimla’s stores.

Post office, shimlaThe half-timbered building of the General Post Office was completed on 3 July 1983. An interesting element of the design lay in the six large hollow pillars that traversed its height and up to 1920, firewood was lit in these to warm the building. Till the coming of the railway in 1903, the mail was carried the 58 miles to Shimla by horse-drawn ‘tongas’.

The hill immediately behind the Post Office holds the deconsecrated church of St. Andrew’s – the Church of Scotland. Built in 1914, decorative cornerstones are the only concession to its Spartan brick facade. The building now houses a wing of the State Library and is a treasure-trove of rare books. Adjoining this is the Manse, now the Evening College and is one of the oldest houses in Shimla. On the same rise in one of Shimla’s oldest extant houses the YWCA in a wooden structure called Constantia.

Bantony, ShimlaOn your left, lie the upper sections of the Telegraph Office. A few yards ahead and you are at a police office in a building named ‘Bantony’. This has some delightfully eccentric woodwork and was the residence of the erstwhile rulers of the princely state of Sirmaur – and the remnants of the cast-iron railings still display their coat of arms. The rise ahead holds the ‘Grand Hotel’ and this site once housed Governor-General, William Bentinck’s residence.

The present building of the Telegraph Office was completed in 1922 and the structure is of brick and concrete and had one of the first ‘automatic’ telephone exchanges in India. The lower portion of the structure is a superb example of ashlar work – where each stone has been shaped to be placed in a specific position.

Just below this is the Catholic Church St. Micheal’s Cathedral. Built with a partial through elegant vocabulary of the French-Gothic style, the exterior of St. Micheal’s is of dressed grey stone. The floor plan follows a cruciform and this is one of the town’s most striking buildings. Over the high altar is a  rich tapestry of glass that depicts a group of the crucifixion. A statue of Our Lady of Guadulupe, presented by the people of Mexico has also been installed in the church.

KaliBari Temple, ShimlaAdjoining this are the offices of the Army Training Command where the building once housed the headquaters of the Commander-in-chief of the Indian army. Above this lies the temple of Kali Bari.

Railway board building, ShimlaThe Tudor framed State Bank of India is followed by what was once the Railway Board Building. This unusual cast-iron and steel structure held the offices of the Railway Board and the Department of Commerce. Completed in 1897, this was designed to be structurally fire-resistant.

One of the Striking Buildings of the British empire, lies beyond the Railway Board Building, Gorton Castle is a neo-Gothic structure that had the famous Sir Swinton Jacob as its architect the Rajasthani Jaali work on its balconies obviously came from his forty-five years experience as the Executive Engineer of the princely state of Jaipur. Completed in 1904, this was the secretariat of the Imperial Government of India and housed the Legislative, Lands, Education, Home Health and Finance departments.

In the days before the Independence of India in 1947, the imposing structure of the Vidhan Sabha (the state assembly of Legislators) served as the Legislative Assembly Chamber of India. Built largely of white stone quarried in the area, this was designed by a Mr. W. George of Delhi and was completed in 1921.

The same rise once held 'Kennedy House', build in 1822 and regarded to have been the first ‘permanent’ house built in the station. No trace of the old structure of ‘Kennedy House’ is visible today. Continuing in this line, a couple of other interesting houses are Knockdrin and the Retreat. Past the Cecil Hotel, a sharp rise leads to Inverarm, which now houses the State Museum.

viceregal lodge, shimlaOn the level road, lies the radio station that once held the Foreign Office in a house that was called ‘The Valentines’. During the Second World war, the Government of Burma (now, Mynamar) in Exile was based here. Above, is the modern construction of the Hotel Peterhof. Up to the time of the construction of Viceregal Lodge atop Observatory Hill, this site served as the Viceroy’s residence in Shimla. Interestingly, as with many other sites in Shimla, this is a natural watershed where the wash from the southern slope flows down towards the Bay of Bengal and from the other, towards the Arabian Sea.

Indian Institute of advance studies, shimlaPast what was called the 'Gurkha Gate' is the former Viceregal Lodge, now the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. The site was selected by Lord Lytton, the British Viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880. In Lord Dufferin’s tenure (1884-88), the plans were redrawn, and the Lodge built. Henry Irwin was the architect of the building that resembles a Scottish baronial castle. The interior has remarkable woodwork – and this was the first building with electric light in Shimla. After Independence in 1947, the building became the property of president of India and was renamed Rastrapatri Niwas. In 1964, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study was created and housed here.

While this is only a portion of Shimla’s Colonial inventory, there are other attractions within and around this core. You may shop along the mall and step up to the Ridge with its wide views, horse rides, ice cream and balloon sellers. Past the ridge is the Lakkar Bazaar with its wood souvenir and trinket shops. Or, you may wander down to the Lower Bazaar and savour its myriad sights and sounds.


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