I grew up listening to the stories of Shimla (Queen of the hills in India) by my grandparents and parents. Their memories and stories about this beautiful hill station created an image of fairyland in my brain; A fairyland with the castle that stays behind the clouds; A land where pine woods rise from the hills and touch the blue sky; A forest where nature plays an orchestra and birds sing their melodious song; A hill station where winter air is filled with the touch of snow. Whenever we saw snowfall scene in movies, our thoughts glided towards Snowfall. You too would have heard your grandparents dreaming about retirement in Shimla. With the time passing and clearing my school, college days, the desire to visit this hilly heaven kept growing inside me but the stories from my friends and other travellers shattered this image. I got to know that this exquisite hill station in the Himalayas has lost its charm. People told me that it has become a commercialized place; The green mountains have turned into a stack of hotels and houses. The most famous place in Shimla now looks like the Paalika market of Delhi. During my Kufri trip, when I crossed bypass road of Shimla, the traffic and number of cars on road sealed the new image of this hill station of my childhood and I decided to never visit it.
But my friends from Himachal always vouched for its beauty, serenity and climate. They asked me several times to visit it and spend a few days before I create any perspective. They told me that people still visit this part of Himalayas to spend peaceful days. I thought that it is nothing but a travel checklist point which lacks peace and the real beauty of nature. Whenever I read about Shimla and places to visit, the Mall road was the only option highlighted in blogs and then they would skip talking about nearby places like Kufri and Mashobra.
The recent pandemic made me travel to Shimla as the rest of the Himachal was closed for tourists. I went there only for a week but stayed for 3 weeks. My perspective about the beauty and charm of the queen of hills changed again. The old is gold theory proved to be right. I had seen more than 50 places in Himachal but Shimla has its own charm. The mix of urban and rural life, the facilities of cities adjoined with peace of mountains is what makes Shimla unique. My friends helped me to explore some places in and around which are known to only natives. These unexplored places for tourists still retain the heart of the hill station. In this blog, I will share about those places.
Before I share details about the hidden gems in Shimla, let me introduce Shimla to those who aren’t familiar with this place.
Shimla is a beautiful hill station in the Indian Himalayas and the capital of Indian State – Himachal Pradesh. Its geographical location as the part of a mountain range that is directly facing the plains of North India leads to rain-soaked mountains and the valley stays draped in a green blanket of evergreen pine forests. Shimla is also the closest hill station to the most advanced cities of North India – Delhi & Chandigarh (also act as air connectivity for Shimla).
During the colonial era, Shimla was the summer capital of India. Britishers developed the infrastructure of this paradise of ancient India. Several century-old buildings with European architecture still stand tall in the main Shimla city and surrounding towns.
A fact about Shimla : Shimla is a group of 7 hills (all within range of 5-8km from the mall road). These hills are:
i) Prospect Hill in Western Shimla, which has the Kamna Devi temple
ii) Summer Hill in Western Shimla, where the campus of Himachal Pradesh University exist
iii) Observatory Hill in western Shimla, the area of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies
iv) Inverarm Hill in Western Shimla, where the State Museum is the main attraction
v) Bantony Hill in central Shimla, which has the Grand Hotel.
vi) Jakhoo Hill in central Shimla – the highest peak and home for Jakhoo Temple
vii) Elysium in north-western Shimla, starting from Auckland House (Auckland Tunnel or SBI area) and Longwood Hotel and reaches out towards the Bharari spur
How to reach
Air Connectivity: Shimla is one of the rarest hill station with air connectivity but the airport is small and can host only chartered planes. The only major city connected to this airport is Delhi. Otherwise, the nearest major airport is in Chandigarh which is 115 km away and takes 4 hours of picturesque road journey to reach Shimla.
Shimla boasts of the longest mountain toy train and the second highest railway station in India (Kalka-Shimla).
The Kalka station is connected to mainstream railways of Northern Railways.
Started in 1903, the toy train route has now been listed as a UNESCO site.
Since the train ascends through steep mountains, it goes at a very slow pace. But this allows passengers to see mesmerizing sights and hamlets that they would have otherwise never witnessed.
Delhi to Shimla:
By Air : There is only 1 flight between the two cities but good news is that it runs everyday
By Train: Delhi-Kalka Shatabdi (4 hours) Kalka-Shimla (5 hours)
By Road : 7-8 hours if you travel overnight and 9-10 hours if you travel during the day due to traffic. The first 250km stretch is highway drive (till Pinjaur) and last 100 km is hill drive with wide roads which is being converted into 4 lane drive
By Bus : Many private operators and state buses are operating on this stretch which takes an 8-9 hours journey to reach ISBT of Shimla from ISBT of Delhi
Chandigarh to Shimla
Chandigarh is the closest city to Shimla; it is almost like foothills to Shimla.
By Train: Chandigarh-Kalka (1hour) Kalka-Shimla (5 hours)
By Road: 4 hours for 115Km with mostly hilly drive
By Bus: Many private operators and state buses are operating on this stretch which takes 4 hours from Sector 43bus terminal.
Places to visit in Shimla ANDThings to do
This is the section which you would be waiting for if you are familiar with Shimla. You will find hundreds of blogs and informative pages for Shimla but they tell you only about the popular places. Today, I will tell you about the peaceful places which you should include in the must-visit list for your next trip and what to do in Shimla.
- Walk! Walk! Walk!
You would have seen in Hollywood movies, how people in Europe, Japan, and America enjoy walking in woods, streets covered with tree canopies, roads decorated with beautiful lights, and people draped in the raincoat, holding umbrellas walking leisurely towards their destination. When they walk, the picturesque background of green woods, the exquisite architecture of buildings, snow-covered houses/trees makes the walk envious. Shimla has all this for you in India. So, now that you cannot travel to Europe because of COVID-19, head to Shimla – the mini Europe of India. You will find everything you love about Europe here. The cleanliness, old architecture, greenery, uncluttered places, houses which are old but looks fresh because of green and flowery decoration from outside, the modern technologies synchronized with nature and safety.
Places where you can go for blissful walk :
- Baljees Property – From Bharari (3KM)
- Padhai Mata Mandir – From Dudhli (4KM)
- Summer Hills Trail to Mall road
- Circular Road – At the end of mall road
- Walk from Summer hill to potters hill (3Km)
- Summer hill Sangti around the hill
- Railway Track – towards bottom of kamna Devi ( 5km)
All these walks pass through either curvy trails with tree canopies or forest meadows. Walks on these trails with a loved one or solo will become unforgettable memories for you. I am sure, you too will talk about Shimla and these walks to your grandchildren.
But, if you are in Shimla for a longer time and looking for other activities or you are not one of those people who enjoy a blissful walk with nature, here are the other things which you can do:
2. Cycling – Yes, carry your recent health trend to mountains and enjoy the ride on empty roads and specifically designed cycle treks. Below are some cycle tracks for your convenience:
- Summer Hills – A beautiful well maintained nature park full of flora and fauna
- Shimla Water Catchment Wildlife Sanctuary – A specially curated cycle track on A cycle trail inside the dense forest
3. Architectural Tour – As I have mentioned before, Shimla was the capital of British India and the infrastructure created by Britishers still exist in this hilly city. There are 10s of historical places in Shimla which will make you feel awe and capture the breath-taking moments with your camera. These royal places will take you back in time. Some famous architectural marvels –
- Tara Devi Temple (oldest building)
- Viceregal Lodge & Botanical Gardens
- Christ Church
- Town Hall
- State Museum & TV tower
- Gorton Castle
Dating back to 1887, Gaiety Theatre is like a window opening in history. The complex houses an exhibition hall, art museum, theatre hall and many more. The most interesting feature of this complex is its Victorian theatre that holds the footprints of legends Raj Kapoor, K. L. Sehgal, Baten Powel and Rudyard Kipling.
- Weekdays : 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Weekends : Closed
- 10 per person without Camera for Indian Nationals
- 25 per person with Camera for Indian Nationals
- 25 per person without Camera for Foreign Nationals
- 50 per person with Camera for Foreign Nationals
3. Play, hide and seek with Sun at the Ridge – You may find it crowded on weekends, but it is a must-visit place on weekdays as it undoubtedly holds the title of best viewpoint. Ridge is located on a narrow hilltop with two valleys on each side. The sudden upheaval of clouds from the valley presents a hide and seek game of the Sun for you.
4. Relax and Chill – The green mountains, music of the wind, singing birds from a distant pine tree and drizzling sound of rain or the floating wool from the sky (snow), all this will make you forget the anxieties and distress which grips you in the city like a web. So, do nothing and relax, that’s the best you can do in Shimla.
5. Gondola Ride – The 6minutes ride in ropeway to Jakhoo temple will be your most cherishable moment in Shimla.
- The access to the ropeway is after a trek of 1km from the ridge
- It gives you a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire Shimla region; you won’t like Switzerland after a ride in ropeway over the snow-covered Shimla (as I said earlier, Shimla will give you a feeling of mini Europe)
6. Some popular places (For less familiar people with Shimla)
- Mall Road – Shop and stroll
- Toy Train Ride – Time Traveler Ride
- The Ridge – View Point
- Chadwich Waterfall – For the fun lovers
- Jakhoo Temple – A 108feet statue of Lord Hanuman at a hilltop of 7,200 ft
Shimla has more than 1000 hotels including 5-star properties like The Oberoi and Radisson but if you want to live with peace and tranquillity head for either Summer hills or Elysium hill (Bharai region). This area is said to be Rural Shimla, though rural has a different definition here. The rural refers to the less commercialized place hence less crowded and more lively. Head deeper in Bharari & you will find Dudhli, the village of Shimla.
Summer hills: Home to the University of Himachal and the decades’ old hostel (memory for half of Himachali scholars), this region is still densely covered by forests and remains colder than the rest of the Shimla. Several small hotels are picking up in this region these days and stay here if you want to spend weeks in Shimla.
Dudhli : 3 km Away from Lakkarbazaar (main highway intersection and stair to reach Mall road), Dudhli doesn’t have any hotel but homestays. The lush green pine forest adjacent to Dudhli makes it beautiful & you will forget that you are in the capital city of Himachal. Walk for few kilometres towards the west & you will see the actual village of Dudhli which has still preserved the old culture of mud house with stone roofs. If your homestay has good connections in the area, you can try fresh cow milk or ghee as many villagers still raise Cow as their prime source of dairy products.
Sharing a few contacts for homestays in Dudhli just for your ease:
Kavya Homestay – Akash Ji 8447056787
Dev Homestay – Shankar Ji 9805922976
Atithi Homestay – Lost their contact number but maybe you can find out the details either or Google or on Instagram.
Summer – Shimla is the most favourite tourist spot for families in summer vacation for a reason. Located at the hilltop, Shimla remains colder even in peak summers. The best part about Shimla is its sudden climate change. One moment, there is a clear sky with the shining Sun, and next moment, the clouds may cover the hilltop and the temperature drops from 20 to 10-degree Celsius.
Winter – In winters, Shimla muffle herself in a white blanket and looks like a bride in a white gown. The markets, ancient buildings, pine trees, everything turns white at the end of December or early January.
Monsoon – If you love rain and mountain is your muse, Shimla is your paradise. While the rest of the Himachal struggle with landslide and sometimes flood during monsoon, the broad highway, and hilltop location for Shimla make it a safer option.
Being the capital city of Himachal, Shimla provides you options for every kind of food. Let me first tell you about traditional food.
2. Siddu with Ghee and chutney
3. Rajma Chawal
4. Chhole Kulche (stuffed)
And, if you are the kind of a traveller who is driven by tongue and always look for mouth-watering food and undercover food heroes, here’s a list for you:
1. Tripti Bakery @ Mall Road- A pure veg bakery with fresh baked softest and tastiest bread loaf (must have – blueberry pastry & Rasmalaai)
2. Rgyalsa @ Sanjouli – Heaven for Tibetan Food lovers
3. Buddies @ Chhota Shimla – Coffee with a view (Open terrace looking over the pine forest)
4. Banshira Cafe – Try the best bakery & Afghan food
5. Cafe under the tree – Eat and watch the valley from glass walls (this new restaurant is going to be famous soon for its quality of food and view
6. Himachali Rasoi – A place for typical Himachali food served in a thali with ( Gluten-Free and Vegan Options are also available)
Popular restaurants (for photogenic food)
1. Indian Coffee house – established in 1957, has been one of the busiest centres of attraction
2. Cafe Sol – Continental food
3. Ashiana & Goofa – At the ridge area
4. The Devicos Restaurant & Bar – If you want to relax at night with some music and vibes
5. Wake & Bake – Sit, Sip and oversee (the mall road)
Nearby Places to Shimla :
- Kufri – 15 Km ( 45minutes)
- Fagu Temple – 20 Km (1 hour)
- Narkanda Hills – 60 Km (2 hours)
- Hatu Peak – 68 Km ( 3hours – last 8 km are steep and narrow road drive)
- Shalli Peak – 2 hours drive + 2 hours Trek (check link to read about it)
Shimla is filled with flora and fauna. I was lucky to get a change to capture some of the beautiful smiling creatures.
Sky in Shimla is like a digital canvas. It changes colors and moods frequently. Every evening will present you with different shades of sky.
Himachal Pradesh is a plastic free state
I request you to keep the Mountains clean and green.
Some easy steps to keep Himalayas plastic-free :
- Reusable Water bottle/thermos – Freshwater is available in abundance and better than any packed mineral water bottle
- No Chips and Cold Drinks Please – These are the luxuries of cities, so let’s keep it in cities only. With the fresh air, enjoy the fresh snacks – fruits, salads, eggs, paneer snacks, pakodas
Note: The garbage you throw in dustbins is not recycled on mountains but burnt due to fewer resources which anyways harm the ecology, so please carry them back to your city.
Let’s Leave only memories behind not garbage!