About the Simla
Shimla pronunciation (Hindi: िशिमला), originally called Simla, is the capital city of
Himachal Pradesh. In 1864, Shimla was declared the summer capital of the erstwhile
British Raj in India. A popular tourist destination, Shimla is often referred to as the
“Queen of Hills” (a term coined by the British). Located in north-west Himalayas at an
altitude of 2,130 metres (6,988 ft), the city of Shimla, draped in forests of pine,
rhododendron, and oak, experiences pleasant summers and cold, snowy winters. The city
is famous for its buildings styled in tudorbethan and neo-gothic architecture reminiscent
of the colonial era. Shimla is connected to the city of Kalka by one of the longest narrow
gauge railway routes still operating in India. Shimla is approximately 115 km (71.4
miles) from Chandigarh, the nearest major city, and 365 km (226.8 miles) from New
Delhi, the national capital. The city is named after the goddess Shyamala Devi, an
incarnation of the Hindu Goddess Kali.
Shimla was annexed by the British in 1819 after the Gurkha War. At that time it was
known for the temple of Hindu Goddess Shyamala Devi. Scottish civil servant Charles
Pratt Kennedy built the first British summer home in the town in 1822.
The Lord Amherst, Governor-General of Bengal from 1823 to 1828, set up a summer
camp here in 1827, when there was but one cottage in the town, and only ‘half a dozen’
when he left that year. There were more than a hundred within ten years.
Shimla, or Simla as it was called until recently, caught the eye of Lord William Bentinck,
the Governor-General of Bengal from 1828 (later of India, when the title was created in
1833) to 1835. In a letter to Colonel Churchill in 1832 he wrote
“ Simla is only four days march from Loodianah, is easy of access, and proves a
very agreeable refuge from the burning plains of Hindoostaun ”
His successor, Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy (and Governor-General) of India, 1864–1869,
decided to take the trouble of moving the administration twice a year between Delhi and
a separate centre over 1,000 miles away, despite the fact that it was difficult to reach.
Lord Lytton, Viceroy 1876 -1880 made efforts to plan the town from 1876, when he first
stayed in a rented house Peterhof, but began plans for a Viceregal Lodge, later built on
Observatory Hill. A fire cleared much of the area where the native Indian population
lived (the “Upper Bazaar”), and the planning of the eastern end to become the centre of
the European town forced these to live in the Middle and Lower Bazaars on the lower
terraces descending the steep slopes from the Ridge. The Upper Bazaar was cleared for a
Town Hall, with many facilities such as library and theatre, as well as offices - for police
and military volunteers as well as municipal administration.
During the ‘Hot Weather’, Simla was also the Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief
of the Indian Army and many Departments of the Government, as well as being the
summer capital of the regional Government of the Punjab. They were joined during the
hot weather by many of the British wives and daughters of the men who remained in the
plains. Together these formed Simla Society, which, according to Charles Allen, “was as
close as British India ever came to having an upper crust.” This may have been helped by
the fact that it was very expensive, having an ideal climate and thus being desirable, as
well as having limited accommodation. British soldiers, merchants, and civil servants
moved here each year to escape from the heat during summer in the Indo-Gangetic plain.
The presence of many bachelors and unattached men, as well as the many women passing
the hot weather there, gave Simla a reputation for adultery, and at least gossip about
adultery: as Rudyard Kipling’, said in a letter cited by Allen, it had a reputation for
“frivolity, gossip and intrigue”.
The Kalka-Shimla railway line, constructed in 1906, added to Shimla’s accessibility and
popularity. The railway route from Kalka to Shimla has more than 806 Bridges and 103
tunnels was touted as an engineering feat and came to be known as the “British Jewel of
the Orient”. In addition, Shimla was also the capital of the undivided state of Punjab in
1871 and remained so until the construction of the new city of Chandigarh (the present-
day capital of Punjab). Upon the formation of the state of Himachal Pradesh in 1971,
Shimla was named its capital. Pre-independence structures still dot Shimla; buildings
such as the Viceregal Lodge, Auckland House, Gorton Castle, Peterhoff house, and
Gaiety Theatre are reminders of British rule in India. British Simla extended about a mile
and a half along the ridge between Jakhoo Hill and Prospect Hill. The central spine was
The Mall, which ran along the length of the ridge, with a Mall Extension southwards,
closed to all carriages except those of the Viceroy and his wife.