When you’ve lived in chaotic Mumbai for almost 8 months, trust me, you start to long for open spaces, clear air and beautiful views, so when my parents came to visit at the end of February I planned a road trip to the mountains. As heavy snowfall kept many of the highest mountain passes closed, we opted for two of the lower Himalayan hill stations—Shimla and Manali.
At an altitude of 2200m Shimla is just below the usual range of altitude sickness, but this doesn’t mean that mild effects won’t be experienced. Due to its northern latitude, Shimla enjoys cold, snowy winters and this is the appeal for many people longing to escape the sweatbox heat of other Indian cities – as well as being one of the reasons why Shimla became known as the ‘Queen of the Hill Stations’ during the British rule.
There are many things to love about this lovely little town, but here are my top 5 reasons for visiting Shimla:
1. Traffic-free Centre
Shimla is located along the top of a ridge and to reach the town centre you have to go by foot up a flight of rickety wooden stairs. It is wonderfully refreshing to walk around without the incessant honking of trucks, rickshaws and motorbikes that plagues the rest of the country. With no roads going to the main square, all goods are transported to the centre of the town the old-fashioned way by horse or manpower. It is fascinating to see what people carry strapped to their backs.
2. Gorgeous Mountain Views
The hills surrounding Shimla are a hiker’s delight, but for those not feeling so active they provide a great backdrop as you walk around this lovely town centre.
3. Wildlife: Horses, Yaks & Monkeys
Wildlife abounds in and around the town centre—monkeys roam freely along overhead cables, casually watching the shoppers below. It was winter when I visited and the monkeys kept their distance, but I have heard that they can be a nuisance in the summer when people are more likely to be sitting or walking around with food.
Horses transport goods and giddy children to the top of the ridge. Or you can make the 18km journey from Shimla to the Kufri pass for horse trekking when the ski season is over.
Shimla’s close proximity to the Tibetan border means that you are likely to spot a Himalayan Yak or two on the roadside. These are not wild Yak, but domesticated animals that are used predominantly for tourist pictures.
4. East-meets-West Architecture
Ramshackle wooden structures tumble down the mountainside, while grand colonial buildings stand proudly by, and the church dominating the town square is straight from a Victorian Christmas card—Shimla is an intriguing mixture of Colonial Europe and Himalayan rustic. It is easy to forget that you are in India at all.
5. Shopping for Local Handicrafts
Thick pashminas, woollen mittens, striped socks made from Yak fur – you can get it all in Shimla, as well as the ubiquitous selection of Indian bracelets, incense holders, and beaded bags. If that’s not enough, you will also find a selection of Himalayan Art works, tapestries and Tibetan prayer bowls. And it’s all really cheap too, making Shimla a great place to buy gifts.
So there you have it, my 5 reasons why you should visit Shimla. If you can think of any more please let me know in the comments section.
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