Just as the French withdrew to the northern hill Town of Sapa during the heat of the Indochina summer the British went to Shimla. They took with them the apparatus of Empire and the architecture of Victorian England. It would appear that Shimla was something of a den of inequity. Often the wives would stay in Shimla for some considerable time, sometimes most of the year. The Viceroy and his staff would decamp to Shimla for the hot season and India and Burma would be ruled from there for the duration. Serving officers would have a 10 week leave in Shimla. Soldiers clearly did not feel the heat and therefore had little need for Shimla staying instead in the heat of the Indian summer. Bored wives and an endless supply of officers led to intrigue, flirting and more. 10 weeks seemed to be ideal. Enough time to get entangled and then unentangled without too many long lasting traumas. The start of what is now known as the bitter sweet holiday romance?
Shimla is stunning. At the height of Empire surveyors were sent out to find a place with a temperate climate where a town could be built away from the heat. They chose Shimla and a new town spread over 7 hilltops in the Himalayan foothills was built. Unlike most places where towns tend to begin in the valley and then move up the hillside until it is too steep for building Shimla starts on the hill tops, spreads along the steep ridges that connect each summit and then descended a third way down towards the valley floor. It looks extraordinary.
The victorians and Edwardians imported almost every style of building as the town was being built. Scottish Baronial, Mock Gothic, Tudor along with a Scottish Church and a classic English church.
The combination of the Mountain Railway, the Viceroy’s residence, the Gaiety Theatre, the classic red or green roofed Shimla buildings, the ridgeway roads, steep paths and alleyways makes the town is both confusing and breathtaking.
Sanjay, who is out guide when we head up into the Himalayas tomorrow, showed us around. He seems to be known and liked by everybody, subsequently we experienced no queues or delays and got a lot of interesting history about the place.
Later we drove to Shali Heights for a homestay before starting our journey into the Himalayas. As we drove the light feel and the scenery just got better and better. We arrived to a most impressive thunderstorm ad were greeted by what turned out to be Sanjay’s mother and father. It was in all, a rather glorious day.