Shimla hides high on a hill, in the northern most corner of India. This hill top has an incredible tale to tell. It rules a quarter of the world, every summer, from 1864 to 1939!

The plains of India are hot and humid in summer. And to beat the heat anybody, with means, escapes to the hill tops. The British Raj (‘raj’ means ‘rule’ in Hindi) builds ‘hill stations’ across India. And these yesterdays ‘hill stations’ are today’s ‘holiday destinations’.

Listen to Shimla’s story ….
In 1822 a Scottish civil servant builds a summer home in Shimla. Super cool news spreads fast. And by 1864, Shimla hosts the official Summer Capital of the Raj. British bureaucrats, across India, head for Shimla every summer until 1939. Here they rule over their territories; at that time a quarter of the world. Envoys … from the Imperial Government in London, the Central Government in Calcutta, all the Provincial Governments and Princely States … follow. Hundreds of mules with loads of files and forms and paper trappings follow. Ceremony and fuss follow. Families and servants follow.

The railway line to Shimla, complete in 1903, seals the deal! Shimla is the ‘centre of empire’, ‘a place of philandering and frivolity’ and ‘home to the cad and the card, the fortune-hunter and the flirt’. Curzon, Kitchener and Kipling spend many years in Shimla. Kipling uses Shimla as a backdrop to parts of his novel, ‘Kim’.

Harry and I visit Shimla. It’s a crazy feat.

We park the bikes at the bottom of the hill. The only way up is by foot. We push our way past a very busy hospital. Then we climb, with everybody else, slowly in a high altitude. A maze of stairways twist, left-right-left-right, to create the distance to cover the height. We drag heavy legs. Others haul sack loads. We file through the hectic lower bazaars, then the tidy middle bazaars. At the breathless top, we take in a little Britain. Shimla strings along a 22 km ridge. It centres round ‘Scandal Point’, go figure. The Christ Church, the Town Hall, the Theatre, the Coffee House and Government Offices still stand. The footprint of Britain is still as clear as day. But it’s Indian holiday-makers we see shop till they drop!

History is often heavy. But, today, nobody seems to remember, and we all enjoy a little bit of great Britain.


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Shimla, on a cool hilltop, in the distance.


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Shimla, a little closer up.


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At the bottom, the old British Hospital.


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Mothers and children queue to see the Clinic Sister.


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Some wait to register at the Family Welfare Bureau.


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Others pass through to the lower and middle Bazaars.


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The Lower Bazaar – the beginning of an endless stairway that winds past shops.


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Goods are carried up and up …


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… by people.


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Halfway up – we reach the Middle Bazaar.


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Harry stops to buy some bananas to sustain us (in a bag folded from newspaper) ….


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… which we enjoy on the pavement.


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Look who Harry spots ….


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… one of many, many, many old Shimla residents.


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The Middle Bazaars are a little ‘grander’.


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Just before the top we look back down.


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On the top, things seem decidedly British.


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See the Town Hall on the left in the background.


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And the Government Offices.


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Have the dogs remembered, all this time, to wait for Banquet Hall left-overs!


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And we end up at this Coffee House ….


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… that belongs to this by-gone era ….


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… and served British Raj style.


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The next day we leave Shimla to head north to the even cooler Himalaya.