Shimla

Shimla (Hindi:शिमला) or Simla is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. It is a very popular holiday-retreat during the summer months and is well known for its Victorian architecture, which is reflected in certain areas of the Mall and The Ridge. It is also a famous holiday spot for honeymoon. There are quite a few theories regarding the origin of the word Shimla. Locals insist that the name originates from Shyamali Devi, a re-incarnation of the fearsome Goddess Kali.

Christ Church on The Ridge

Understand

Shimla has a population of around 145,000. Most of the residents are from the Pahadi community (the natives of Himachal Pradesh), but there is also a sizable minority from Punjab and Sindh, who moved to Shimla during the partition. As a result, the languages spoken in Shimla include Hindi, Punjabi, Pahadi and English which serves as a lingua-franca.

Orientation

Sitting majestically above the searing plains, the British designated the town as the summer capital of India. The higher levels of the town reflect this British connection, comprising mostly buildings in the Victorian style, while the lower slopes are occupied with Indian bazaars and restaurants. Traffic is banned from the historic central area, (known as the Mall) which means that the atmosphere is calm and the air pristine.

Cart Road runs south of the Mall and is connected to it via the lifts. The Ridge, north of the Mall, is a good place to view the seven majestic hills of Shimla. Further along the same road is Lakkar Bazaar, which is a good place to buy some handicrafts and other souvenirs.

Climate

Shimla's cool climate is the precise reason why it is such a popular summer retreat. Located at an altitude of approximately 2200m above sea level, the region has a hilly terrain and is covered by dense evergreen forests. A few visitors choose to visit Shimla during spring or autumn, when the place is less crowded and the views are too spectacular for words.

Shimla Season Summary
Season Months Temperature Conditions
Spring March–April 10°C to 20°C Clear skies. Occasional rain and thunderstorms.
Summer May- June 16°C to 28°C Generally clear skies. Air might become smoky due to forest fires.
Monsoon July–September 13°C to 20°C Cool and humid. Continuous rain.
Autumn October–November 10°C to 23°C Skies are clear, chilly evenings.
Winter December–February -7°C to 10°C Generally dull weather. Frequent snowfall.

Get in

By train

The Shimla Mountain Train

The nearest broad gauge head is at Kalka - a four- to seven-hour journey from Delhi. After that, take the mountain train from Kalka to Shimla. This railway track has recently been granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The view is stunning, with the line passing through an amazing 103 tunnels. The fastest way to get to Kalka is to catch the Shatabdi Express, which departs early morning from the New Delhi Railway Station, arriving at Kalka four hours later. A detailed list of trains between Delhi, Kalka and Shimla is available in the following two PDFs: this one and that one. You can also choose to get off at Chandigarh (en route to Kalka), and catch a taxi from there.

Note that while the Shivalik Deluxe Express can be reserved 120 days in advance like most Indian trains, most of the other mountain trains can only be reserved 30 days before journey date. Passengers on the Shivalik Deluxe Express are served meals on the train--breakfast on the way to Simla, dinner on the way down.

Schedule of trains from Kalka to Shimla
Train No. Train Name Kalka Shimla
1KS Passenger Kalka Shimla Passenger 04:00 09:56
241 NG Superfast Shivalik Deluxe Express 05:30 10:15
251 Mail Kalka Shimla Mail 06:00 11:00
255 Express Himalayan Queen Express 12:10 17:20
Schedule of trains from Shimla to Kalka
Train No. Train Name Shimla Kalka
52456 Express Himalayan Queen Express 10:30 16:10
52458 Passenger Shimla Kalka Passenger 14:25 20:15
72452 Rail Motor 16:35 21:35
52452 NG Superfast Shivalik Deluxe Express 17:40 22:25
524524 Express Shimla Kalka Express 18:15 23:20

By road

Shimla is nicely connected by road to different major cities. Government and private buses are available from Chandigarh to Shimla within a gap of half an hour. Delux and semi-Delux buses are also frequently available from different places.

The road to Shimla is true delight for foodies. Along the highway you will find more than 30 well established restaurants, dhabas and fast food joints.

By plane

Schedule of flights to Shimla and Chandigarh
Flight no. Departure Arrival Days
JA 221 DEL 7:30AM SLV 8:30AM Mo,We,Fr
IC 864 DEL 1:20PM IXC 2PM Daily
IC 864 BOM 10AM IXC 2PM Daily
OL 103 BOM 2:40PM IXC 5PM Daily
DN 537 DEL 12:50PM IXC 1:20PM Daily
9W 733 DEL 1:05PM IXC 1:50PM Daily
JA 211 DEL 7AM IXC 7:50PM Tu,Th,Sa
JA 212 DHM 10:10AM IXC 11:40AM Th,Sa
DN 538 IXJ 3:25PM IXC 4:30PM Daily

Shimla has its own airport at a place known as Jubbarhatti (IATA: SLV), 22 km away, a distance which — owing to the difficulties of the mountainous terrain, poor condition of road surfaces, and the increasing traffic congestion — it often takes hours to traverse by car from Shimla. The airport has severe limitations imposed both by its elevation at 1,546 metres above sea level and by the shortness of its single runway (1,230 m) which ends in precipice at either end, and it can accommodate only turboprop Dornier aircraft; jets such as Airbus A310, 320s and Boeing 737s can all land at the larger Chandigarh (IATA: IXC) airport. The Chandigarh Airport, located at a distance of 120 km from Shimla along far better roads and at an elevation of only 308 metres above sea level, offers far better flight options. Major airlines including Indian, Jet Airways and Air Deccan operate flights to Delhi, Jammu, and Mumbai. Most of the flights to Mumbai require a stop-over in Delhi. Tip, confirm the flights till the very last moment, bad weather often delays flights during the winter fog.

After landing at the airport, take a pre-paid taxi to minimize hassle. Chandigarh is a good four-hour drive away, so stop for a bite on the Kalka-Shimla highway.

Get around

Getting around in Shimla is easy as compared to other cities in Himachal Pradesh. One can get local bus from 7AM to 9PM and that too for any destination in city. In case you choose to travel by taxi, it is affordable and convenient for site seeing.

Apart from this, there are some tourist buses run by HPTDC every day for getting around in Shimla. As Shimla is known for its picturesque location and serene environment, you can also consider traveling some distance by foot.

See

The Lower Bazaar area, Shimla.
The Mall road, Shimla.
The Ridge, Shimla.

Tara Devi

Tara devi is famous for the temple. Tara Devi is one of the many forms of Goddess Kali. This temple is located on the top of the hill. Tara devi is approximately 11 km from the bus stand of Shimla. This is a perfect location for people who are looking for some rest and peace at a high altitude of around 6070 ft. The temple is very clean with very beautiful flowers maintained all around it.

Museums/Galleries

Shimla houses a few excellent museums. The State Museum is perhaps the most well-known.

Do

View of Cart Road and surrounding hills from The Mall

Buy

Further down the Mall Road is the Lakkar Bazaar, which has quite a few shops selling wooden handicrafts. The Mall is full of shops selling woolens (most of which find their way to Shimla from Ludhiana, Punjab) and Kullu shawls. Other favorites have included wooden toys, walking sticks and Tibetan carpets made in nearby Kinnaur. As the center of the food-processing industry in Himachal, jams and squashes made from local produce are indeed worth purchasing. The stretch between Combermere Bridge and the Telegraph Office is full of small stores which stock handcrafted Chinese shoes. The more well-known ones include Hopsons, Tatung and Hugh & Co.

Eat

Most of the restaurants in Shimla are cheap, comfortable, atmospheric and offer good multi-cuisine food. However, if you are looking for local cuisine, the options are surprisingly limited.

Drink

Himachal is known as the fruit-bowl of India. It has a thriving food processing industry that churns out fruit-based drinks, squashes and concentrates. The most famous flavors are plum, litchi, strawberry, mango and guava.

Alcohol

For alcoholic drinks, try the locally brewed wines such as apricot, plum and apple & ginger cider. In predominantly Tibetan areas, a rice wine known as Chang is popular.

Coffee

Sleep

There are lots of options from dormitories to luxury resort hotels. Online booking is the most convenient way to reserve a room. Alternatively, the tourist office can supply a list of hotels, and you can phone or trek over an reserve a room in person. Rooms in Shimla range from as low as US$ 5 to a whopping US$ 600.

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under ₹ 1500
Mid-range ₹ 1500-6000
Splurge ₹ 6000+

Avoid touts at all cost, whether locals or outsiders (many are in fact Kashmiri chisellers disguised as locals, and calling themselves euphemistically "guides", who have been working the Shimla beat for years and decades); they scour the railway and bus stations for incautious or vulnerable-looking victims among the new arrivals, and foreign travellers carrying luggage are their prime targets in the streets as well: if you allow them to lead you to your hotel you will be manipulated in manifold ways: (1) your daily room rate will automatically (but surreptitiously) be bumped up to cover the commission they will receive from the hotel for their unnecessary services (resulting in an increase in hotel price of as much as 200%); (2) the touts will (unbeknownst to you) steer you away from hotels which deny them such commission but which may be better choices from your point of view; and moreover (3) you will subsequently be pestered by your tout, who will now "own" you during your stay, to buy additional "services" from him, while (4) being force-fed additional doses of misinformation. The experience of being "led" by an unscrupulous but ingratiating manipulator with his own interest in mind rather than yours can be the ruin of one's visit to Shimla. The touts can be extremely importunate and persevering in pursuit of their illegal trade while at the same time feigning "friendship" intended to ensnare the gullible.

Budget

A visitor to Shimla requiring truly budget (but safe) accommodation at any time of the year other than the months of May (latter part) and June — when high season causes a spike in room rates even at the most modest of establishments — can confidently expect to be able to find a double hotel room for ₹ 200 (USD 4.38) a night or thereabout. In this category, the well-known standbys among the frequent visitors to Shimla are Hotel Gulmarg (below The Mall; a room for as low as ₹ 150 per night), Hotel Dreamland (rather institutional though), Hotel Woodland (peaceful and with balcony and cheap but food and room service is not up to the mark), Hotel City View (great terrace, but beware of resident touts), Hill Bloom Hotel (some rooms with great panoramic views), all basic but adequate and excellently located above Christ Church on The Ridge (some with spectacular views). Use Christ Church on The Ridge — Shimla's principal landmark familiar to all, easily identifiable during the day and prominently illuminated at night — as your first orientation point upon arrival.

All accommodation arrangements as well as any additional side-trips, sightseeing, onward transportation, etc., can easily and safely be arranged without the help of the touts. (Visit the office of the state-run Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (phone +91 177 265-2561 or 265-8302), located in the central place downtown called "The Scandal Point", before Christ Church on The Ridge (across from the City Hall), for any impartial information or guidance you may require: the staff there are well-informed and reasonably professional. There are no alternatives to this office as the source of impartial, reliable information on all aspects of Shimla and on travel thereto and therefrom.)

The rate of ₹ 200 per night should be taken as a benchmark when negotiating the price of accommodation at most ordinary hotels in Shimla (outside of the aforementioned period of late May and June, when, as already mentioned, the spike in demand causes a spike in the price of the supply). Budget travellers should bear in mind that from 1 May 2011 an extra tax at the rate of 5.15% is charged on all hotel rooms with the approved maximum charge per night exceeding the amount of ₹ 1,000 (one thousand rupees): hotel rooms with the maximum approved nightly rate below ₹ 1,000 are exempt. The tax, when applicable, is calculated on the maximum rate for the particular room that has been approved by the State tourism authorities and not on the actual rate negotiated between between the guest and the hotel. Thus, if a particular hotel room has the approved maximum nightly rate of ₹ 1,200, for example, but the guest has managed to negotiate with the hotel a rate of ₹ 300 for that room in off-season, the final bill may attract an additional amount of ₹ 62 per night, or over 20% of the total. To avoid the tax in question, try to choose budget hotels with government-approved maximum rates below ₹ 1,000 per night (regardless of your actual negotiated amount), or those where the hotelier is willing to cover the extra charge himself in any case.

Other cheaper areas of the city are through Victory tunnel and on Circular Rd and Kaithu to Kali Bari Rd. In high season, rooms can be found for ₹ 1000 - ₹ 1500 a night.

Mid-range

Splurge

For travellers requiring luxury accommodation during their stay in Shimla, the advantages offered by The Oberoi Cecil, a luxury hotel of the Oberoi chain, as regards both the location and the in-house amenities, are unbeatable by any establishment in town. Their lesser-grade affiliate, The Oberoi Clarke's, another hotel of the Oberoi chain with a great ambiance and rich history, has the advantage of a more central location on The Mall, but its facilities in general and its cuisine in particular are not a match for The Cecil. A close runner-up to The Cecil in the luxury lineup is The Radisson Hotel Shimla, but its location in a low-lying locality known as Goodwood Estate, on Lower Bharari Road (currently in a state of shocking disrepair and dangerous to walk on), which is difficult of access and too out-of-the-way for virtually all sightseeing to be done in Shimla, makes this otherwise swanky new hotel impossible to recommend except for those wishing to spend all their time within the confines of their hotel proper or who do not mind relying on the hotel's fleet of private cars to get to town and back (a relatively expensive proposition on a daily basis). Travellers who might prefer genteel seclusion would be much better served by Woodville Palace Hotel (see "Mid-range", above), accessible on foot from the centre of the town but located in a pleasant quiet woody cove requiring a 20 minutes' walk along The Mall to town, or the 14 kilometres' distant Wildflower Hall (see "Accommodation options outside of Shimla", below), a spectacular resort of the expensive Oberoi chain with its own mountain in a forested area outside of town, near the village of Charabra (accessible from Shimla by car only, available, at cost, at the hotel).

Accommodation outside of Shimla

Homestays near Shimla

Stay safe

Beware of greedy monkeys which may attack anytime to grab food from your hands. Don’t make any eye contact with them. Try to ignore them while passing by. Any abrupt move from your side may pass wrong message on these creatures.

Sometimes, temperature goes below freezing level, especially during winter season. So travelers are advised to carry appropriate clothing.

Do not exchange the currency/money in black market. Ask for receipt when exchanging money at any authorized establishment.

Connect

The area dialling code for Shimla is 0177. From overseas, dial +91 177 XXX-XXXX. There are plently of STD/ISD booths. The amount is calculated on a digital meter, and is paid after the call. A short STD call will cost you around ₹ 10.

Tourist Information

There are two main official tourist information centres in Shimla, as well as a small office at the train station that isn't always open. The victory point office is less busy and helpful. It's also near where some government busses leave from.

Mobile Phones

It is very easy to get a Prepaid mobile, which is very cheap to get, and calls are cheap too. One needs to give a Photo ID proof and a photograph for prepaid as well as postpaid connection as per the Govt. regulations.

As long as you are in Shimla, the signal strength is pretty good. But as you move towards Kufri and Narkanda, the signal strength deteriorates significantly. In last 3-4 years, these services overall have become much better.

Internet

Internet cafes are plentiful in The Mall, most of them are concentrated near the lifts. However, it is best to avoid these (Windows 98, dial-up connection, poor security) and check your mail at the hotels instead. Nearly all hotels have internet access, and it is not terribly expensive either. Expect to pay ₹ 50 per hour in a hotel, and ₹ 10 outside. The Oberoi Cecil has WiFi in the lounge area with vouchers available at reception. Budget travellers sometimes get a frosty reception here and will be told that internet access is for guests only.

Go next

Buses, for example to Manali and Dharamsala, can be booked in advance or on the day of travel up to a few hours before departure from the government office next to the official tourist information centre at Scandal Point. Many of the buses will actually depart from the new bus stop which is a 30 minute and ₹ 10 ride from the old bus station in town near the train station, so just be sure to double check when booking.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, January 21, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.