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Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Shimla

The hot-weather home of the Government of India from 1865 until independence, Shimla (in the British period, Simla) stands on land acquired by the British government as a sanatorium in 1816. It still attracts Indian visitors seeking to escape the heat of summer. Kipling mocked the place, viceroys and vicereines sometimes hated it, but here the British rulers of India spent most of their imperial century. The evidence is all around, some intact, some ruined.

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Northern India: Shimla picture 1

Central Shimla stretches for about two miles along a narrow, east-west ridge in the foothills of the Himalaya. At the eastern end of the ridge, which rises to the hill known as Jakko (seen here on the right), the built-up area divides to form a T. The view here is from the southwest, looking northeast along the main ridge and the right-hand arm of the T. The left-arm of that T leads to Snowdon, the official residence of Lord Kitchener when, as Commander-in-Chief, he was Curzon's nemesis. The right-hand branch leads to Barnes Court, once the summer home of the governor of the Punjab. Everything off the T is on a very steep slope.

Northern India: Shimla picture 2

Looking east on the mall, near the junction of the T. The "no vehicle" rule is an old one, inherited from British times, as indeed are all the buildings in sight.

Northern India: Shimla picture 3

Along the arms of the T, the town thins out into forest lanes.

Northern India: Shimla picture 4

At the foot of the T and at the western end of the town stands the former viceregal lodge, a "lodge" only in the sense that Vanderbilt's mansion at Newport was a "cottage." First occupied in 1888, by Lord and Lady Dufferin, it was designed by long-suffering public-works-department engineers with had plenty of help from the future tenants. Rain on the side of the building shown here flows to the Bay of Bengal through the Ganges, while rain on the far side flows to the Arabian Sea, through the Indus. The wing on the right was added in 1913 to house the Council of State. Today, the entire building serves as the home of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.

Northern India: Shimla picture 5

The main entrance.

Northern India: Shimla picture 6

The entrance hall. Buck, in Simla, Past and Present, (1904, 2nd ed. 1925) writes, "The upper walls of the main gallery (which was unfortunately unduly contracted in width in order to save expense in the original building, and which was intended and ought to have been 12 feet wider) was decorated with a collection of Indian arms...." He goes on to to say that "the woodwork, however, is beautiful. For instance, the treads, newels, and handrails of the main staircase are of teak, the balusters of solid walnut, the carriages and concealed portions of the framing of the stairs are of deodar...."

Northern India: Shimla picture 7

The British loved their hill stations, and you can see why. Up in these mountains, you can almost forget the real India, baking on the dusty plains below.

Northern India: Shimla picture 8

Jawaharlal Nehru and his government--and all succeeding ones--stayed put in Delhi, no matter how hot it got. Maintenance of many of the old government buildings in Simla has consequently suffered.


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