For this summer, we travelled to Shimla – the queen of hills. The first time I had seen Shimla was in the 1980s when I saw the Tamil Film – Anbe Vaa (1966) by M.G.R., the Puthiya Vaanam song captured my imagination like millions of Tamilians who saw it in the decades before and the next time in Simla Special (1982). I was looking forward to this travel and I was not disappointed.
We reached Chandigarh by flight from Chennai. From there travel by road to Shimla, which takes about 4 hours – the road was good and comfortable. On the way, we stopped at Hotel Haveli, Dharampur which is at the halfway mark in NH-22, and had some divinely Punjabi food – recommend you try this restaurant.
We stayed in Oberoi’s Wildflower Hall – a lovely property tucked high up in the hills around Kurfi, which is about 10 Kilometers from Shimla downtown, and takes about 20 minutes by road. The place is 1000 feet higher up from Shimla, so the evenings are nice and cold at 16′ C. The Hotel was a former residence of Lord Kitchener, surrounded by acres of protected cedar forest it offered panoramic views of the Himalayas.
The hotel had many physical activities to engage you.
On the day of our arrival, we tried our hands on Archery, there is a tutor to teach you. On another day we played as a family on the well-equipped Tennis court.
The next day (Day 2) we booked ourselves for a nature trek called Wild Strawberry Trail, helped by a naturalist from the Hotel, it takes you to the forest around the property. The resort is next to Shimla Reserve Forest Sanctuary which has woods of pine and cedar. As per our guide, the tall trees in the sanctuary were planted by the Britishers (who were ruling the Indian subcontinent from Shimla during the Indian summers) to serve as rain catchment areas. The short trek took us through Shimla Ridgeline at one point. It is interesting to note that the rainwater falling on the ridgeline and flowing down the west side drains into the Arabian Sea through River Sutlej and water which flows down the east side drains into the Bay of Bengal through River Ganges – what a natural wonder. On returning from the trek, my son got a gift of a bird’s nest.
You could also book for a full-day picnic in the sanctuary and be pampered with picnic hampers for a gourmet outdoor experience.
The next day (Day 3), we went rafting on the waters of River Sutlej. The journey from Kurfi to Chaba takes about 90 minutes, the road is good, but the ride could make you a bit queasy (so better to travel on an empty stomach) as it involves coming down from 8000 feet to about 1000 feet of sea level.
The one-hour trip down the Sutlej canyon started from the Chaba Hydro Power Project. The views above from the canyon were breathtaking. When we did the rafting the water current was mild, still, it required a good amount of energy to paddle. This was my first self-paddling, rafting experience and it was fun.
After the ride, Oberoi had organised (as part of the tour) a gourmet picnic lunch, which was served on a makeshift seating specially made for us on the riverbank – being true South Indian we ordered Spicy Idlis and Curd Rice for our picnic hamper. After we had our lunch, the staff from Oberoi removed everything, including empty containers and other garbage; they ensured nothing was left behind or polluting the place – impressive work, very professional.
On our last day (Day 4) we went on a Shimla city tour.
The first stop was Jakhu Temple, famous for its 33-metre tall pink-coloured Sri Hanuman Statue overlooking the town below. There are a lot of free-roaming monkeys in the region, so be careful with your belongings like cell phones, cameras and any eatables you may be carrying – better to leave them behind in your vehicle. Our guide told us that the monkeys have learned to snatch items from you and then trade them to you for eatables.
Next was a visit to the majestic Viceregal Lodge, the erstwhile summer residence of British Viceroys to escape from the heat of the plains. It was called Rashtrapati Niwas after independence and is now used for academic studies. Portions of the building are open to the public, but they prohibit photographs from being taken inside – the building designed by Henry Irwin, is covered wall to wall on the inside with rich timber panelings, and exquisite workmanship.
After lunch, we went to the Himachal State Museum which had many exhibits of interesting showing the Himachal culture.
Our last stop for the day was a stroll along the long Mall Road and the Ridge (seen in the MGR song), where you will find shops, Government offices and colonial buildings.
Overall, our trip to Shimla was an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss a chance to visit this lovely place.