A Not So Historical Tale of Shimla Town- Preface



“So long as Tara Devi sees

The lights of Shimla Town, wrote the eminent English writer Rudyard Kipling in the year 1887.
More than a century later, the first breath-taking view of the town beguiles you from the very same spot.

Simla, Shyamala or Shimla- call it by any name you please, I always maintain that this rose would smell just as sweet! For all those who have been to the Capital hill town or lived a portion of their lives there, Shimla holds a very special place in their hearts. It is now Shimla city- much bigger, more crowded and much more developed. Even as sprawling structures and over-populated localities line up the town (I’ll stick to town), Shimla’s loyal lovers refuse to ditch the “Queen of Hills”. They swear by her tall pines, the healthy and exhilarating air and the crisp and nimble breeze that is hard to find. Such is her fan-following.

But is Shimla all about its salubrious climes, monkey trails, the oaks, the cedars and sauntering on the Mall Road? Well, an ordinary resident or an unenthusiastic traveller would like to believe so. However, on the contrary, Shimla can easily be a historian’s delight! From being just an unassuming little village in the fold of the Himalayas to becoming a capital, this town with ancient architectural structures has a two-hundred-year old story that hasn’t always made its way into school libraries.

When I was a student at Punjab University, Chandigarh, I remember studying the History and Culture of Punjab as a compulsory subject. We had a rather thin book and reading it was an enriching experience. A peep into the stories that made a rich culture come alive. For what is a piece of land if it isn’t a story- one of wastelands turning to villages and villages turning to wastelands; yes, there is a tale in every speck of sand.

This summer when I visited the Shimla Heritage Museum with my children, my eight-year-old surprised me by saying that she had never known that the buildings of Shimla had stories to tell! (Let me add here that the tag line of the museum is Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai). She hadn’t heard of the Shimla that exists beyond the Mall Road. While, as a parent, I take some responsibility for this, it also made me wonder if I could put together some interesting stories for my girl, that would help her have a narrative about her place of birth. At the same time, I also wish to ignite a similar flame in other children, who I’m hoping, will find something for themselves here. That of course doesn’t mean that this is a no zone for grown-ups. They may unravel mysteries that they always wondered about as children!

And this, is thus, the genesis of A Not So Historical Tale of Shimla Town. I am not a historian per se, just an earnest learner on a road to discovering facets of a small town for myself and, in turn sharing some interesting aspects with my readers, in the hope that I may infuse in them the idea that there is a plot waiting to be written in every corner of the globe. All you need to do is to set out on the journey!


So, while you pack your bags for the exciting travel which is to follow, I will quickly put down a list of some amusing facts about Shimla, just as a build-up to the series.


  • Shimla takes its name from Shyamala Devi, a form of goddess Mahakali. The British found it hard to pronounce the name and hence called it Simla. It was also known as the “Indian Mount Olympus”, “Abode of the Little Tin Gods” and “British Jewel of the Orient”.
  • There are seven hills that nurse Shimla, namely, Prospect Hill (housing the Kamna Devi Temple), Summer Hill (Boileauganj to lower Summer Hill; Campus of Himachal Pradesh University), Observatory Hill (location of Indian Institute of Advanced Studies), Bantony Hill (where you have the Grand Hotel), Jakhu Hill (the highest peak housing the Jakhoo Temple located in Central Shimla), Inverarm Hill (location of the State Museum) and Elysium Hill (holds Auckland House and Longwood area).
  • Every year the British administration undertook an 1800 Km long journey that took five days by road and shifted their offices and men from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to Shimla, which was their Summer Capital.
  • The Railway Board Building is a unique architectural feature that was assembled with nuts and bolts in the late nineteenth century. The reason was that its framework was made of cast iron and steel which was built in England and then shipped to India!
  • The post office at Shimla is the oldest post office built in North India in the year 1882.
  • The green bell pepper is popularly called Shimla mirch in Hindi because it was introduced/grown by the British first as an experiment in and around Shimla. Hence the name!
  • The Kalka-Shimla Railway route has 864 bridges and 107 tunnels (now only 102). Of these the Barog Tunnel (number 33) has a tragic tale associated with its construction. Colonel Barog, who was in-charge of getting the tunnel constructed, made an engineering miscalculation during the construction and thus suffered depression. He was also fined by the British government for his carelessness and for wasting the property of the government. This humiliation led him to take his own life. Stories of his ghost frequenting the tunnel are common even today!
  • Sadly, Shimla is today counted amongst the most populated and polluted hill stations.

Well, have I set the tempo and left you asking for more? There are more quaint and intriguing tales of this primitive town. So, hold on to your backpacks while I go and fetch the tickets.

-Sonia Dogra

Read the next chapter here.


This write-up is a part of #MyFriendAlexa campaign- Season 4 to take my blog to another level!


a) Various sources @ internet

b) Shimla: Past and Present (Sir Edward John Buck)

57 thoughts on “A Not So Historical Tale of Shimla Town- Preface”

  1. Pingback: Discovering Shyamala – A Hundred Quills

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  3. Captivated with the way you write. You have brought Shimla alive with your words. As a person from the Himalayas myself, I can truly understand your love towards these old towns in the mountainous regions. Waiting to hear more about Shimla through your posts.
    #readbypreetispanorama for #MyFriendAlexa

  4. what a beautiful read this was. I have been to this place twice and it gets much prettier with each visit. Looking forward to reading more 🙂

  5. Pingback: British Jewel of the Orient – A Hundred Quills

  6. Wow Sonia, you write so well! It was a pleasure to read this post. I love Shimla with all my heart, though I have only ever been a visitor. Looking forward to the rest of your Shimla series too!

  7. Pingback: Road to the Summer Capital – A Hundred Quills

  8. Vartika Mehrotra Gakhar

    Sonia, first things first. For some reason, I was unable to comment on your posts from my mobile and hence the delay. Read all your posts in this series so far and thoroughly enjoyed too. I loved your theme. Shimla…this name itself makes me nostalgic as I have many memories of my childhood if this beautiful place. Thanks for sharing some hidden facts about Shimla. Looking forward to reading more from you 🙂

    1. Oh..Thank you for letting me know. I will see if it’s a problem at my end. So nice to know you have memories associated with Shimla. Gives you reason to visit the blog again. I’m so glad to connect.

  9. Delightful way of bringing Shimla alive. We have always wanted to visit Shimla, Kulu, Manali, Kausauli. But the steepness of the journey scares my husband. Looking forward to getting to know the city better through your posts.

    1. Thank you Sonia. Yes it’s steep and the mountain sickness too. But I hope you can visit sometime. In the meanwhile I will share a not so historical account.

  10. I spent three years in Dehradun.
    So I can at least feel the beauty of the hill area.

    Didn’t know about this fact:
    Shimla takes its name from Shyamala Devi, a form of goddess Mahakali. The British found it hard to pronounce the name and hence called it Simla.

  11. Oh! I am so excited to read more! I have been to Shimla a few times and every time I fall in love with the place all over again.

    I will be waiting for your posts throughout the month. You have me totally hooked! <3 🙂

  12. We have grown up there but still your post make me more intrigued n wanting to read more n make my son read about it as he was born in Shimla after all. 😄😄 So looking forward to reading your posts 👍🏻

  13. I visited Shimla without knowing any of these facts, yet I enjoyed the views and that is my most memorable trip so far..

    Now you’re making me intrigued and I would look back at the trip with a different perspective..

    By the way, you have me hook, line and sinker for the rest of your series with that bait! 😄

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