Shyamala to Simla

For Previous chapters click here…

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“If History were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling

After the Gorkha leaders had been quelled, the British, who saw Shyamala as an obscure village, gave it to the Patiala Raja for the assistance rendered by him in the war (read about the Gorkha war here). Then what propelled them to return?

***********************************************************************************The British were now looking for military stations in the hills. They had the Gorkhas with them and important regimental centres in Sabathu and Kotegarh.

One fine day, in 1816, while moving Gorkha troops from Sabathu to Kotegarh, a British officer happened to pass through Shyamala and was struck by the climate of the place.

But the actual credit of discovering the “Abode of Snow” is shared by the Gerard brothers (all serving in the British Indian Army) who camped in Jakoo when they were out on a survey of the Sutlej valley. This was in the year 1817. Here, they met a fakir who was famous for serving water to travellers and lived in a blue house.

Now many young officers made their way to Shyamala while transferring troops from one military station to another. Lt Ross, the assistant political officer in 1819, even built a cottage of thatch and wood here. After all, they couldn’t spend cold nights in tents.

And then came Lt Charles Pratt Kennedy who constructed the first pucca house in 1822 called the Kennedy House (a stroll towards Chaura Maidan and you are sure to spot it). This set the pace for Shyamala to occupy a place of prominence in the British regime.

Kennedy-House-First-in-Shimla-300x225

(The first picture of Kennedy House drawn in 1825 by Capt J Luard and published in his book journal ‘Views of India from Calcutta to the Himalayas’)

Bharat was a very hot region. It was unlike Europe and the British found the extremely hot climate here, difficult to bear. In such a scenario, Shyamala proved to be “ether” for their veins. The temperature here was apt for the “European Constitution” and the officers visiting the village couldn’t stop raving about it. The English had to find a way to settle in Shyamala. But how?

Now, the land of the “pargana” (name for an administrative area during the Mughal and British Raj) that the British had taken fancy to, belonged to the Maharaja of Patiala and the Rana of Keonthal. So, in 1824, a permission was sought by the English to build a few houses on some sites. Permission was granted and no rent was charged. There was, but one condition, that slaughter of animals and felling of trees could not take place without permission from the owners.

This sounded perfect to the ears of the British and they chose to call the station “sanitarium”- after all, they had found a haven to recoup from the warm, chronic and sultry Indian summer.

Besides (now) Capt Kennedy was a very kind and hospitable person. Visitors to Shyamala enjoyed his hospitality and totally relaxed in the hills. The forests were full of great beasts for hunting parties. Also, an English officer was unable to go to England on a long leave. So, it became a sort of resort for the rich and the idle. No wonder, soon enough, every third person sought a house in Shyamala!

Have you ever fallen in love with the rosy cheeks of the people living in hills? Well, Lord Amherst, who was the Governor General of Bengal then, resided in Shyamala for some months in 1827, along with his family. They all returned to Calcutta (the capital then), with rosy complexions and a bag full of beautiful nature paintings by Lady Sarah Amherst. This visit laid the foundation of what was to follow. Shyamala soon became the fashionable retreat for the British!

Just the very next year, Lord Combermere (does that name ring a bell? Aha! The famous Combermere Hotel) became the first Commander-in-chief of the British Indian Army. He visited the place and took great interest in its development. Not only did he widen the road to Jakoo Hill, but also got the famous Combermere Bridge built (yes, it still stands there), joining the chhota and burra Simla. (Well, Shyamala was too much of a tongue-twister for the English, so they chose to call her Simla).

combermere bridge

(Combermere Bridge connecting Chhota and Burra Shimla)

It is said that Lord Combermere hired the local hillsmen for the widening of the Jakoo road. After half of the road was done, he rewarded them with two sheep to feast on!

With this increasing interest in the place, it was now time for the British to work at acquiring more area around Kennedy House. After all, Simla made them miss Europe a little less.

So, in 1830 (now) Maj Kennedy was given charge of initiating negotiations with Rana of Keonthal and Maharaja of Patiala, to form a station in Simla. Both were given several villages yielding good revenue, that originally belonged to the English, in exchange for their piece of land in the hill station.

And thus, the British, finally arrived in Simla. They were now going to transform this little, boring village into a mirror image of England.

Thereafter, houses were constructed one after another, mostly for people to spend their summers in. The English came with their attendants and servants. As word of mouth spread, people from neighbouring places (Soods and Punjabis) set up business in the local lower market area. Gradually around 120 houses came up that provided an annual rent of 72,000 rupees (a great amount at that time)!

The visits of young British officers and ladies would now lead to Simla becoming famous for balls, theatre, art and residential schools. Indian businessmen from the Sood and Parsi community would also make their way to Simla to meet the requirements of the growing European population.

The summer retreat would now be ready to assume a much bigger role. What would that be? How would some of the fancy- named houses come up in Simla and are they still around? If yes, what are they called today? Stay tuned to find out more!

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Do we have some amusing facts to share here?

Well, read on… because we do have a Story of Potato finding its way to Simla.

It so happened that the soil in the region was not very friendly with crops. The natives mostly fed on the slight greens that grew wildly. Capt Kennedy took great interest in the cultivation of cabbages and potatoes. Potatoes became very popular with the natives and proved to be a profitable crop. So, the locals, in their hurry to grow them, cut down the beautiful forest between Mahasu and Fagu. The soil got washed away by the monsoon rains. But the potato did not lose its sheen and became a favourite crop in Simla District with much trade thriving on it. In fact, potato research formally began in India in 1935 with the opening of the breeding and seed production stations at Shimla, Kufri and the Kumaon Hills!

-Sonia Dogra

Read the next chapter here.

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I am taking my blog to the next level with #MyFriendAlexa Season 4. This is the third post in this series.

RESEARCH: @various sources internet & Shimla: Past and Present (Edward J Buck)

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You may read the previous two posts in the series here.

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32 thoughts on “Shyamala to Simla

  1. Amazing work Sonia !!! Beautifully described!!! We all are lucky to be born and brought up in hill town !!! Nostalgia surrounds me when I read about the history of our town !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was an amazing post. I really loved all the facts you shared in the form of storytelling. Beautifully written, Sonia. But one thing is still humming in my mind. I am eager to know more about that fakir who lived in the blue house. If you find some more details about him, pls do share with me. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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