Is Shimla crowded? Yes! Is it Touristy?? Yes!!
There is a lot more we can do in Shimla apart from arriving by the toy train from Kalka and visiting the British heritage sites. Shimla is definitely a 3 night destination to begin with, it is best experienced on foot by going out on leisurely walks.
Like Rome, Italy and Bhopal in Central India, Shimla is built on 7 Hills. And my favourite walk in Shimla is the one where you go around one of the 7 Hills the Elysium Hill, the second highest in Shimla. Best done in the afternoon, this walk lasts for about 2-3 hrs. Once you go past the busy Mall Road, Lakkar Bazaar and the tourists, the amazing stories of Shimla starts – stories about eccentric characters who once lived (and some died) here and inspired the likes of Rudyard Kipling. You will go past houses that witnessed epoch making events of Indian history and one of the 15 villages which Charles Pratt Kennedy, the British Political Agent and founder of Shimla had demarcated as its boundary in the early 19th century. Shimla then was a settlement of only 15 hamlets.
I was particularly intrigued by the story of Alexander Malcom Jacob, the man who sold the Jacob Diamond, the fifth largest in the world to the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1891. Alexander Malcom Jacob came to Shimla in 1870 and started a business trading in precious gemstones and curios. A handsome man, charming, magnetic and mysterious, Alexander Malcom Jacob was one of the most sought after locals of Shimla, be it by the British or the Royals of India. The character Lurgan Sahib of Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim, who lived in Shimla, in a strange house piled with devilish masks was inspired by Alexander Malcom Jacob.
This walk can also be done as a pre-breakfast early morning walk if you are staying at Clarkes or The Oberoi Cecil.
If you are staying at the Clarkes Hotel, cross the Combermere Bridge to reach Scandal Point for another mesmerising walk. It was at this very Combermere Bridge the phantom rickshaw and the ghost of his spurned lover, first accosted Theobald Jack Pansay in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales’. Whilst Kipling started it all with his Phantom Rickshaw, generations of Shimlaites have grown up hearing stories of the ghosts from the British Raj haunting the dark moonless nights, lonely stretches, mist enveloping hills and valleys. On this walk go past once such haunted hill.
From Scandal Point, continue on foot to cross the Kalibari area which houses the Temple of Goddess Shyamala. Local lore has it that the name Shimla was derived from the name of this blue bodied Goddess. Just below the temple is the house where once lived Rudyard Kipling. It was here he wrote Kim and Plain Tales from the Hills. From Kipling’s house it is a downhill walk, and continue to Gol Pahari. Local residents say that the Gol Pahari is haunted. The story goes that a bunch of soldiers during the British Raj were out on their morning parade towards Gol Pahari when a landslide killed them. Many locals claim to have seen the ghost of the soldiers marching towards Gol Pahari. From here enter the forest and go past villages to end the walk in an art gallery of a local painter.