Shimla's main promenade is The Mall, a pedestrian avenue stretching across the length of the city from Gopal Mandir in the west to the suburb of Chhota Shimla, roughly south of the town center. Along this stretch, crumbling remnants of the British Raj abound, but it's hard not to be startled by the attendant concrete sprawl. Above The Mall is The Ridge, a wide-open esplanade watched over by a statue of Gandhi to the east, where the nearby Gothic Christchurch is one of Shimla's most imposing structures, situated adjacent the faux-Tudor half-timbered library. Note the fresco around the chancel window, designed by Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard's father.
Also on The Mall are the Telegraph Office, an interesting example of stone ashlar work completed in 1922 and, to its right, the old Railway Booking Office, a sadly decaying building frequently overrun by obnoxious monkeys. Marking the area where The Ridge joins with The Mall, Scandal Point continues to be a popular social hangout, supposedly taking its name from an unconfirmed scandal involving the elopement of a handsome Patiala prince with the daughter of a British commander-in-chief. Beyond the fire station, after the dressed stone building housing the Municipal Offices, is the Gaiety Theatre, originally the Town Hall. Renowned for its excellent acoustics, the Gaiety has seen some notable personalities grace its planks, including Lord Robert Baden-Powell and novelist M. M. Kaye, once -- not all with great success; a fashionable piece of gossip tells how Rudyard Kipling was booed off the stage. The neo-gothic theater reopened in July 2009 after a mammoth 5-year restoration, and will presumably become a social hub once again.
A short walk east of The Ridge will take you to the start of a rather strenuous but worthwhile hike to the summit of Jakhu Hill, which, at an altitude of 2,445m (8,020 ft.), is Shimla's highest point and affords excellent views of the city and surrounding valleys. You need to trudge up a steep 1.5km (1-mile) path, commencing at The Ridge and culminating at Shimla's highest point, to get to the Hanuman Temple on Jakhu's summit. Try to make it to the top in time for sunrise or sunset, either of which is glorious. The little temple is dedicated to Hinduism's popular monkey god (who is said to have rested on Jakhu Hill on his return from a mission in the Himalayas). Today his brazen descendants continue to patrol the path, so beware of carrying food or doing anything likely to provoke them. After you sound the bell at the temple entrance, enter to discover a curious concoction of serious Hindu faith and jovial Christmas pomp suggested by the tinsel and streamer decorations; the priest will happily give you a blessing.
To the west of the city, beyond the Cecil hotel, is the vast six-story Scottish baronial mansion formerly known as Viceregal Lodge (Observatory Hill; Tues-Sun 9am-1pm and 2-5pm). The admission fee of Rs 50 includes a guide but be warned that if you turn up when it's busy, the tour will feel unpleasantly oversubscribed so try to arrive early in the day. Built in 1888 at the behest of the British viceroy in an approximation of the Elizabethan style, the lodge is Shimla's single greatest architectural testament to the influence of the British Raj, and its luxuriant woodwork and lovely views attract numerous visitors. Even in 1888 it had electric light and an indoor tennis court, both rare for the times. The building was the summer residence of all viceroys until 1947, when India was granted independence and the building renamed Rashtrapati Niwas, a retreat for the president of India. The first president of India thought it should be put to better use, however, and in 1964 it was inhabited by the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, an academic foundation still housed here. It has a museum of photographs and other artifacts that highlight the important events that took place in Shimla during the preindependence days.
If you want to get beyond the usual tourist experience and steer clear of the crowds, head down one of the stairways leading down into the hodgepodge warren of narrow streets and back alleys that constitute Shimla's bazaar, right below The Mall. After the touristy buzz, it feels a bit like stepping into another world with tiny eating houses, shops selling everyday goods, miniature temples, and dodgy travel agents crammed tightly together and bustling with activity.
Excursions around Shimla
A mere 12km (7 1/2 miles; 30 min.) from Shimla, the forested village of Mashobra is great for scenic walks but is best visited as an excuse to step into one of India's loveliest hotels, Wildflower Hall, for high tea or lunch. From the village, you can attempt a trek to the area's highest peak -- Shali -- which reaches 3,200m (10,496 ft.), or take the 2km (1 1/4-mile) pedestrian track to the "sacred grove" of Sipur, where you'll find the charming, indigenous-style temple dedicated to the local deity, Seep. Because they are considered the personal property of Seep, no trees may be cut here; the locals are so superstitious that they pat themselves down before leaving to ensure no fallen cedar needles have accidentally dropped on them. A further 45 minutes beyond Mashobra is the popular picnicking resort of Naldehra (23km/14 miles from Shimla), which has an extraordinary 9-hole golf course designed by Lord Curzon (British viceroy of India, 1899-1905). Golfing on the world's highest course is best arranged through your hotel in Shimla, or you can opt to stay at one of the local "resorts" -- The Châlets Naldehra (tel. 0177/274-7715 or 98-1606-2007; www.chaletsnaldehra.com; from Rs 6,500 double, without tax) has a pleasing alpine feel, with clean, comfortable, Scandinavian prefab wood cabins. Staff will arrange golf, river rafting, horseback-riding, fishing, and a range of hikes. The hot sulfur springs of Tattapani lie 28km (17 miles) farther away.
Chail (2,150m/7,000 ft.), 2 hours from Shimla, can be visited as a day trip out of the capital (or a relaxing, peaceful accommodations alternative). Chail grew out of a romantic scandal, when Bhupinder Singh, the dashing Maharajah of Patiala, eloped with (or abducted, depending on who's telling the story) the daughter of Lord Kitchener. Predictably, the Maharajah was forced to return the daughter and was banned from ever again entering the Raj's summer capital. Enraged, the Raja combed the neighboring hills in search of a location from where he could literally look down on the town that had snubbed him. Chail was the answer to his ego-driven quest, and there he set about establishing his own "summer capital," building a lavish Georgian palace, as well as the highest cricket pitch in the world (2,444m/7,800 ft.). Sadly, the once-elegant palace has been converted into a poorly managed government-owned hotel (tel. 01792/24-8141 through -8143).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.