Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh and a major travel hill station in India. Shimla is also an important administrative centre. It has been variously described as the Indian Capua, Mount Olympus and the Abode of the Little Tin Gods.
The city spreads over a 12km ridge with just two main roads – The Mall which runs from the far west to the lower eastern side, and the Cart Road which circles the southern part of Shimla. This is where the railway station and the bus and taxi stands are located. The crescent of the wooded Ridge stretches from the lofty 2476 m high Jakhu Hill and Chhota Shimla in the east, to the Observatory (2,148 m) and Prospect hills (2,176 m) in the west. The best time to travel to Shimla is in autumn, when the days are warm and bright and the nights crisp and cool. Summer sees a burgeoning tourist population and this is precisely why you should avoid going there at this time.
Shimla was once part of the Nepalese kingdom and called Shyamala (another name for goddess Kali). The British ‘discovered’ it in 1819. After they laid down the Kalka-Shimla railway line in 1903, Shimla became a second home for all those escaping the heat of the Indian summer.
The Mall is the place for shopping in Shimla. Lined with many showrooms, it is a shopper’s delight. You can buy all sorts of goodies here from old books, through woollens, handicrafts, handlooms, curios and plum sherbet to mushroom pickle. Do check out the State Emporium for good quality handicrafts. Although Shimla has nothing too special to offer on its own, you will get items from all parts of the state at this outlet.
There are two other bazaars in Shimla. Just below the western end of the (eastern) Mall, is the frantic Subzi Mandi, also called Lower Bazaar. It is a maze of twisting, steep lanes full of stalls selling food and just about everything imaginable. Do pick up those colourful socks, gloves and caps that are such a speciality of Himachal. Beyond the Ridge, the small and busy Lakkar Bazaar (lakdi means wood) is popular for wood souvenirs. Though most of them might seem tacky and of little use, you could perhaps pick up a carved walking stick.