A book that chronicles Shimla’s glorious past (IANS Books)

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Shimla : Shimla was a nondescript hamlet with shepherd hutments that became a flourishing town with palatial bungalows and hotels. Capturing this journey is a coffee table book, with rare photographs of imperial buildings and stories of eminent personalities and events in the last 188 years.

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“In 1822, the first house was built in Shimla, then a village, and it took another almost 44 years when this number grew to 290,” says the book, “Har Ghar Kuchh Kehta Hai” – literally meaning ‘every house tells a story’.

“Till 1841, there were only 100 houses. The population in 1881 was only 13,258 that increased to 4,803 Europeans and 38,539 Indians in 1921,” says the book unveiled by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

The book brought out by the Himachal Pradesh tourism department says the first house built by a European in 1822 was Kennedy House, which was the residence of Charles Pratt Kennedy, the newly-appointed political officer to the hill states.

It was located at the site where the parking lot of the state legislative assembly is now.

In 1827, the town was visited by Lord Amherst, the then governor-general of India, and the following year, Commander-in-Chief Lord Combermere came to the town.

Lord Combermere built the first bridge in the town, which still bears his name. The bridge provided a vital connection between the main town and Chhota Shimla.

He also constructed a large water tank at the place where the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex now stands. This was the town’s primary source of water before piped water became available.

The book also narrates the bravery tales of Major Roy Alexander Farran, a British-Canadian soldier born in this town who later became a most decorated officer during World War II.

Another World War-II decorated soldier Guy Gibson, born in Shimla when the town was a seat of power in British India, also finds mention.

The book also throws light on major historical facts like the Simla Agreement signed between late prime minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistan prime minister Z.A. Bhutto in 1972 here, visits of Mahatma Gandhi before India’s independence and India’s old Myanmar connections.

Mahatma Gandhi visited the town several times in the days leading up to the country’s independence. On some occasions, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai accompanied him.

It also brings forth facts about Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s stay at Woodfield, a wood and mud house at Boileuganj.

The book also narrates how the town got its name.

“The name of the original village is variously reported as Shimlu, Shemalaya, Semla, Shumla and Shemla. As the ‘summer capital’, the spelling was Simla and official addition of ‘h’ made it Shimla in the 1980s,” says the book.

Tourism Director Arun Kumar, who played an important role in compiling the piece, told IANS: “It was just an attempt to showcase the heritage of the town and throw light on eminent personalities associated with it. This would, of course, help the tourists, especially from Britain, to trace their roots.”

He said all prominent heritage buildings find place in the book with a brief history. Some of the buildings or monuments that have been damaged or refurbished have been exhibited in black and white sketches.

The ‘Queen of Hills’, as Shimla was fondly called by the British, has 91 British era heritage buildings.

These include Ellerslie housing the state secretariat, Vidhan Sabha, Peterhoff which was completely renovated after being devastated in a fire nearly two decades ago and now serves as the state guest house, United Services Club, Town Hall, Barnes Court housing Raj Bhavan, Viceregal Lodge housing the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies and Gordon Castle.

More than 60 years after the British left, this Himalayan town still attracts their descendants who are eager to know their roots.

Himachal Pradesh attracted 11,437,155 tourists, including 400,583 foreigners, last year. Kullu and Manali are the hotspots for tourists, followed by Shimla and Dharamsala.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])