There may be various contenders for the “Queen on Hills” in India but “Simla” as it was called on those days will definitely be one with an oldest claim. English ruled India for about 200 years (Company rule – 1757 to 1858 and Crown rule – 1858-1947). Calcutta was the capital until 1911 but English made Simla as their summer capital in 1864 much before Delhi was made the capital of British India.So you can imagine the how much effort and energy would it take to move the bureaucracy from Calcutta to all the way to Shimla when there were no roads. The narrow gauge railway line between Kalka and Shimla was inaugurated in 1903 which would have reduced the effort this yearly movement of the complete establishment. Nevertheless the British people could not bear the summer heat of the India and they would bear all the pains in order to avoid that.
Recently I visited Himachal Pradesh for couple of days and it was my first trip to Shimla as well. As all other Himalayan states, Himachal is also seeing lot of development in terms of construction of building including apartment complexes, widening of roads and lots of modern man made creations. The hotel that I stayed was going 9 floor down. You enter the terrace which has reception and then there were two different lifts one going down from terrace to 5th floor and then other going down to 9th floor. And Shimla is full of such huge buildings, the ones going down in the valley and other rising on the slopes, I could only think of Himalayan region being so seismically very active and there is another disaster in waiting. Hopefully these builders would have gained knowledge of making these building strong enough to face earthquakes. Coincidentally when I was back to Chandigarh that very day there were earthquake shocks in that region but there was no major damage. Anyways not much can be done but I only hope everyone pays enough attention to make buildings that are earthquake proof.
Shimla was setup by the British to give them the feel of England and most of “The Mall” is very British in construction and architecture. I can imagine that westerners would feel at home in such a place. As usual I was looking for books to buy as souvenir and I saw a shop on the mall road which sort of Antique Book shop and there were very old volumes of books in a very bad shape. I took out one which was First Edition discussing Hills in the Himalayan Range and when asked for price I was surprised to hear a princely sum of 4000 which may be fine for its antiqueness but I couldn’t take it. There is another normal bookstore called Minerva Publishers and Distributors and I found two books that looked interesting enough and easy on my purse as well. One called “Simla In Ragtime” written by some Doz whose identity is not known and another The Toy Train by Raaja Bhasin. Its not clear that Doz was English or American but he has lived in Simla for a long time. Those days, a lot of westerners used to come to Simla and this is guide for all who are planning a visit. It was published by Station Press, Simla in the year of 1913 which no longer exists. Justice Deepak Gupta, a Shimla Old timer found this book with “Raddi wallahs” and found it really interesting and funny and got it re-published through Minerva. I read that book which is just 120 pages and not much has changed on The Mall as described in the book which is quite amazing.
There is another not so known historical anecdote that I came across while reading Raaja Bhasin’s book on “The Toy Train”. It is well known that East India Company used to bring lot beer, wines, malts and others from England as the officers could not bear the Indian heat without those and the demand was huge. There was a business opportunity to produce it in India itself and one Mr. Edward Dyer, father of infamous Reginald Dyer (General Dyer) whose name goes in the history as the butcher of Amritsar for ordering firing on innocent civilian gathered in Jallianwalla Bagh on the auspicious day of Baisakhi. Mr. Edward has been trying his hands at setting up Brewery in India and has been instrumental in setting up units in Murree, Rawalpindi, Quetta (all in Present day Pakistan), Mandalay and Ooty. Dyer family moved to Shimla in mid 1860s and set up what used to called “New Brewery” or Beer Khana but real success came to Edward when he moved to Solan, mid-way between plains and Shimla, and here Edward Dyer and Company was established through the railway line passed making the supply regular and reliable and brewery was a commercial success. During the first World War, Edward joined hands with HG Meakin and the company was called Dyer Meakin Breweries which was a listed company on London Stock Exchange. After Independence a majority stake was bought over by N N Mohan but the name was changed to Mohan Meakin Breweries only on 1967. The name Dyer was dropped probably because of Edward’s infamous son General Dyer which gave the brand a negative undertone. This brewery is still there in Solan and can be seen from the road. Probably the famous “Old Monk” from Mohan Meakin Brewery may be inspiration from one of those Dyer’s formulations. I thought this is a interesting titbit worth knowing.
I get carried away by the history of places and Simla deserves to be visited again. There are couple of things that I don’t want to miss next time I am there, one way Toy Train journey from Kalka, staying outside Shimla possibly Mashobra or other outskirts