Ratna and Nadim Siraj
Shimla, June 26, 2022: Once upon a time, it was the summer capital of illegal British occupiers. Today, it’s a citadel of tourism in the Himalayas. We were in Shimla recently, and captured in our frames a hill station that contradicts itself. This photo story documents the inner war of the two worlds of Shimla. A war between The Big City and The Mountains. Here’s an report. Empire Diaries
A view downhill of the forested hills from Old Shimla.
Civilisation on the slopes.
Lakkar Bazaar near Mall Road is teeming with people.
The bustling Lower Bazaar in the heart of the city.
The serpentine tracks of the Kalka-Shimla railway lend character to the place.
The touristy buzz near the Ridge in Old Shimla.
The railway link was built by the illegal British occupiers between 1898 and 1903.
Shimla allows only two colours for all rooftops; green (as you see here) and red.
The tracks play peek-a-boo as they run through the forests.
Shops selling everyday stuff along a flight of stairs in Ram Bazaar.
One of numerous tunnels along the Kalka-Shimla route. The railway link is a UNESCO world heritage site.
THE PEOPLE LIFE ON THE STREETS
On a late afternoon walk down Mall Road.
He sells kukrej, a Himachali snack, at his Lakkar Bazaar shop. The snack is popular among locals passing by.
A man joyfully plays the ravanahatha, an ancestor to the violin, at a roadside location in the city.
A victim of the Big-City-fication of Shimla?
A workday for him at the Ridge, near Mall Road.
He’s one of many who carry out this Herculean task of ferrying goods along the slopes of Ram Bazaar and Lower Bazaar.
Looking to earn the fruits of his labour.
The weight of the world is on his shoulders. Does anybody care?
Tunnels, be it for the railway or for pedestrians, are a common sight in Shimla.
A freelance coolie climbs up a neighbourhood.
An old-timer checks out leather shoes at a corner shop near the Ridge, run by Mr. Pyarelal, a shoemaker. The shop has been selling handcrafted footwear since the time of the British invaders.
INVADER-ERA LEGACY STILL STANDING TALL
The Ridge in Old Shimla is the city’s most favoured hangout.
This invader-era structure, like many others on the Ridge, were off limits for Indians during the illegal British occupation of the city. It was de facto Apartheid. It’s just that the word was never used.
The prominently yellow Christ Church is a celebrated landmark on the Ridge. This stretch of the Ridge is a part of the ‘no-Indians-allowed-here’ Apartheid policy practised by the English invaders at that time.
A British-era building on Cart Road.
This structure is home to the children’s section of the state library.
This colonial-era building now hosts a few government offices and departments.
A colonial-era police booth on display outside the present-day police assistance booth on the Ridge.
CONCRETE JUNGLE DEVELOPMENT FOR WHOM?
A view of the iconic Old Shimla as seen from 5km away from District Court Chakkar.
Houses, hotels, shops, and offices – all crammed into tight spaces on the slopes of the city. Shimla’s steady urbanisation has been a major talking point in recent years in the state’s government circles and courts.
Building owners adding floors to get into the tourism business is a common sight across the city.
It was only recently that the state’s courts advised the Himachal government to bring building constructions under control.
Big cities come with big demand for water. Hence, the need for these desperate water supply set-ups along the lines of what we see in congested metro cities.
Many old-timers in Shimla shudder to think of what could happen to precariously built buildings like this one, in the event of a deluge.
Power lines crisscrossing over Ram Bazaar and Lower Bazaar have literally hijacked the skyline here.
A common sight on Cart Road. Sharp slopes have been concretised to avoid landslides.
An old building on Cart Road is relying on its worn-out props!
The Big City template has been superimposed on parts of Old Shimla. Urbanisation is drawing labour from the villages. And slum-life is becoming the norm. The writing is on the wall.
Sewage flows in an open drainage zone in an area near the High Court.
In its bid to keep Shimla’s look and feel intact, the local government has ordered all building owners to have traditional angular rooftops that are either green (as seen here) or red.
The face-off between human(un)kind and nature. Who will win?
TRAFFIC WOES BUMPER TO BUMPER
In recent years, traffic has become a daily nightmare in many parts of Shimla, especially in the areas around Cart Road.
A Titanic-like car parking lot near the High Court soaks in some of the city’s parking woes, but not all of it.
Something’s wrong with us if a picturesque hill station requires an ugly multi-storeyed parking lot like this one.
It’s bumper to bumper on Cart Road on a Wednesday morning.
Late-night traffic near the city centre on a weekend.
Government-run public buses like this one are the lifeline of not just Shimla, but entire Himachal Pradesh. It’s the most efficient local transport service.
SHIMLA PVT. LTD. IN THE COMPANY OF BRANDS
People walk by super-brand outlets on Mall Road.
On a walk down Mall Road’s shopping areas, you’ll notice mostly foreign brands and hardly any authentic Himachali store.
Letting foreign companies set up outlets at the cost of indigenous sellers is a recurring theme of the Big City. Shimla’s Mall Road area is no different.
The East India Company left us in 1857 when the British royal family took over our ownership. Much later, since the 1990s, remnants of the East India Company and the likes are back in India to drop branded goods on us and mint money.
Billboards flashing foreign brands on Mall Road.
Lower Bazaar, too, has a sprinkling of foreign corporate outlets.
A local seller of handcrafted shoes near the Ridge has put up this important message for pedestrians.
A CHARMING CITY DESPITE THE ODDS
Office-goers wait for buses on Cart Road.
Baskets for ferrying veggies and fruits are seen stacked along a wall.
A pedestrian gasps after completing a steep climb through Ram Bazaar in Old Shimla. Above Ram Bazaar lies Lower Bazaar. Then there’s Middle Bazaar above it. Right above it is Mall Road and the Ridge.
There’s nothing like a pair of all-purpose neighbourhood shops.
A temple on the bustling slopes of Old Shimla.
Structures like this one in Shimla will give you an idea of how old the city is.
This flight of stairs is actually a busy lane connecting Old Shimla’s marketplaces.
Shimla’s signature rooftops in Middle Bazaar.
Fruits and veggies, anyone?
Any walk that’s downhill is always a pleasant one. The two pedestrians would agree.
These trees are indeed a tall story.
New playthings for cops.
Walkways like this one make Shimla a charming experience.
It smells of coffee beans in this part of Mall Road.
Spoilt for choice.
One of Shimla’s sprawling, pretty bus stops.
Barring weekends, a walk down the lanes and by-lanes of Shimla is the best way to discover the place.
Shimla glitters at dusk, as seen from Hari Mandir Chakkar.