107km (66 miles) NE of Chandigarh
In the days when Shimla inspired scenes from Rudyard Kipling's Kim, it was a popular pick-up center for lusty British officers and flirtatious maidens keen to create a stir among the scandalmongers who gathered along The Mall during the summers. Shimla enjoys a proud history as the preferred mountain escape retreat from the unbearable summer heat of the plains (or "downstairs," as many Himachalis refer to their low-altitude neighbors) -- a cool spot in which to sink into a life of idle gossip, romantic conquests, and military brown-nosing. Today, this romantic image has been somewhat ruined by unchecked urbanization and reckless construction. Development has now been curbed, but the clogged roads and ugly concrete tenements that cling to the mountainsides beneath Shimla detract significantly from the town's former glory.
Sprawling over seven hills fringed by dense forest and magnificent mountains, Shimla is a useful starting point from which to explore more untouched parts of Himachal, and the town's timbered cottages and wood-gabled buildings retain a degree of charm, but if you're expecting a quiet hill station, you may be disappointed. The Mall, a promenade on the southern slopes of the ridge, remains a pedestrian preserve, thronged by tourists and local Anglophiles who tend to echo the social mannerisms of the Raj at its most British. Below the ridge, however, an overwhelmingly Indian conglomeration of buildings constitutes the bazaar, and a sweep of modern dwellings has the distinctly untidy appearance of unplanned urban sprawl. Shimla is, however, in close proximity to a number of lesser-known hill resort getaways: Naldehra, Narkanda, Kufri, and Chadwick Falls are all destinations offering relative peace and quiet as well as scenic splendor guaranteed to capture your imagination. And for those seeking adventure and remote beauty, Shimla is a useful confluence of roads leading west to the Kangra Valley; north to Kullu, Lahaul, and Ladakh; and east into the valleys of Kinnaur and Spiti.