By: Rishabh Sood
Shimla was the summer capital of the supreme Govt. of Punjab and of the Army headquarters. It is situated on the lower Himalayas. It is at an elevation of about 7500 feet above sea level. Its latitude is 31 degrees 6’N and 77 degrees 13’E. The territories of nearly thirty minor chiefs surrounded it.
The various suburbs were distinguished by names such as Burra Shimla, Chotta Shimla, Prospect Hill, Elysium, Baluganj, Summer Hill, Kaithu and Jhakoo. To the North and the East lies a network of mountain chains. To the North lie the mountains of Kullu and Spiti and the Central range of the Eastern Himalayas stretching eastwards. The nearest peak is that of Cheru, on the confines of Kullu and Mandi; 27 miles as the crow flies.
It is said that the spot now occupied by Shimla was a sea on whose surface icebergs floated, melted and dropped the stones which they carried on their surface, or embedded in their substance.
In 1804 the Gurkhas who suffered a defeat on the hands of the Sikhs at the battle of Kangra, commenced to ravage the states and the hills surrounding Shimla. The Gurkhas built several forts in Baghal state. Jagatgarh now known as Jutog and Sabathu, Dhami, and one on the hill of Sanjouli bazaar were some of the fortresses built by them. The invaders had conquered all posts between Jumna and Sutlej, and from their capital of Arki ravaged the neighbouring hill states.
Subsequent to the appeal of the people, and out of necessity for their own welfare the British fought with the Gorkhas in 1815. With their army of 3000 men, and aided by a majority of the hill chiefs they overtook the Gorkhas. Many of the Gorkhas joined the British forces upon being conquered where they loyally served the British army. Sir David Ochterlony rewarded the hill chiefs with the restoration of their land, rights and privileges.
The Maharaja of Patiala gave the British Sabathu, Kotegarh, The village on the base of Kalka and the military posts of Kasauli. 1st Gurkha rifles was formed when the lost soldiers showed an interest towards serving the British Army in these military posts occupied by the British.
Shimla receives its name from Shyamla, a house built of blue state, erected by a fakir on Jhakoo. However many people who stated that Shimla or ‘Shumlah’ is the actual word from which the name was derived contradicted the above theory. The original settlement in Shimla originated from to the East of the Secretariat, above the Ripon hospital.
It is claimed that the three Gerard brothers in India made Shimla known to the world. Alexander Gerard (scientist and a surveyor), Patrick Gerard (meteorologist), and James Gilbert Gerard (Bengal Medical Service; a keen explorer) were reported to have surveyed the regions of Shimla. The first two brothers served In Sabathu. The attainment of these three brothers was mentioned in the German scientific journal at that time. Many a writer was overwhelmed by the beauty of the forests and the climate provided by the hills of Shimla.
The Maharaja of Patiala and the Maharaja of Keonthal were the owners of the majority of the land that consisted of Shimla. The British army was looking towards a strategic point where it could form a station. So, Major Kennedy formed a deal with the two Rajas. A certain portion of the land taken was compensated with money and the allotment of land from the regions that was conquered. The now famous ‘Kennedy House’ was the first British establishment formed in the regions of Shimla subsequently.
An officer, who was serving in the heat stricken plains for some years, was posted in Shimla with the duty of handling all the political obligations. The beauty and the climate of Shimla mesmerized him. Subsequently his friends who visited him decided to built their own houses. Hundreds of trees cut down on mountaintops by mountaineers, constructing cottages (60) for these people.
Lord Combermere took the first steps towards the development of Shimla. He constructed a broad, level, fine road around the Mount Jhakoo. It was worked entirely by the Hillmen and was skilfully done. He also constructed a bridge made of pines, and under it a water tank was constructed to meet with the demand for water. The bridge was known as the ‘Combermere Bridge’.
The visitors were all enamoured by the trees and the wild flowers found in Shimla and nest to the station (Kennedy House). Slowly but surely, the vicinity was stripped of all the trees and the wild plants leaving way to more construction.
Once or twice in early days, Shimla was entirely cut off for two or three days from the plains due to excessive rainfall. Shimla being made, as the summer capital of the supreme government did not suit well with the press due to this fact as the functioning of the government was hindered from time to time. From Kalka, until the new cart road, originally called the Hindustan Tibet road, was finished in 1856. The Mode of transit used was ‘Jampans’ and ‘Ponies’, and the entire luggage was carried off by coolies or mules. The ‘Jampan’ was really a sedan chair fitted with curtains; slung on poles born by bearers who carried the passenger at an even level.
The rail network (Kalka-Shimla) towards Shimla was started in November 1903. On the mountain where the ‘Taradevi’ temple stands, a tunnel was constructed under this hill to ensure stability for the route proposed. The workers unhappy, due to the construction stated that the Goddess of the shrine would never let the tunnel be completed. When the tunnel was half completed, a rumour about a hundred feet snake being present in the tunnels led to a lot of excitement amongst them. It was later found out that the object in question was a steel pipe being passed into the tunnel so as to allow the workers fresh air for them to breathe.
The rail network however did not prove to be a big success; the Secretary of the state as well as the Delhi Abmbala Company incurred huge costs and loses continued for a few years and slowly a small portion of profits was realized.
Today, Shimla holds interest specifically for visitors from England who visit Shimla to visit the churches and cemeteries for information about their grandparents who served here during the British rule in India.
Editors note: Rishabh Sood is one of those Himachali’s who chose to stay back. He is also a founder of technology start-up called Soul Voyages which is based in Shimla.