By: Akhil Puri
As I step out of the bus at Victory Tunnel (The place you get down as you enter Shimla), right there were the Sirmauri & Kashmiri porters. I wasn’t able to see them running after the bus I was travelling in as it was a local bus. Some yards ahead, I could see a board suggesting the presence of a Tourist Information Centre, but for someone new, it wouldn’t be easy to locate it or even if they locate it, it wouldn’t present a good picture. There are public conveniences by its side, but it would be better to call them public inconveniences. Let’s keep in mind first impressions last quite long.
I take the way up towards the AG Office. The debris of recent civil work is still strewn around as I walk. I can say it has become a normal sight. Keep walking and there’s an old battered rain shelter. You go past not-so-old structures on the way. Then you reach the amazing Railway Board Building. On one side is the way to “Gorton Castle” – another magnificent structure. It still holds its old charm, but can’t say what its inside is like. At the crossroads there’s a town map, a bit of artistic touch to it would have added to its usefulness. The maintenance of the railway board building is OK. The shacks opposite it are gone. There’s the old post office building along with some other heritage structures. The SBI office comes in sight, the old structure still there. It’s a gradual climb walking effortlessly. Now at one side you get to see the ARTRAC complex. Well, the wild shrubs still grow around the retaining walls. There were some plans to make the area look better but these were only plans. One gets past one more ‘public inconveniences’. I near the CTO building, a new art piece near it with Shastriji placed there has come up. The alignment of this structure is under doubt. Ah! The Shastri Chowk, Shastriji stays there with cars jostling for space with each other and people – they have to make their own way). There stand traffic personnel. I’ll share an incident – a speeding fire tender was coming down the Mall Road (only the speed suggested that it was on its way to extinguish fire, well no other visible or audio indications). The roadblocks placed there made the fire tender slow down, and the traffic personnel took his own sweet time to make way for the fire tender.
Now resuming the journey, there stand the CTO Building (A historical electronic exchange). There’s an old clock there but it has lost its old charm. Opposite to it the Mall Road starts. The engine that makes the start of the journey to the Mall is an old English structure having an old charm to it. Then the journey starts with huge show-windows. You still can see some old-type show windows, which were once a norm with every shop on the Mall, but no any more. A few yards forward and you see a rain shelter done up a few years ago – some tourist-friendly information can also be seen within it. But behind it you still see an open barren land with shrubs. On one side we pass through the Indian Coffee House, a landmark for the town. The sambhar and coffee aroma tickles our taste buds. At one point there’s a sculpture on Himachali folk (Good use of the space). At another point there are some plants placed under guard (God knows why). Now we reach the Scandal Point.
Well, how the name “Scandal Point” came about, there’s no answer as no information can be found around the place. Although the history books suggest kidnap of an English girl by an Indian royalty. The canopy at the point still holds good but the smart police chaps are rarely seen there now. At one point the Grindlays building is seen and at some distance from it is the GPO, having a history of its own.
Now we are about to take the famous ‘Walk on the Mall’. As we progress, we see a fountain on one side. It’s quite old and nobody seems to think of making the place better. Fire tenders are always there to make their presence felt. On one side we have the Shimla Municipal Corporation building (heard it was once the best managed MC building in the country), and opposite to it is the Baljee’s selling hot steaming gulab jamuns. One can always hear the bells ringing at the Old Shiv Temple a few staircases down. Hey, I haven’t missed on those few Chinese shoemakers who still have the same old-fashioned shops and a lone confectionery store. All the lighting makes the SMC building look inviting but the wires, etc act as necessary nazarbattus.
The open space around SMC and reporting room has its own charm – people on benches, stairs enjoying their chats. The Gaiety is all being given back its old gaiety and splendour, but it has taken quite some time. Hope to see it back on track soon. There’s nothing that really tells what the Mall is all about… what all things are. People come in blank and go out blank. As I write this, I have to think hard what really does excite me on the Mall. The walk still goes on, some old some new structures come up. The Khadi Bandhar is an old one, opposite it you wont see anything good, an open place where a park was planned. Plans and blending architecture are not a priority for the authorities. The old rain shelter is still there… it was done up recently. Next to it is the Rotary Town Hall. It didn’t make but mar the beauty of the area. Opposite it people sit on benches with debris strewn around.
It gets boring to describe the walk, but we can’t get bored strolling up and down the Mall, maybe that is because of the people around. We keep walking, passing by shops, until they come to an end. As we stretch further, a rain shelter enters the scene. From there one can feel Shimla and its traffic too. Opposite to it is another old sculpture. Mall Road cut down to make way towards the Lower Bazaar. Sher–e–Punjab is the first among the new line of shops. Even after years these shops are still in makeshift structures, ah the Mall. Keep walking and keep walking with nothing to catch the eye. Shops, buildings like any other Indian market. We reach the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex along the Combermere Bridge (A historical place but you wouldn’t know) and the tourism lift (saviour for many). A walk further leads to the Clarke’s Hotel, passing by old and new structures. Sit down on the benches next to it and see people come and go or take a view of the main town and keep wondering how it came to be as it is today. Now the fag end of the walk and we get to Chalet Day -the old architecture and finest teachings blended together. The Simla Club opposite to it has changed over the years.
Now I conclude that it’s only for friends that I get to the Mall, or just to look around different people. Else, it’s boring. Oh! This time I got bored Malling.