A popular holiday destination, Shimla is an answer to most city dwellers up north to head for a refreshing breather during the summers. Come summer vacations and hoards of families head to the Queen of Hills for a break. Owing to its location, climate and beauty, Shimla became the summer capital of the British Raj in 1864 and when you visit the place, you will discover why. Shimla has a lot more to offer than the usual sight seeing places. It has a certain history that most of us may not be aware of. Opt for a Heritage Walk the next time you’re in Shimla and rediscover the glorious history of this beautiful hill town.
We caught up with Sumit Raj Vashisht, who has been associated with the tourism industry since 1993. Sumit completed his PG Diploma in Tourism from Delhi in 1993 and joined Imaginative Tours (P) Ltd. Delhi as a Tour Executive in 1993 and Connexions in 1996. In 2000, Sumit returned to his hometown Shimla and started working as a Freelance Tour Escort and Heritage Tour Guide. He is a storehouse of information and knowledge about Shimla. Having studied the Origin & History Shimla in detail, he is a qualified and an experienced Tour Companion that you must get in touch with on your next visit to Shimla.
Sumit mentions, “Shimla a 190 year old town was entirely set up by the British officers. Interestingly my clients are those Britishers who come to see the old houses built by their parents and grand parents. Many of them who were born and brought up here, had even attended schools in Shimla. I maintain most of the records available of Shimla that helps me finding the Old Houses, Churches, Cemeteries where their forefathers are buried, Nursing Homes where they were born, Records of the Churches where they were Baptized, the roads on which they walked and the offices they worked in.”
How did it all begin?
It began nearly 10 years ago when Sumit returned to his hometown in Shimla and was offered a job of a Tour Guide by his friend Anil Shakya who runs a travel company. “But at that time, since I had very little knowledge about the town except the fact that it used to be a Summer Capital and was entirely set up by the British, Anil suggested that I go through some books and he gave me a book or two to read,” says Sumit. As Sumit startedbrowsing through the history of the town he got excited and inspired with the fact that he would be taking up a full time profession based on the history of Shimla.
He adds, “Anil had a large number of British coming to Shimla through his company and all top end Five Star category tourists. Anil mentioned that if I showed them the city, he would give me the entire contract for all the sightseeing tours as he was looking for someone reliable, mature and who could handle his tourists in a professional way. At the other hand I realized that there was no good Guide in Shimla at that time, who could actually cater to that level of tourist and so I took the plunge!”
This began the Shimla Heritage Walks by Sumit as he not only wanted to make the entire experience unique, but because this sightseeing tour was way different than other tours in Shimla such as visit to Kufri or Naldehra by car and also because they were actually taking the tourists to certain houses or buildings which have various features hidden in them such as their unique Victorian architecture, their history, the important events associated with the buildings, and also about the people who built them and lived in them.
“Initially it was just a walk through the Mall Road, from the Church to the Viceregal Lodge. Butgradually we started adding frills to it such as lunch, entrance ticket, a souvenir etc.,” says Sumit. He further adds, “Writing was always in my blood as I inherited it from my dad, Mr. TalatIrfani, a famousUrdu Poet. So the Heritage Walks inspired me to write on Shimla and actually re-write it. So I started working on my book and now I am working on the fourth one.”
- Shimla – A British Himalayan Town.
- Shimla Bazaar.
- Simla – Lanes & Trails.
Sumit mentions, “You see, Shimla has always been a popular tourist destination, right from the day when the British arrived here. Before independence the British officers used it as a resort, more a summer capital and than a tourist destination. After independence it became a popular tourist spot, not only for Indian tourists but also gradually it became popular among foreign tourists as well.”
Now almost everyone knows that Shimla was the Summer Capital of India and for more than half of the year the entire Indian sub continent was ruled from here during the Raj. But still every tourist who arrives here asks a very strange question, “What is there to do here?’
Sumit strongly feels that, “It is with the help of the Shimla Heritage Walk, I can promote and create awareness which in turn can provide help for the people of this city. We need to save these heritage buildings. Already we have lost a large number of them, in fire incidents, or due to the deterioration with time as there was no maintenance for them, and some were demolished to erect new modern structures. Since Shimla has a large number of tourists from all over the world and they come to see these lovely edifices, and if we do not save these buildings or maintain them than Shimla will loose its major feature. Hence the requirement to spread awareness of the rich heritage of Shimla. And of course when tourists visit a certain place the money rolls in which in turn in some way or other it benefits the locals.”
Themes covered in Shimla Heritage Walks
Sumit mentions, “According to me every lane in Shimla has a history, every wall has some interesting stories of the bygone era hidden. How the town came into being and how in just less than 200 years it grew to this level is marvelous. From a small village called Shyamala with just 12hamlets, its journey to Shimla via Shumlah, Semlah, and Simla has been incredible.”
He further adds, “Everything that you see here was built by the British. They constructed roads to Shimla. They even connected Shimla to the plains through railways. They introduced the best schools of India and brought medical facilities for locales and the European population of the town. They gave us club culture and those clubs are still in use – such as the United Services Club, The New Club, The Catholic Club and the Chelmsford Club.
There are a number of other buildings, which were all built by British such as – Gaiety Theater, General Post Office, Bantony, Gorton Castle, Caston Hall (Now known as DC’s Office), Cecil Hotel, Chapslee, Auckland House School, Woodville Palace Hotel, Clark’s Hotel, Shops at the Mall Road, Shimla Railway station, Lakkar Bazaar, Annandale Ground, and much more.
If you look at it from the top, Shimla will look like a Museum of Architecture as there are various buildings built in nearly 12 types of architecture. They are, Tudor, Norman, Gothic, Neo, Baronial, Scottish, Bavarian, Victorian, Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Hill, Rajasthani, and Georgian.
How are the Walks designed?
“I have a complete menu of Heritage Walks and Nature Walks in and around Shimla. Actually, it all depends upon the taste of the tourists. Since I am deeply associated with this industry for last nearly 19 years, since 1993, so I understand the taste of every tourist. Some like history, some like museums; some others like temples, culture, religion, villages where as some other also like to walk through the Cemetery Lanes. Although every building in Shimla is not open for tourists but they are worth seeing from outside,” mentions Sumit.
He further adds, “Guiding, for me is not only walking with the tourists on the road or just taking them to a monument and buying entrance tickets for them. For me Guiding is like serving him a quality of Fruit Platter in a Five Star Hotel. A Travel Guide is not a driver who will park the car and wait for the customer. A Travel Guide is a professor who represents not only the area but also his country.”
Sumit mentions, “It gives you a lifetime chance to see and know more about Shimla. Generally tourists who arrive here are more interested in visiting Kufri and then they regret why did they go there, because there they are cheated by the Horsewalas and the drivers.”
Walking through the Heritage Zone on your own may be interesting but if someone is there with you who can answer all the question that come to your mind while walking on seeing the beautiful structures, the symbols of the past such as benches, electricity poles, wooden railings, old houses, that it adds a different taste to your holiday.
Interesting facts about Shimla
Before signing off, Sumit shares some interesting lesser-known facts about Shimla.
- Originally Shimla was ruled by the Sen Dynasty from West Bengal who came here in 1250 and settled here.
- Shimla is situated on a ridge. Once you stand on the Shimla Ridge it makes you feel as though you are standing on a continental divide. It runs from East to West and divides the country as the water flowing to the North finally flows down to Arabian Sea and to the South it flows down to the Bay of Bengal.
- Once you enter the Mall Road you feel like you are in some old English Town.
- Shimla rose up to this level from a small village called Shayamala only with 12 houses that had no access from the world outside.
- Shimla is also the base of many trekking routes.
What’s your story? Do you also conduct a similar Heritage Walk, a Bike Tour or a Bus Tour in your town? Write to us what makes your Heritage Walks and Tours so unique and we’ll feature it on our website!
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