Destination: Shimla, India
Book: Shimla – A British Himalayan Town, by Sumit Vashisht
A Guest post by Dr. Jessie Voigts
So often the cultural aspects of a place can get lost in the shuffle of modernization. I’ve got a treasure to share with you today – a new book, written by the astounding Himalayas Editor for Wandering Educators, Sumit Vashisht. Sumit has shared so much of the Himalayas with us – from architecture to trekking to ice skating. It’s a window into another world, for me – a world I can’t wait to explore. Sumit’s book, Shimla – A British Himalayan Town, is an extraordinary glimpse into the town of Shimla, India - in the Himalayas. It’s a place that is an amalgamation of styles, cultures, architecture…and Sumit explores all of these in this book.
We were lucky enough to sit down and talk with Sumit about his book, Shimla, architecture, history, culture, and more. Here’s what he had to say…
Wandering Educators: Please tell us about your book, Shimla – A British Himalayan Town…
Sumit Vashisht: This is the story of origin and settlement– of the growth of a small village called Shyamala to Shimla. It changed many names such as Shumla, Semlah, Simla and now Shimla. There used to be a small village with 10 – 15 houses at this place. [The village] and the Northern Hills suffered a lot of disturbance from Gurkha[alt. spelling: Ghurka] attacks from Nepal.
[Sumit says that the Gurkhas were as cruel as today's terrorists.Note: After the defeat of the Gurkhas, the British Army used them as brave mercenaries. Gurkhas figure in the movie The Man Who Would be King, based on the Rudyard Kipling book.]
The book tells you the story of defeat of Gurkhas by the British Army in 1815 as the local dynasties asked [the British] for help. The British liked the place so much that they decided to[build] some army posts here, then it became a famous holiday resort. In 1860 it was strongly recommended by Sir John Lawrence, the then Viceroy, to be used as Summer Capital of the British Government in India. The book gives you the details of the settlement of the town.
WE: What inspired you to write this book about the Himalayas?
SV: My love for this lovely town. Its own beauty, its architecture, its fascinating buildings, lanes, streets, roads, flora & fauna, people and after my birth and initial 14 years of my life in this town my separation from it, my childhood memories.
WE: How did the British occupation of Shimla change the Himalayas town?
SV: Shimla remained a summer retreat, a holiday resort and a summer capital for the British Government from 1822 to 1947. They brought everything here. They built everything here. They prepared everything that was necessarily required to lead a smooth life. Although here in the hills, life is very simple, the British made it stylish, and the present generation still follows the British lifestyle.
The British constructed roads to Shimla and also got it connected to the plains through railways. They introduced the best schools of India for both genders; brought medical facilities for locals and European population of the town; gave us the club culture – and those clubs are still in use. To control the entire subcontinent from here, they built the Viceregal Lodge. Now, this building, still the most beautiful in the North India, is being used as an Institute of Advanced Study.
To read more of the interview, please see Wandering Educators Book Review.
Our thanks to Jessie for drawing our attention to this hill town developed as a British outpost in northern Indian Himalyas. Note: If you are looking to buy the book, you will need to contact the author, who also guides tours in Shimla. I could not find the book available for sale from any American companies, including Amazon.
If you want to read more at A Traveler’s Library about India, see this guide book, a historic novel set in the time of the Raj; Shelley Seale’s favorites ; a book about Delhi; Mumbai (Parts One and Two) by Monica Bhide; and Slumdog Millionaire.