My Travels Through the Himalayas – I (Monuments of Simla – 2)

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Monuments of Simla – 2

Christ Church, The Mall, Simla

While the Viceregal Lodge was the power-centre from 1889, architectural constructions – both private and official had been built here from the early 19th century onwards. I have mentioned some of these in the first post in this series. Most of these buildings are renovated now, but they still exist. You can see them if you take a walk on the road from the Viceregal Lodge to the Mall.

Comberemere Bridge 1829 (image from 1850s)

One of the earliest structures to come up  was the Comberemere Bridge near the Mall in 1829, which carries the name of Lord Comberemere who built the Jakhu road connecting the Mall to the Jakhu peak, the highest point in Simla. The Bridge joined the ridge on the Mall to an escarpment nearby. Today, this entire area is filled up with hotels and shops. There is a lift  on the Bridge – also built during the British times, that carries the visitors from the base of the hill to the top, covering a height of hundreds of feet in a matter of a few minutes.

The Christ Church of the Baptist Order on the Mall is the earliest Church in Simla, built in 1844 by Colonel Boileau, whose residence is the Observatory House in the campus of the Viceregal Lodge. Christ Church is the second oldest church in North India. In 1857, St. Michael’s Church of the Catholc Order was built below the Mall in the defense area – still serving as the defense cantonment of Simla. Both of these churches have beautiful stained glass windows, which have survived till today.

St. Michael's Church Stained Glass Windows

Around 1840s, the huge Gorton Castle was built on one end of the Mall as a residence of Mr. Gorton, one of the civil servants of Simla. Later, this building was donated for a hospital space, but was burnt down in a fire. In 1904, Sir Swinton Jacob the famous architect from Jaipur rebuilt the Gorton Castle as the Civil Secretariat of the Imperial Government of the British India. This was the most imposing building of Simla in its days, when the Viceregal Lodge was not there. Its one floor was paved with rosewood brought from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by B. Ribbontrop, head of the forest department. Today, it serves as the office of the Accounts General of the Himachal Pradesh Government.

Gorton Castle

In 1896-97, the Railway Building was built near the Gorton Castle as the office of the Railways department. It was built as a fire-resistance building, using a lot of steel. In 2001, a fire erupted in the building and it stood testimony to the British architectural genius – the fire could do no damage to the building. Today it houses many government offices, including the Passport Office of Himachal Pradesh.

Railways Building

The architect of the Viceregal Lodge, Henry Irwin also designed the Gaiety Theatre on the Mall, which was inaugurated in 1887 Queen Victoria’s jubilee year. This theatre saw many performances played there – in the British as well as in the postcolonial times. Some of the famous Indian actors have performed there in more recent years. In 2008, the building was completely renovated when I was at Simla. I felt that the dimensions of the building looked different after renovation – the renovated building looked taller and less broad. The Earlier structure had been more squat and broader.

Old Gaiety Theatre

Renovated Gaiety Theatre in 2008

In 1913, a house called Yarrows was built for Sir George Rivers Lowdnes, a member of the Viceroy’s Council in the Glenn that goes down from the entrance of the Viceregal Lodge. Today this building serves as the Audits and Accounts Office and Training Institute. They have renovated most parts of the building now.


Yarrows History

In 1866 when Simla was declared as the Summer Capital of British India, plans were made to develop it, resulting in the buildings mentioned above and the Mall Road connecting these buildings on the East to the Western end of the city. This also included the Tow Hall and the Mayor’s office around 1870s, still serving the same purpose.

Mayor's Office, The Mall, Shimla

Town Hall in the British Days

The Eastern end served as the commercial hub of the British. Even today, the Mall has all the major shops and commercial offices of Simla. Since the British days till today, vehicles have not been allowed on the Mall, except the carriage of the Viceroy in the British days and of the Governor in postcolonial India. This makes it a pleasant walk for the tourists who flock there to shop, to eat in the various restaurants and just to feast their eyes on the natural surroundings on both sides of the road. The eastern end has a broad ridge where the Christ Church is located. After this point is the Lakkar Bazar or the wood market on one side of the Christ Church and the Jakhu road on the other side, leading to the highest point in Simla the Jakhu peak, full of monkeys ready to snatch your belongings!

If you have been to England and you come and stand on the Mall, you will feel as if you are standing in a small English town – which is exactly what Simla was. I went to Simla from England and my memories of England were revived in Simla seeing its architecture, more so because of its history.

See more photographs of Simla in its British days here.

See the historical account of Simla here.

Come back for the next post – Places around Simla

View from the Mall - Dhauladhar range in Kangra, hundreds of kilometres away

View from the Mall - near Jakhu Peak

From the Mall on a Winter Evening

10 Responses to “My Travels Through the Himalayas – I (Monuments of Simla – 2)”
  1. Chitra Nayak says:

    Fantastic pic. But my favourite is the stained glass in the church.

  2. Archana says:

    Thanks Chitra,
    You are right, the stained glass windows would have been more appropriate too, now that you say it, this occurs to me.

  3. Rini says:

    saw ur blog “my travel through the himalayas” on shimla. ur writing is very impressive and the pictures r marvellous liked it very much but i feel the font size cud b a bit small .

  4. Archana says:

    Hi Rini,
    Earlier the blog had small fonts and Rohit told me he couldn’t see the text, so I increased it. I’m using Heading 2 now. Heading 3, which is a bit smaller than this shows all text in capital letters, so can’t use it for the text.

  5. Simply beautiful , the pictures selected as well as your write-up. I thoroughly enjoyed.

  6. Archana says:

    Thanks! Come back for the next post in this series.

  7. Lovely pictures!! Wish there were fewer concrete structures than there are today in and around Shimla!

  8. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.

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  9. Thanks for a marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it, you could be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will
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