History and Geography of Shimla

History of Shimla

We all know that Shimla is one of the best tourist places in the nation. But have we ever given a thought to its history? No one had ever heard of Simla two centuries ago. We often hear from people or residents that it was the Britishers who crowned Shimla as the Queen of Hills. Getting deep into the mystery, where was this breathtaking hill station, two centuries back? The answer is ambiguous and very less people carry this information. Not much of literature is available in this context also. Isn't it surprising how we always refer to Shimla as the 'Summer Capital' during the days of British Raj? Let's go back to the real origins of this picturesque town.

Shimla originated as 'Shumla' (as pronounced by the hill people)- a small hamlet. Shimla was discovered by the British in the early 19th century. The earliest written reference to it was in 1817. Wilson the author of 'Abode of Snow'< claims, two Scott officers, named the Gerard brothers, while doing a survey of the Sutlej Valley, came across the beautiful village of Shumla. Captain Alexander Gerard was so fascinated by it that he wrote in his diary about ''Seemla, a middle sized village where a fakir is stationed to give water to the travelers…'' The date mentioned in the diary is August 30, 1817.

Carey's 'Simla Guide' of 1870 says Shimla's name is derived from "Shayeamalya", a house built of blue slate by a fakir at Jakhoo. But historians disagree with it as they feel it is too far fetched a claim.

Kavalam Madhava Pannikar, the author of The Himalayas in Indian Life says Shimla is named after a temple dedicated to Shamla Devi, another name for the Hindu godess Kali. Once situated near Rothney Castle at Jakhoo, this temple catered to devotees from neighbouring villages. Decades ago Adrian Ross wrote that Shimla lay "over the mountain, under the peaks of snow".

Geography of Shimla

Topographically, Shimla is perched on the lofty Himalayas rise from the bed of prehistoric ocean of Tethyas. From a nondescript village, Shimla rose above the turmoil of the Gurkha wars of the early 19th century to be a military outpost and as sanitaria. Ultimately it became the Summer Capital of British India.

If one holds the map of old Shimla east side up, one finds Shimla resembling a dancing lady wearing toga.Hence Shimla is also known as the Dancing Queen of Hills. Her face and the flowers in her hair are the areas near Sanjauli. The arm pointing towards the south is Kasumpti and that in the north is Longwood, Kelston and Bharari. The lady dances on a range of mountains of the middle Himalayas that joins the last traverse spur of the central Himalayas, near the river Sutlej. The elevation of the dancing area is 2397.59m above the sea level. Her dance started when Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy, the newly appointed Political Officer to the Hill States, built the first permanent house here and named it Kennedy House. The total area of 19.55 square metres of old Shimla falls in a seismic belt.

The dancing queen of hills has seven hills and that is why, in the earlier days, it was also called the City of Seven Hills . These hills are:

1. Jakhoo Hill (2454m)
2. Elysium Hill (2257m)
3. Observatory Hill (2157m)
4. Bantony/Museum Hill (2201m)
5. Prospect Hill (2177m)
6. Potters Hill (2073m)
7. Summer Hill (2104m)

The famous Jakhoo Hill (2454m) in Shimla is situated towards the last side of the map. Here is situated very famous and old temple of Lord Hanuman, popularly known as Jakhoo Temple.

Elysium Hill (2257m) in Shimla is situated towards the north side of the map, it is that area where Auckland House School is located and this hill stretches upto Longwood, Kelston and Bharari.

Prospect Hill (2177m) in Shimla is the hill where the famous Kamna Devi temple is situated.

Museum/Bantony Hill (2201m) in Shimla is situated towards the Chaura Maidan area stretching up to the Mall. The museum Hill starts from the place where the famous Peterhoff Hotel is located. The original building burnt down and a new building was constructed in its place. It is today the site of Himachal Pradesh State Government guest house.

Observatory Hill (2157m) in Shimla is the area where the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, or the old Viceregal lodge is located.

Summer Hill (2104m) in Shimla is that area where the Himachal Pradesh University is located.

Potters Hill (2073m) is next to Summer Hill area.

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