The city of Shimla is rich in history, architecture, nature, and tourism. One of the most favorite tourist spots in India. It has a rich historical background. It is the capital city of Himachal Pradesh. Tourists flock all time around the year due to its cozy vibes and good environment. The city has lots to offer to tourists apart from its natural landscapes. Lots of museums from the time of the old British Raj till independence showcases the city’s rich historical background. Out of the many landmarks in Shimla, the museums such as Army Heritage Museum, Shimla Heritage Museum, and Baba Bhalku Museum are the ones that allow tourists to have an insight into the history.
History of Shimla
Shimla was formerly the summer capital of British rule. There were no known civilizations previously. Jakhu Hills had a small population with scattered houses around the area. It was not until 1819 that the first British residence was set up. It was Lt. Ross, an Assistant Political Agent of the hill state. A small wood cottage was built to look over the area. Later on, his successors made the first pakka house in 1822, known as the Kennedy House (fig.1). The city went unnoticed during the battle of Gurkha. After independence, Shimla acted as the capital of the state of Punjab soon after it was declared as the capital town of Himachal Pradesh and remains to this day (India, 2023).
The name of Shimla is a controversial topic. Since two legends are saying two different things, some say that the name was derived from “Shyamalaya”, which translates to “blue house”. It is believed to be built by a faqir on Jakhu using blue slates, hence the name. The other legend goes as follows; the name was derived from “Shamla”, which is the other name for the Hindu Goddess Kali. The name was somehow difficult to pronounce by the Britishers, and hence came the name “Shimla”. The events of the past are now recorded and showcased to visitors through museums (History of shimla town).
Shimla Heritage Museum
The city housed Britishers that followed a strict social hierarchy, where the military or army was isolated from the commoners. What is now known as Shimla Heritage Museum was once a buzzing hot spot for the Britishers. It was in 1844 that a club was established, the United Services Club. Its entry was restricted to members who were mostly Commissioned military officers, army, navies, and members of Indian Civil services. The club followed the same old rule of not allowing any Indians or women to join as members.
Shimla became an infirmary for the British military and housed the sick and wounded officers. Soon after USC opened its door to the officers, it became a place for interaction for them (India, 2023).
The Architecture of Shimla Heritage Museum
The club premises included eighty-three residential houses. It is spread over twenty-eight acres or so. The architectural style of the clubhouse is identified to be a Swiss chalet that suited the scenery of Shimla. Over the years, the rules had lightened up a bit. The clubhouse, which was strictly prohibited even to the British mercantile class, slowly began allowing females and a limited number of only ten Indians. However, they were only allowed in the clubhouse and not the other official places (DBHKer, 2023) .
The colonial structure replaced an existing chalet-style building, but not much was changed. The club, as seen today, has preserved the style of Swiss chalet houses. With a low-pitched roof and two stories high, this structure of British raj showcases the evolution and taste of architecture in the city of Shimla. A prominent feature of the European style of Swiss chalets is to have front gables and this can be seen on the building of Shimla Heritage Museum or formerly known as United service club. Another decorative component is the eaves that are supported through brackets on top. The roofs are constructed in such a way as to keep snow and rainfall away (DBHKer, 2023).
There is no evidence, but the floor plan layout of usual Swiss chalet-style houses is either square or rectangular in plan. The museum follows a similar layout. Most of the buildings after the independence were turned into Indian government offices, such as the PWD, while the USC was transformed into a school; it was in 2011 that the USC made a comeback but as a museum that showcased the heritage of Shimla from the times of British raj (DBHKer, 2023).
A chalet which was once somebody’s private residence became a club. The club housed many soldiers who would work hard during the weekdays and relax in this summer house during the weekends. Soon enough, more activities were added to the club, and it became a center with attractions for its members. Dinners, parties, balls, and much more were held to ensure that the members had a good time. Fast forward to today, it embodies all the history of Shimla to give a glimpse of the life of Britishers in India and their architecture too.
- DBHKer (2023b) United Services Club ‘chalet’ – simla – 1909, Flickr. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/23268776@N03/5114690532/ (Accessed: 30 July 2023).
- History of shimla town (no date a) History of Shimla Town | Shimla District, Government of Himachal Pradesh | India. Available at: https://hpshimla.nic.in/history/ (Accessed: 30 July 2023).
- India, N. (2023) The Kennedy House, Shimla, HP – first residence built on the hill by the Englishman. Available at: http://www.navrangindia.in/2023/04/the-kennedy-house-shimla-hp-first.html (Accessed: 30 July 2023).
- India, N. (2023a) United Services Club Building , Shimla – A heritage colonial structure where the club served only the British elite, United Services Club building , Shimla – a heritage colonial structure where the club served only the British elite. Available at: http://www.navrangindia.in/2023/02/united-services-club-building-shimla.html (Accessed: 28 July 2023).
- Shimla directory (no date) https://www.shimlaonline.in/. Available at: https://www.shimlaonline.in/city-guide/museums-in-shimla (Accessed: 28 July 2023).
- The history of Shimla and its inseparable connection to Anglo-indians (2023) https://www.outlookindia.com/. Available at: https://www.outlookindia.com/national/the-history-of-shimla-and-its-inseparable-connection-to-anglo-indians-news-272961 (Accessed: 28 July 2023).