The Hidden Shimla City Sanctuary Walk
Shimla, like most “hill-stations” in India has been ravaged by thoughtless forest razing construction. It’s also plagued by a maddening surge in traffic, causing snaking jams through arterial roads. A mere shadow of its former self, Shimla has devolved into an ugly looking mass of concrete.
Did you know? The term “Hill Station” was coined when officers of the British Raj, driven to misery by summer heat of the Indian plains were “stationed” in small hill towns so to recover and recuperate.
However for those looking at enjoying the true beauty of Shimla, the green canopies, symphonies of crickets, lovesick calls of birds and the sound of breeze passing through pines, there lies an inner sanctuary within the city. Easily accessible, but hidden in plain sight.
Hiding In Plain Sight – The Sanctuary Walk In Shimla.
Straight up disclaimer: I am a Shimla native, and this walk is not officially called “The Sanctuary Walk”. However, for all reasons practical, it exactly is that, and that’s why I call it so.
It is a walk of about 9kms from one end of town to another. Passing through roads with restricted movement for vehicles and areas that conventional tourists simply don’t give a shit about, it is the closest you will get to enjoying the true essence of what Shimla was meant to be
The Shimla Sanctuary Walk Begins Here.
You get to a place called Boileauganj (pronounced baalu-ganj locally) and right on the main bus stand there is the entry gate for Indian Institute for Advanced Studies.
Here is where your walk begins.
Entering the gate and after crossing the first long loop you come to a point directly above the bus stand where a short cut for the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies starts.
The Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, also known as Rashtrapati Niwas was formerly the castle of the Viceroy of British India. It is a spectacular looking building designed in the Renaissance Revivalist style and it’s HIGHLY recommended that you pay it a visit.
Why? Cuz it looks like THIS:
However the place deserves a couple of hours for itself, so I have not included it in the ambit of this walk.
If you choose to include a visit to it, please allow a whole day for this walk. Half of it will be spent exploring, and the other half recovering from all the walking that your body isn’t used to.
Moving on, it’s worth mentioning that this whole walk (excluding the short-cut and one more short & sharp climb, comprises of a very comfortable gradient that any baseline fit person should be able to handle easily.
Getting ahead of the short cut, you get to see the first view of Shimla city. Thankfully because of the green area and the distance between you and it, the place seems near pretty.
Walk further and you’re amongst oak & rhododendron trees, forming a canopy that lets little sun in, and you feel an instant drop in temperature. If you are walking this road during the monsoons, expect to see a multitude of flora and a riot of green all around you. It’s as if nature opened a palette containing every conceivable shade of green.
Finishing this stretch of road, you will exit a gate and reach the point which is the official entry point for the Institute of Advanced Studies. Here you choose to walk ahead choosing the road on the left.
You could have taken the road on the right, but that has more traffic, construction, and since it’s on the southern side of the mountain, gets the harsh mountain sun straight up.
The road on the left crosses by the HP University BBA college, and you might come across some young guys mucking about on their motorcycles and cars. You might even smell some ‘erb. But avoid the distractions & keep enjoying the greenery!
A sharp, but short incline is a part of this route, but nothing that you need to worry about. Gets over sooner than you start wondering how long it’ll go on for.
At the end of this section you will reach “Chaura Maidan” and the iconic Oberoi Cecil.
I would recommend a snack / beer / G&T break at this hotel very highly. The hotel lobby bar and atrium are beautiful. The interiors are all old school wood, leather and carpet. It is a far cry from the glass, metal and marble five star hotels in the cities. You will absolutely enjoy the experience of chugging a chilled beer or the classic British Raj cocktail of Gin & Tonic here.
Once done and out, you will see the Shimla TV tower on one side. Situated here is a museum as well. People say it’s great. However I’m not a museum person. Never been and probably never will. So can’t say if it’s worth the climb.
Especially after getting buzzed.
Walking from here till the Vidhan Sabha fork will give you an idea of how much traffic you missed by taking the BBA road.
On reaching the Vidhan Sabha fork, take the left.
Walking this section you will see very few vehicles and a lot of thin people. You know why thin? Because they choose to walk. There is a lesson somewhere in there I feel.
Finishing this section, main town starts and you come across a smattering of heritage buildings. Gorton’s Castle, the railway board building, the State Bank of India.
Have a look at them closely and enjoy the architectural heritage the British left us with, even though we’ve tried to destroy it as best as possible with accidental fires and tacky signboards.
Here’s pictures of the latter two, because Gorton’s Castle is still being rebuilt after a fire destroyed large portions of it.
Here on, the crowd will keep on thickening as you cross the Army Training Command and reach main town. It starts with the telegraph office building.
I find this section mostly insufferable and rush through it as fast as possible. There’s a host of eateries and shopping options here. IDGAF about any. The only thing I like to do in this part is face scanning. Keep on your dark sunglasses.
Reaching The Clarkes hotel, you’ll have crossed most of main town and you get a part-glimpse of what we’ve done to the city.
A soft downhill descent will take you to the Marina hotel fork. Take the left towards CM’s residence here.
A little further on is the CM’s residence and across it a fine specimen of classic Shimla heritage architecture.
Soon as you cross the Marina hotel fork, you will be surrounded by trees yet again. The density of the forest keeps increasing as you go further. This time though it is pine trees sheltering you from the sun.
You can hear the breeze rustling through the pines, and believe me when I say that it is one of the MOST calming sounds you’ll hear in your life. Don’t miss it for anything.
Now all you have to do is keep taking the roads on the left and immerse yourself in the tranquility, avoiding the occasional vehicle that crosses by.
This is how the road for most parts is. Beautiful.
And eventually you reach the road to Navbahar. Also known as “Forest Road”. The name is justified for sure!
The pines are the thickest in this section. It is also known as “lover’s lane”. An all girl’s college in the vicinity and quiet road for rambling walks. What more could young love want?
Though now that everyone has cars and access to better solitude, the only love I see blossoming in this lane is for nature.
This section is a kilometer and a half or so, and ends at Buddies Fast Food. You get a fairly large pizza and a diet coke for about 500 bucks and then do justice to all the walking you did.
Nearly nine kilometers of it.
Here’s a view from Buddies of what you just passed through.
Now it’s your choice to place your butt into your cab that you called to be parked at St. Bede’s College. Or to take a local bus from here to the lift, where you can hop into town. Or to take another bus back to Boileauganj, where you parked your car.
Alternatively you can be as crazy as me and walk back to Boileauganj at a blistering pace.
Cuz if you ain’t walking in Shimla, you’re doing it all wrong!