President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & Group CEO: M H Ahssan

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SHIMLA - BEYOND TOURIST PLACE

By Sagarika Mittal

The Queen of Hills is grappling with an acute shortage of basic infrastructure

The 200-year-old capital of Himachal Pradesh is still struggling with its urban makeover. The summer capital of the Britishers, Shimla is known as the ‘queen of hills’. The city attracts a huge number of domestic as well as international tourists every year. But its existing infrastructure such as roads, parking space and water supply is vividly inadequate to meet their demand. Shimla is the most-preferred tourist destination in the North.

The pleasant summers and snowy winters make Shimla a round-the-year tourist destination. The building structures styled in neo-gothic architecture, reminiscent of the British era, dots various hill slopes. These heritage buildings include Viceregal lodge that houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Gordon castle, and State Museum. On the periphery of the city are tourist spots like golfers delight Naldehra, Skiing famed Kufri, magnificent resorts of Chile and Mashobra and jungle trails of Charabara.

The city is still connected by a narrow-gauge railway line, which enjoys the heritage status conferred by UNESCO, built in 1906 during the colonial era and a national highway that is 71-mile-long from Chandigarh. The Kalka-Shimla rail route is still considered an engineering feat whose 806 bridges and 103 tunnels make it the ‘British Jewel of the Orient’.

The city is named after the goddess Shyamala, an incarnation of the Goddess Kali. The administrative responsibilities are taken care by the Shimla Municipal Corporaion established in 1851. Being a state capital, the city houses many Central and state government offices which account for almost half of the working population. The city is essentially a cosmopolitan and home to followers of different religions. The heart of the city is Ridge that ends into St. Michael’s Catholic Church built in 1850.

The market place and famous hangout, the mall road is part of the main city. Lakkar Bazaar, close to ridge is famous for woodcraft bought as souvenirs. Below the wood market is Asia’s only natural ice skating rink where winter arrivals are held. Hot sulphur springs of tatta pani are not far away from the city. The exodus of people from other regions to the city and the subsequent rampant construction activities in the last two decades have pushed the city infrastructure to the brink. The fact that Shimla is a round-the-year tourist destination adds to this crisis. Around six lakh people reside in the peripheral areas , which are now part of the main city.

Hospitality is the major industry that include premier hotels like Oberoi resort at Wildflower Hall situated at 8,350 feet, Radisson, Oberoi Cecil and Oberoi’s Clarks hotel within the city. Himachal Pradesh State Tourism Department also runs two hotels namely HHH and Peterhoff within the city. An airport at Jubbar Hati provides another option to reach out to the state capital.

Alarmingly, the creepy forests that had inspired Ruskin Bond, Indian author of the Brithish descent, to write ghost tales six-decades ago have given way to new buildings. To tackle the deterioration of the infrastructure, Shimla was selected as one of the 63 cities under the Jawahar Lal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). As the part of the upgradation plan, four traffic tunnels are being constructed within the city. As a special concession, the Centre has allowed 50% concession to Shimla under the JNNURM on levy of user charges and land acquisition cost.

A dream house in the hills is a dream of any visitor though the land tenancy laws allow only natives to buy land in the state. But the property seekers have bought houses in peripheral areas around the city by tying up with local landowners.
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