I remember my first trip to Shimla, around 12 years ago, was a bundle of sight-seeing. It’s tough to experience a city when you are at the mercy of your cab driver. Now that I am grown-up and wiser, I know better and wouldn’t ever fall for the trap again. This time I decided to be on my own and was please to see how the city opened itself to me, got friendly and made me comfortable. So much so, that I didn’t think twice before stretching myself on a road-side bench for a nap. Here’s what I think are the best ways to enjoy the city, not like a tourist.
There’s no better way to experience a city than to walk and in Shimla there aren’t many options except walking. Take a walk on the Mall Road from one end to another looking at the gothic architecture of Town Hall building, Railway Board Building, Gorton Castle or marvelling at the pinewood forests. You can take a heritage walk that covers most of the sites and buildings. You can also take a walk down to Lakkad Bazar – a local market where you’d find household stuff made of wood.
Sit, read and people-watch
Grab a bench near Christ Church on The Ridge and sit there reading a book while you soak in the sun. It’s also a good place to look at the valley view or just randomly observe locals going about their business or tourists having fun.
Watch a play at The Gaiety Theatre
Gaiety Theatre is the beautiful gothic theatre within the Town Hall complex. It houses a theatre, an amphitheatre, and an art gallery. The theatre has hosted legendary actors like Prithviraj Kapoor, K L Saigal, Balraj Sahni and Naseeruddin Shah. There are regular performances by the local art groups so checkout their schedule when you are around. You can also take a guided tour and learn about its architecture and history. The theatre is open from 11am – 7pm.
Enjoy the view of Town Hall from a cafe
Shimla is not really famous for its food but if you feel like cosy-ing up, Wake & Bake or Hideout Cafe are good options. Wake & Bake does a great Israeli breakfast of shakshuka – fried eggs over tomatoes with soft lafa bread and creamy hummus. They make crepes and waffles too with cheese, eggs, bacon, sausage and vegetables fillings. In the evenings, you can snuggle with their hot chocolate and a book. Their choice of music is good and you’ll get to hear classic rock, rock n roll and a bit of trance too.
Hideout Cafe is right next to Wake & Bake and serves breakfast, sandwiches, burgers and pastas. They’ll make you a vegan shake with soy milk if you request. Try their Turkish egg and bacon roll. Both the cafes have free wifi too.
Eat local food at a tiny joint
There are plenty of decent restaurants and cafes but the menus are pretty generic that usually don’t go beyond Indian, Chinese and Continental. I’d suggest you hop in at a tiny joint to eat a simple meal of kadhi chawal or aloo parathas. Agarwal Bhojanalya on Mall Road is one such place that serves simple and inexpensive food.