Perched 7,200 ft/2,232 m above sea level, Shimla (also known as Simla), India, is the "Queen of the Hill Station," an escape conceived in the 1820s by the lords who ruled over British India from Delhi. As the capital's steamy heat set each summer, the British Raj would make the trek to the western Himalayas where a refreshing alpine ambience awaited. Today, it's a popular resort for middle-class Indians on holiday, and more closely resembles an English town than any Indian village (at least until you get into the maze of bazaars on the lower levels).
Shimla's status was secured with the 1903 completion of a 60-mi/97-km narrow-gauge rail from Kalka (connecting from Delhi). The "toy train" still operates and now claims UNESCO World Heritage status. Railway buffs love the five-and-a-half-hour journey from Kalka, ascending unhurriedly through 102 tunnels to the town.
Shimla clings to the crest of an 8-mi-/13-km-long series of ridges, creating an almost fairy-tale-like setting. Although the town has grown to some 200,000 permanent residents (a number that doubles each summer), Shimla retains a genteel, low-pressure spirit. It is an upscale base for trekking and other outdoor pursuits. Enjoyable walks can be taken in the surrounding hills. Also see the Kullu Valley, a pleasant area of fruit orchards, rice fields and Hindu temples.
About 80 mi/130 km northwest of Shimla is McLeod Ganj, a center of operations for the Dalai Lama and Tibet—a government in exile—and an important center for Buddhism and Tibetan culture. Shopping for Tibetan crafts is also good along Shimla's pedestrian-only Mall, a long bazaar at the center of town. You can fill an afternoon exploring the town's Colonial British history with a visit to the Viceregal Lodge and Botanical Gardens.
If there is a must-see in Shimla, it's the Himalayas. It's a spectacular sight to see the sun creep above a horizon of 20,000-ft/6,200-m mountains. It's no wonder that Shimla is a preferred honeymoon destination for Indian couples.
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