THE history of the hill station known as the ‘Queen of the Hills’ and as the Summer Capital of British India is presented beginning with the time when it was a nondescript village in the early 19th century and which gradually grew to become a town in the Lower Himalaya. Over the centuries, prior to the 19th century, scores of large and small kingdoms had established themselves over these hills. One of these was Kangra which was ruled by Sansar Chand who allied himself with Ranjit Singh, the powerful ruler of the Punjab.
Meanwhile, Nepal, another powerful nation at that time, had started forging itself since the 16th century when Drabya Shah became the first of the lineage that was to be abruptly terminated in 2008. The Gurkhas of Nepal were powerful warriors known for their “crushing cruelty” and who began expanding their power to occupy six villages, particularly during the rule of the East India Company, which “like a trader who had traded long and well and now eyes the social register,” dug both heels and spurs “hard enough to become one of the largest, at times, the most heartless landlord in the world.”
The author describes in detail the advent of Lord Dalhousie who didn’t much care for Simla and its “festivities here as never were, balls here, balls there; balls by the society…” He was followed by Lord Canning in 1860 and then by John Lawrence, a workaholic, who designated Simla as the “Summer Capital” of British India. The author gives a very detailed description of Viceregal Lodge and The Retreat before writing about Rudyard Kipling, who, writing bitter and sweet stories and poems, arrived from Lahore to Simla to report for his paper Civil and Military Gazette and wrote A Prologue.
Then came Lord Curzon, the youngest Viceroy and Governor-General of India, who interpreted his role as that of a strict schoolmaster who knows best, “with the result that controversy and acrimony trailed this brilliant man throughout his term.”
The book discusses the frequent visits made by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Maulana Azad to Simla to sort out the issue of Partition.
The book will interest especially those who have had the good fortune of visiting Simla or have had some connection or bond with it.
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