The Mall in 1860s

It is a sheltered walk for which the concept was borrowed from the West. It is distinctly built in two parts. The larger part, begins at Boileau Ganj and ends at Chotta Shimla. This is a six miles distance which is bordered with trees, neatly built stone wall (to hold off sliding rocks), Tudor style homes sheltered by wooden fences, a great view with changing landscape every mile and link to important buildings like Peterhoff, Viceregal Lodge, Cecil Hotel, Gorton Castle, the main shopping Promenade, Clarks Hotel, Barnes Court etc. These six miles began as a Kuccha pathway only 12 feet wide (to let two horse drawn buggies to pass) and connect one part of Shimla with the other. It was built in 1860s at the instance of Lord Lawrence to make horse ride easier. To a buggy traveler or the person on foot or on a horse, it is a fabulous treat for the eyes with panoramic view of the snow clad Himalayas. The whole six miles were given a name of "The Mall Road".

As it reaches the Telegraph building, this Mall Road took a whole new meaning. From this point onwards to the Combermere Bridge, this road from 1876 onwards formed the elegant main shopping district exclusively for the British. Shops lined on south side of this walk and these were mostly British owned. The Shimla Municipal Committee after the fire of 1876, had prohibited natives building anywhere near this road, hence it became the exclusive preserve of the British. A British army officer or a civil servant could source his grocery from the British owned storekeepers or buy clothing materials and get them tailored from civil or military tailors or get their hair dressed in the latest style or buy or visit a druggist or a photographer or a general merchandiser or a shoe maker etc. A lot of stores sold merchandize to the ladies taste. Along the walk, the new Municipal Offices were built together with the Gaiety Theatre and the General Post Office; also most banks had their offices along the route. This pathway branched out near the Municipal Offices and lead to the Ridge where on the flat land stood the Christ Church. A Band Stand was built later. These neatly decorated shops continued until the Combermere Bridge. There was an occasional plot or two, which was not built, otherwise stores and other businesses, continued the whole length of a mile. Beyond laid the Clarke's Hotel and Barnes Court in the middle of the Deodar trees. This portion of the shopping promenade came to be known as "The Mall".

This portion of the road, all thru its length was widened to 40 feet at few places, at the turn of the century. That required that the 45-degree sloping mountainside be dug up and excess stones and rocks removed. A temporary trolley line was built to take the stone and dirt away and dump it near Sanjauli area. To eliminate the hazard of falling rock or landslides during the rainy season, stonewall; at places 20 feet high, was erected. It stabilized the rock formation and added to the gaiety of the whole walk along this road.  This wall has lasted more than a century and would last a lot more. This feet of engineering guaranteed that Sahibs would not be inconvenienced during any weather.

There was one problem to which the British had not paid attention. By building three level high shoulder-to-shoulder stores along the mile and a half, they blocked the Sun. As said before, any native who occasionally walked past this promenade found the walk cooler. They gave it the name of "Thandi Sarak". The British did not mind this cooler aspect and lovingly called it "The Mall".

Native entry to The Mall was restricted. Later the rules were relaxed to 11.00AM to 3.00PM, when the natives could go to The Mall, not for a leisure walk but to conduct business.

Mahatma Gandhi was probably the first Indian Leader who during his visits to Shimla, freely walked from Firgrove in Jakkho to Viceregal Lodge. No other Indian had ever dared it before him.

The Mall today is same as it was a hundred years back, but it is in need of restoration to its original elegance. Its decaying buildings are in need of a huge restoration effort.

Courtesy: Entrepreneurs of British Shimla by Hari Sud
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