This is English Renaissance architecture at it’s finest. The former Viceregal Lodge, located in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, was once used as the summer residence for the viceroys of India. Every grand piece of the grey stone structure is perfectly placed. Set amid picturesque gardens, fitting for it’s size and stature, 3 sides of the building are surrounded by greenery.
Tourists are welcome to visit daily yet only the grounds and entrance hall are open to the public. Guided tours covering some basic history of the building are offered, for a fee, which provides funds for the daunting task of maintaining this over-sized property. Sadly, the interior is not nearly as opulent as originally designed.
Photography is not allowed once inside; a real shame given what is worth viewing. The impressive teak paneled walls remain only to be sidelined by shabbily painted walls draped with electrical cords. Two rows of balconies, feeding into one grand staircase, are ornately decorated in the same fashion as the exterior. Wall hangings that once were of British royalty have been replaced with Indian heritage photographs and paintings. Compared to most British buildings left behind and now functioning as museums, this property could use some freshening on the inside.
Visitors to Shimla will appreciate the surrounding views full of the peaks and valleys of Himachal Pradesh. While this city’s sightseeing list is rather long, Viceregal is a wise way to break up the hustle and bustle of walking the Ridge. Plan on spending 1-2 hours here.
History of Viceregal Lodge
On the Observatory Hills is located the Viceregal Lodge. Also known as Rashtrapati Niwas, it was formerly the residence of the British Viceroy Lord Dufferin, was the venue for many important decision, which changed the fate of the sub-continent. It is quite befittingly the only building in Shimla that occupies a hill by itself. This rambling Scottish baronial edifice was designed by Henry Irvine, architect to the Public Works Department of the colonial government in India. The south facing entrance portico sees the visitor into the reception hall. The hall is marked by a grand staircase which springs from the right and spirals up three full floors. Facing the main entrance is the grand fireplace. A gallery with well-appointed teak paneling is the central space of the building around which the other rooms are arranged. The state drawing room, ballroom, and the wood-panelled dining room – decorated with coats of arms of former Governor-Generals and Viceroys – lead to the gallery at the lower level. Verandas and terraces surround the entire building at different levels. Those at the lower level link the lodge to the magnificent grounds while those on other floors provide superb views of mountains. Way back in 1888 this Lodge had electric light – when nobody else in Shimla did – and, would you believe it, an indoor tennis court! The lodge had extensive facilities including huge kitchens; separate rooms for storing table linen, plates, china and glass; laundry; an enormous wine cellar; a room for empty cases; boilers for central heating and running hot and cold water in the bathrooms. Pretty much as in Delhi’s Viceregal Palace, the Viceroy hosted lavish parties and entertained the royal princes and nawabs in style. Several momentous decisions were taken in this building. This was the venue of the Simla Conference in 1945. In 1947 , the decision to partition India and carve out the states of Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) , was also taken here.
After independence, the Lodge remained the summer retreat of the President of India. In the early 60s the President of India, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, a leading philosopher and writer, and the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to make it a scholars’ den where the best minds would find an ideal retreat. That’s when the Indian Institute of Advanced Study moved into the Lodge in 1965. Obviously enough, some of the interiors had to be changed to accommodate the needs of the Institute. The state drawing room, ballroom, and dining room, for example, have been converted into a library; the Viceroy’s office is now the IIAS Director’s office; and the conference hall is now a seminar room for research scholars. Without the large contingent of Viceregal attendants and the resources, the ambiance of this large estate is very different from what it used to be in the days of the Raj. The institute seems like the perfect setting for lively intellectual debates and discussions. The list of Fellows of the Institute includes names the Burmese Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Sun Kyi, who was a fellow here in 1986. Source– HP, Shimla Government