This was once the most important building in India. By its sheer size alone the building looked imposing. But the rain and the clouds played spoil sport just as I reached there, so I ran into a cafe called, ‘Fire Station Cafe’. I had never heard of that cafe before nor was it mentioned in any directory I read about Shimla but I instantly liked it. It was small and cozy with books stashed up on one side, for sale. I got a table for myself and watched the rain pattering on the trees and concrete. The moment was just right for coffee. The rain conspired a perfect day for me at the cafe. To kill time one could browse through the book shop or gaze upon those framed photographs of many eminent personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr.Radhakrishnan and many others visiting the Viceroy’s Lodge, which was later converted to Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in 1964 under the Ministry of Education, Govt. of India.
Built on top of Observatory Hill, the clouds didn’t recede for another two hours. It was after a long wait that I got a glimpse of what the whole building actually looked like.
The building was like a small town in itself but it’s the story of the house that made me stand in awe of it. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru often frequented this place along with many freedom fighters of the country. Designed by Henry Irwin construction work started in 1884 and was completed in 1888. The first Viceroy to live here was Lord Dufferin. The building was equipped with advanced auto-firefighting systems. It was also one of the first buildings in India to get electricity.
After India’s Independence, the building was used as the summer retreat for the president of India. But due to its neglect Dr. S. Radhakrishnan decided to turn it into centre for advanced learning in 1964. A hall which was once used as a ball room has now turned into one of the best library in the country. Most rooms in the building are now closed to the public and used solely for academic purposes but the mesmerizing corridor made of woods brought from Myanmar is still open to public at a meager sum of Rs.20. Many historic meetings have taken place in the building including the Simla Conference in 1945 and the Indian-Pakistan partition signing in 1947. The ‘Partition Room’ (Room where India-Pakistan partition took place) is also open to public. Apart from some old photographs, the chairs and table used during that meeting are still kept in their original form. The tour inside the building ended with a visit to the gallery room where historically important photographs related to the building are displayed along with the famous Grandmother clock and an old piano.
The building overlooks a spacious lawn and huge greenery known as the Botanical garden. The garden is interspersed with giant deodars and oaks. On a cloudy day even the hydrangeas looked like clouds hovering low above the ground. The clouds disappeared and reappeared and after a certain point I got tired of that game. Poor visibility and the ‘grainy black and white’ like effect of the fog over the building took me back to time more often than I should have.