Mountain Walking

Exploring Shimla: Prospect Hill

It finds mention in some or all tourist guide books on Shimla, and your local guide or cab driver might inform you about it, but it requires conscious effort to actually get around to knowing Prospect Hill. The top of this hill houses the Kamna Devi Temple, but devout or not, Prospect Hill has much more to offer than what one might think about it at first. On a clear day (or night), Prospect Hill offers one of the best views of Shimla and the surrounding hills. Although a few local sight-seeing packages offer a car ride to the top, it is highly recommended to take the walk from the bottom to the top of this hill.

The start of this walk is from Boileauganj locality. One can reach Boileauganj on foot following the Mall Road – Scandal Point – Telegraph Office – Gorton Castle – Kennedy House – Chaura Maidan – Viceregal Lodge – Boileauganj Chowk walking route. From the main Boileauganj Chowk, a rough cement path to Prospect Hill goes up an increasingly steep incline, while a tarred highway goes down towards Totu and Jutogh.

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Boileauganj Chowk seen from the road to Kamna Devi Temple; Photo: Mayur Heganekar

The first phase of this walk is a gradual gradient starting from Boileauganj Chowk. After the gradient levels out for a little distance, the first of the steep sections of this climb starts. The road is now laid-up with stones and hand support railings to assist in tackling the gradient. In the days when I was growing up in this area, this steep section used to be mud and stones, and loose tarmac later on, making it really tough for the few vehicles that would venture out in this direction. I clearly remember numerous vehicles stuck here and the tourists getting down to push the vehicles up the slope.

The gradient of the road reduces as one reaches the boundary fencings of 2 buildings from the British era. These are the residences of the employees of Indian Institute of Advanced Study housed in the Viceregal Lodge and this is where I spent so many wonderful years, playing mountain cricket, going down the hillside to fetch a ball that had been hoisted for a six, going Rhododendron picking in spring, and randomly roaming around the oak forests as young explorers.

This low gradient patch ends with a left hand turn and as the road flattens out, a huge rock is visible on the right side. Till the mid-90s, this rock used to indicate the end of houses and start of the pure forest patch. Although the old path up to this rock is now buried under bushes and shrubs, a little detour with cautious footing to the top provides some really amazing and unique views of Shimla.

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This rare view of the Viceregal Lodge can only be enjoyed after getting up on the huge rock; Photo: Mayur Heganekar

After the huge rock, the flat road starts to slope up again and reaches a pair of hair-pin bends. At this juncture, the staff quarters of the Himachal Pradesh Government departments can be seen and this also is the start of the second steep section of the climb. This second steep section of the climb can tend to tire one out but fortunately, one gets the option of taking a break either in an open air seat or a covered rain shelter at the end of the section.

As one reaches the end of the second steep section of the climb, one gets refreshed as the views towards the sides open up. The entire Shimla Hills range (from The Peterhoff at one end to Taradevi on the other) can be easily seen. The last stage of the climb is pretty steep and it twists and turns, testing the endurance of even the fittest. (In fact, as youngsters growing up in Shimla, we always sent fitness-conscious city visitors up this hill). As you slowly go up this stretch, take a breather every few steps and turn around to see serene views of Shimla.

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The spread of Shimla City can be seen from Prospect Hill; Photo: Mayur Heganekar

A few turns more and the sight of the gates of the Kamna Devi temple is a welcome relief. After paying obeisance at the Kamna Devi temple, one should go around to a small ground at the back of the temple. In earlier days, this ground used to be a delight as one would get 360° views of all the hills and valleys around. Unfortunately, development initiatives have caught up with this erstwhile quiet hill top and one is welcomed by huge cellphone towers with massive yellow “Radiation Hazard” signs. One can “hazard” a quick 5-10 minute stay at this ground to try and get views of Taradevi, Jubbarhatti Airstrip, and even the TV tower at Kasauli.

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View of the Kamna Devi temple from the ground at the back seems to be the only “good” view left now; Photo: Mayur Heganekar

The hill top conquered, the equally difficult part (as in all climbing endeavours) is getting back down. The steep twisty slope immediately after the temple premises needs very careful treading as otherwise, a slip and fall will spoil the excursion, one’s clothes, the mood, and almost everything else on the agenda. The views of Shimla can be enjoyed once more before reaching the rain shelter. There on, the second steep section starts and this requires a really slow descent as a wrong step here will take you right at the doorstep of one of the Himachal Government staff quarters.

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Looking down on the second steep section from near the rain shelter on the way back; Photo: Mayur Heganekar

At the end of the second steep section and across the first hair-pin bend, yet another welcome sight is a small bench on the road going away from the second hair-pin bend. This place is ideal to enjoy the sights of nature and give one’s legs a well-needed break. Back on the road, crossing the huge rock, a few turns and the final steep section of the climb is ready to be tackled on the way down. Finally, after enduring the steep gradients, one reaches the end of the walk and hopefully looks forward to visit Prospect Hill again at different times of the day and in different seasons.

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A great place to relax after the scary climb down the two steep sections of the Prospect Hill climb; Photo: Mayur Heganekar

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