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India - Himachal Pradesh - Shimla - The Viceregal Lodge Attractions

The Viceregal Lodge Attractions

Its Location

A pleasant 2km walk further west of the Himachal State Museum will lead you to the most imposing edifice of Shimla – the Viceregal Lodge. Located on the Observatory Hill at the western end of the Shimla ridge, the Viceregal Lodge is a majestic, sprawling, grey-tinted structure ringed by tall pines. It was built in 1888 as the residence of Viceroy Lord Dufferin. Now called Rashtrapati Niwas, the Lodge houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS). It is quite befittingly the only building in Shimla that occupies a hill by itself.

¤ The Magnificent Insight of The Lodge
Viceregal Lodge
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 panelling 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. Try to catch a colourful sunset from a terrace.

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 (governors in the Mughal Empire) in style.

¤ Transformed Into Indian Institute of Advanced Study

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 ambience 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 prizewinner Aung San Sun Kyi, who was a fellow here in 1986.

¤ Visiting Hours

0900-1300, 1400-2030

¤ Observatory House

Not far from the Viceregal Lodge is the Observatory House, once the home of the eccentric Colonel Boileau who, besides being the architect of Christ Church, was a keen astronomer.
He built his observatory here in 1944 and gave his name to the neighbouring locality of Boileauganj (pronounced ‘Baluganj’ by the locals).

¤ Tailpiece – Homes of the High and Mighty

All the Governor-Generals of colonial India stayed in Shimla at least once during their tenure. and most of them chose different homes from their predecessors. You can be sure that these were no ordinary summer cottages – and why should they have been? After all the Company was happily sponging off the resources of India and there was no such thing as public accountability.

¤ Residences of Lord Governor - Generals

Anyway, the chronology of residences built for different Governor-Generals is rather interesting. Lord Amherst came first and stayed at Kennedy House. Lord Bentinck was so particular about staying only in his own home in Shimla that while Bentinck Castle was being built, he spent a summer way down in Ootacamund in south India! Lord Auckland, who replaced Bentinck, chose yet another property. The two Governor-Generals who followed Auckland, Lords Ellenborough and Hardinge, were, however, satisfied with Auckland House.

The next occupants were Lord and Lady Dalhousie. Although the lady was ‘charmed with the house, and everything about it’, the Dalhousies were not satisfied with only one property. At various times they sojourned to Strawberry Hill, Kennedy House and a cottage at Mahasu (and perhaps Wildflower Hall too). Lord Canning who came next stayed at Barnes Court, and Lord Elgin, who came after him, stayed at Peterhoff. Many of these splendid residences have survived till today.

After the Uprising in 1857, the Governor-General was declared the Crown’s Viceroy. Peterhoff remained the official residence till 1888 when the Viceregal Lodge was built for Lord Dufferin who wanted a house that equalled his stature. (Incredibly enough, every brick of the six-story building was carried here by mules – there was no train connection at that time!) About 13 Viceroys enjoyed the comforts and splendour of the Lodge till the British packed up and went home in 1947.

¤ Critics About The Lodge

Despite all its magnificence the Lodge was abundantly criticized by its occupants. Lady Curzon found its appearance a trifle ludicrous, calling it a building in which a ‘Minneapolis millionaire would delight’. Lord Montague thought it resembled ‘a Scottish hydro’ while someone else compared it to ‘Pentonville Prison’!

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