The remote sentinels of India, its majestic mountains and verdant hills, have played a pivotal role in the history of the country. The frontline defence on the northern border, these were once a safe haven for people running away from the persecution of kings with their seats in major capitals, and later were summer retreats for the British, who sought to find cooler climes. So mighty and vast are these landscapes, that it has not been possible to explore and map all of them. As we take a journey through the beautiful hill stations of India, let us give you a peek into their history and rich culture.

Perched against the snowy peaks of the Himalayas, the misty hill station of Shimla is suspended in time. Its colonial-style buildings and British-era lodges exude an old-world charm, which is perfectly preserved in this snow globe of a hill station. Shimla was the summer capital of India in the year 1864, and thus played host to many Europeans who later built lavish bungalows in the city. At that time, the only way to travel to Shimla was on a precarious bullock cart that traversed through the tough terrain. To make travel easy and quicker, the British introduced the famous toy train of Shimla, which was called 'British Jewel of the Orient', in 1903. The maiden journey of the train that wound through mesmerizing sights and quaint hamlets was taken by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Shimla's heartbeat - the Ridge and the Mall Road - are age-old markets that were as vibrant during colonial times as they are now. The landmark Christ Church and the Gothic Gaiety Theatre are some other historical places worth a visit.

An immaculate green expanse encompassed by the mist-covered Himalayas and a dense cover of oak, deodar, pine and conifers, McLeodganj is a secluded natural retreat, near Dharamsala. Today, this pristine town is known worldwide as the home of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. It was in 1960, when the Dalai Lama arrived here and established his base, that the town became a melting point of Buddhist culture. Its rich Buddhist heritage invites travellers from all over the world today. A number of monasteries, traditional markets displaying cultural handicrafts and authentic cuisines, etc., make McLeodganj a unique stopover. Also known as Little Lhasa (the traditional capital of Tibet), McLeodganj lets one have the opportunity to explore Buddhism amidst serene surroundings. Stupa of Geshe Rabten, Dalai Lama's temple-where Gyatso used to meditate, and Tibet Museum holding the remains of the Buddhist history in India allures several history enthusiasts every year. 

Colloquially called the ‘Queen of Hill Stations’, Mussoorie is a tranquil hamlet nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas. It was established by the British in 1823 and traces of colonial architecture can be found almost everywhere - from churches, lamp posts and summer palaces to libraries and hotels. During the colonial period, Mussoorie was a charming summer retreat, which became a centre of brewing fine alcohol. The famous McKinnon’s brewery that exported fine wine to England in the 1880’s was set up here.

As the British period ended, many Englishmen chose to make their home in Mussoorie. Amongst them, the most popular are Sir George Everest, who helped measure the height of Mt Everest, the world’s highest peak. Author Ruskin Bond still lives there and can often be spotted strolling around. Many of his works have been inspired by this hill station.


Irreverent, charming, and pleasantly boisterous, the city of Gangtok is perched along a steep mountain ridge, descending the hillside in steep tiers. This urban site, set against the majestic Mt Kanchenjunga (Khangchendzonga) is present-day Gangtok, which earned its place on the map when Enchey Monastery was constructed here in 1840, making it a centre of Buddhist teachings. A glimpse of Tibetan history can be seen from the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (Tibetan Museum) showcasing everything from coins to old photographs, from Buddhist scriptures to religious art. 

Unexplored, well-preserved, breathtaking landscapes, and a tranquil valley covered with blue pine trees, aptly symbolise Lansdowne. It is a rustic town showcasing a blend of Garhwali and British architecture and history.  Situated at an altitude of 1706 m above sea-level, Lansdowne is idyllic for a perfect summer getaway. Earlier, it was called ‘Kaludanda’, meaning ‘Black Hill’. Later, it was minted after Lord Lansdowne, when the British started developing it in 1883. Garhwali Museum, St Mary's Church, Army Museum, and Old Palace of King of Patiala are some of the popular heritage sites here.

Enveloped in the green blanket of Nilgiris, Ooty is a little town often covered with mist, clouds, and eucalyptus fragrance. Its traditional and colonial-style buildings are a peeping hole in the rich history of this town. It marked its presence back in 1817 when the collector of Coimbatore, John Sullivan, discovered it. Eventually, it became a popular summer retreat of the British and the capital of Madras Residency in British India. Thanks to its rich colonial heritage, today Ooty has many architectural wonders, the most important being Raj Bhavan or the Government House. It was the erstwhile residence of the governor of Madras and draws tourists from around the area.