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Shimla’s iconic Town Hall gets world-class food court to woo tourists

Shimla’s historic Town Hall.

Shimla has got a new attraction for tourists with the British era city’s majestic Town Hall being converted into a world-class restaurant cum café.

The high-end food court is coming up in the space on the ground floor of the Town Hall which is a treasure store of Shimla’s pre-Independence era history and architecture.

Shimla Municipal Corporation has decided to hand-over the lower portion of the Town hall to a leading fast-food giant for the next 10 years. The municipal corporation expects to earn Rs 13 lakh every month from the cafe.

The new Café in the Town Hall will sell global brands of Pizza, Burger, Roasted/fried chickens and ice-cream.

Built in 1908, Town Hall in its enchanting glory had housed Shimla Municipal corporation office as well as chambers of Shimla’s Mayors, Deputy Mayor’s and commissioner on the upper storey towards the Ridge while lower floors house the office of assistant Commissioner , water supply, sanitation and health wings.

In 2014, the town hall was vacated in order to carry out its conservation and to restore its old glory with an investment of Rs 8.50 crore raised from the Asian Development Bank.

Former Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan has also lodged his protest over the Municipal Corporation move.

As history goes, the Town Hall building was designed by Henry Irwin, a noted architect of British India. Before the Town Hall got its present shape, the building earlier was built in 1860 next to historic Gaiety Theatre.

The old timers recall that the Town Hall had a library, a huge hall, a drawing room, card-room, ballroom, armoury, police station and a retiring-room. The stones used for constructing the building were “Barog Stones”. The smoke-emitting chimneys gave a perfect feel of the hills.

The Town Hall building is in the half-timbered Tudor style comprising all-wooden frames and shingled roofs. Its exteriors and interiors were refurbished by polishing and repairing the stone work.

The walls were built from stones, there was also use of finest timber while the roofs were made with grey slates in a slanting manner. This Tudor style building has several unique features. The engineers took care of natural lighting and fixed windows with wide glasses. It withstood Shimla’s freezing colds during the winters.

The building was also popular for film shooting. to use its backdrop and even accommodation.

Mohan Chauhan, a retired IAS officer says “there is a new concept world over to lease out old heritage buildings for commercial activities, generate funds and utilise this money for their upkeep and maintenance.

Chauhan, who was Director (Tourism) when the town hall underwent ADB funded conservation, had also served as Commissioner Municipal Corporation.

“The corporation is a fund starved entity. It certainly needs funds to render its civic functions. The corporation has decided to hand-over only a portion of the building for activities. It will generate funds to be ploughed back for its conservation and upkeep otherwise the building will suffer or crumble down eventually for lack of periodic maintenance”

The same view is being extended by other top officials of the Corporation.

However, the decision has also sparked a controversy in Shimla as several prominent citizens, literary figures and heritage enthusiasts have expressed grave concern over historical buildings slowly getting commercialised.

Says historian Sumit Raj Vashisht: “ The decision of the Shimla Municipal Corporation to lease out property to a business chain for its commercialisation is highly objectionable. Thousands of tourists coming to Shimla go around the town to enjoy colonial era landmarks and its history. What are we going to showcase –an eatery? Are we really preserving Shimla’s past, its glory and heritage,” he questions.

State’s PWD minister Vikramaditya Singh, Virbhadra Singh’s son, says he too had got a lot of calls from citizens conveying their anger against the decision and asking for his intervention. ” I will try to get the details and take-up the issue with Shimla Mayor Surinder Chauhan”.

Also read: Iconic President’s Retreat in Shimla hills being thrown open to public in booster shot for tourism