Like smoke, Shimla’s chimneys fade from skyline (Letter from Shimla)

February 16th, 2011 - 11:01 am ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, Feb 16 (IANS) They once reminded homesick sahibs of their beloved England. But the European style masonry chimney, a legacy of the British colonial era, is fast disappearing from Shimla’s skyline.Residents are opting for modern house designs and consider traditional chimneys and fireplaces a waste of space and money. Besides, they say, the weather too is much warmer, obviating the need for these.

Builder P.K. Sood said grand fireplaces were once built in both small and large buildings. “People are now saying chimneys and fireplaces are just a wastage of space. In the newly built houses, there is no provision for them. Moreover, the climate has changed much and these are no more required,” he said.

Shimla, fondly called the “Queen of Hills” by the British, has 91 British-era heritage buildings, most of them with traditional chimneys.

Planners say changing climatic conditions and use of modern high-efficiency heating appliances have played their part in the disappearance of the European-style masonry chimneys.

Early last century, when the town was the summer capital of British India, houses were adorned with sloping roofs, gables and chimneys - an effort by the homesick sahibs to recreate the ambience of their beloved England.

“Our previous house had a provision of a grand fireplace in the dining hall. When we reconstructed the house in early 1990s, we decided not to have a fireplace. Our forefathers used to heat up the house with wood. Now, we have modern electric gadgets. Moreover, wood is not easily available after the high court ban on tree felling in the state,” local resident Mohit Sood said.

There are many who get nostalgic about the old chimneys and fireplaces.

“Without feet on the fender, love is but slender,” smiles Vivek Mohan, a Mumbai-based stage artist who spent his childhood tramping through the snow-laden streets of Shimla, quoting from an English play “The Maker of Dreams”.

Environmentalists said deforestation and rise in vehicular pollution have robbed Shimla of its winter.

Sanjay Verma, project officer with the state department of environment, science and technology, said: “The average temperature of the town has been rising. For the past few years, we can easily say more than a decade ago, we hardly experienced heavy snow. Moreover, there is a big gap between one spell of snow and another.”

Old-timers recalled the harsh winter Shimla experienced till the late 1980s.

“Earlier, the residents used to migrate to the plains during winters as temperatures remained below freezing point for weeks together,” said octogenarian Jaidev Thakur, who is settled in this town since 1960.

According to the meteorological office here, besides two mild spells of snow Dec 31, 2010, and Jan 14, there was no snow at all in Shimla this winter.

The harsh winter is fading and with it the fireplaces and chimneys.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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