Himachal Pradesh is set to join hands with the United Kingdom to preserve British-era structures and boost high-end tourism in the state.
Deputy British high commissioner David Elliot will arrive in the state capital on September 1 and hold consultations with chief minister Virbhadra Singh and chief secretary P Mitra to discuss areas of mutual interest.
“There are many areas where Britain and Himachal can cooperate with each other,” a high-ranking government official told Hindustan Times. Britain has in the past shown interest in preserving British-era buildings in the hill state, particularly in the state capital, which served as the summer capital of the British Raj from 1864 to 1947.
“We have many heritage buildings in Shimla and other areas of the state. Britain has expertise in preserving them that the state government can make use of,” said an official, requesting anonymity.
Among the most important colonial era buildings in Shimla is the Viceregal Lodge.
Designed by British architect Henry Irwin, it was built in the Jacobethan style during the regime of Lord Dufferin. Its construction started in 1880 and completed in 1888. Subsequently, Lord Dufferin occupied the Lodge on July 23, 1888.
It was in this building that many significant decisions about India were taken; decisions that later laid the foundation of the country’s independence. It was here that Mahatma Gandhi met Viceroy Lord Reading in 1922 and later Lord Willingdon in 1931.
In 1945, the lodge was the venue for the Shimla Conference that proposed the Wavell Plan for Indian self-government.The building now houses the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies.
After Independence, Shimla became the capital of Punjab and was later named the capital of Himachal Pradesh. There are 95 heritage buildings in this hill town alone. Decline in number of tourists, particularly those from abroad, has been a rising concern for the government, as tourism accounts for 7.5% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The economic survey has shown decline in foreign tourist influx. In 2014, 3.90 lakh foreign tourists arrived in Himachal, while 4.14 lakh arrived in 2013 and 5 lakh in 2012. However, the total number of tourists has been gradually increasing.
In 2012, 161.30 lakh tourists were recorded in the state, while 2014 saw 163.15 lakh tourist arrivals.
“Himachal Pradesh was once popular with tourists from Britain. We will again seek the UK government’s cooperation to increase the tourist influx,” the official added.