Post Covid: Centenarian Simla Ice skating Rink opens for skating this season

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Mohan Lal Verma

Shimla, Dec 17

The hundred year old Shimla Ice Skating Rink was opened on Thursday for skating this season, after being partly effected by COVID last year. A life member of Shimla Ice skating club, Vishal Sarin said that even though the giant balloon hoisted on Shimla Municipal Corporation historic Town hall building, signifying a skating session, has gone missing now but the season took off on December 16. Thanks to early winter and plummeting of Mercury below five degrees in the town, blading season seems to be well in time enthralling skaters, tourists, photographers and sports lover, he added.

Starting from 0800 hour currently only the morning session of skating shall be possible. However, in a few days skaters can edge their blades even in the evenings from 1745 hours onwards.

The Ice skating Rink christened as ” Simla Ice skating Club ” was established in 1920 by Mr. Blessington, an British, as one morning he found water tap and even the trickles of water frozen in the vicinity of his tennis courts, flooded the courts with water which to his utter joy got frozen. “This is the tale how the tennis courts were converted into ice skating rink during the winters of 1920. ” Sarin informed.

Simla Ice Skating Club was the first to be established in India and the only of its kind in whole of South East Asia. Even till this day the club has retained an envious position on the sports map of South East Asia. During the British era the Club only permitted Europeans to be its members, later however with certain reservations, a few selected Indians were also included as members.  After the dawn of independence it was rendered open to all sports loving persons, irrespective of caste, color and creed. The site of the rink is most ideally situated adjacent to the Circular road, just below the Scandal Point and conveniently approachable from all parts of the town.

With the advent of winter, Simla Ice Skating Club resumes its activities with renewed vigour.  After giving retouch to the surface of Blessington Courts water is poured to create this ice rink. It is deemed quite relevant to dispel a common misunderstanding that artificial and mechanical devices are adopted to freeze water into ice.  The fact is that location of the rink at a place where sun rays find it impossible to penetrate helps in freezing the water naturally.

The art and dexterity lies in flooding the ground with water during certain hours of night and day and the performance of this skill has been the monopoly of the Garhwali high-Landers, who have been seasonally migrating to this place for seeking out their livelihood since generations, by converting the Blessington tennis Courts into Ice Skating Rink. As the minimum temperature plummet to five degrees in the town, the appropriate season for skating arrives.

“During old days, the Chilly winter frost cover turned Shimla into an almost silent city,” he added. The atmosphere used to be impregnated with the fresh scent of burning charcoal, and fire place chimneys oozing smoke made the air little polluted. In those days, the town would have worn a deserted impression but the very existence of Ice Skating Rink bestowed an extra special position unequalled by any other place in India, he fondly remembered.

The club has special arrangements of skating equipment for casual skaters and tourists on nominal rates. Organizing Secratery Manpreet Singh said that the ice skating rink completed 100 years in 2020. He said that last two years was a period when the numbers of skaters reduced as every year about average more than three hundred children are registered and many types of competitions are also organized.

He said that , there was a lot of enthusiasm among the children about skating on the very first day.

He informed that here people indulge in various types of fun and frolics according to their aptitude and skill.  Couple skating, figure skating, free skating and dancing on ice keep the onlookers spell bound.  All this is accompanied by rhythmical music harmonizing with step movement. Except the Hockey game, races and jumps, for all other items on ice, music is a necessary concomitant.

Meanwhile Sarin added that this sport center was once really popular among film stars that they never missed a chance to include a visit to the rink during their itinerary to Shimla in winters. A brief shot of the rink for the movie is never ignored. One Dr. Vignes, the Australian Ice Skating Champion, used to come all the way from Bangalore for ice skating only, even when he was in his eighties till he was taken away by the cruel hands of death in 1964. This Club was once, associated with the Portland Ice Skating Club of the United States of America.

During the last week of December every year, normally synchronizing with Christmas in the favorable weather circumstances, the Club arranges a Fancy Dress Carnival which is witnessed by more than a 1000 strong crowd in shivering winter every year, informed Manpreet. The other important event of the Club is the Annual Gymkhana conducting the ice-skating championships.

“The club has an ambitious plan to develop its premises into a sports stadium which is a long standing need of all sports loving people of the town.” Sarin said that it is interesting to know that State Government is keen to see our dreams come true and with the blessings and benevolence of the patrons of the club, all wish to achieve this target and accomplish the project before it is too late.

The legacy of naturally frozen ice rinks is at few places on the globe and Shimla rink is among the oldest one. Currently natural Ice Skating rinks at Gulmarg in Jammu & Kashmir and Kaza in Lahaul-Spiti district also witnessing similar seasonal session, he added.

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