2017 happened to be worst year for ice skating in Shimla. A total of 8 sessions were witnessed in this year thus putting down morale of skating enthusiast, who ponder is the rink going to have future here in Shimla. The delayed session started on December 27, 2016 and ended abruptly on January 2, 2017. Even 2017-18 seasons started on a low note. In December 2017 only 6 sessions were possible. Prior to this the lowest number of skating sessions was 12 in 1972.
Even till early years of the new century skating in the Shimla rink would start in the first week of December and last till about end of January to early week of February. However past 10 years the trend being witnessed has been threatening. Due to multiple reasons Ice skating in the only natural skating rink of Asia has been reducing, except for one or two exceptions. That was 2015-16 season when around 100 skating sessions happened.
Experts state that reasons for the reduction in freezing of ice is happening due poor upkeep of ground, unplanned construction activity around the area, missing tree line around the ground and increasing temperatures. They say going by this trend another decade skating from this historic mark of Shimla would simply perish.
The rink which established in 1920 is a huge attraction for tourists and locals alike in winters. Umesh a regular skater said that if something not done soon, then this threat could become a reality someday. Quoting the situation for this season he said that after a month of winter, the complete ground has not frozen yet. “We are in the first week on January and still don’t have a compete ground to skate on,” he rued. He fondly remembered the days when by this period the ground was completely frozen and sides were covered with piles of snow extract left after skating. “Tourists would think of it as real snow and play in it,” he added. Some children grieved that even the yearly carnival does not happen anymore.
Due to reduced and untimely skating period the yearly carnival scheduled every year any day between 25th December and 31st December, hasn’t taken place since 2 years. In fact the pioneer skating rink of the country has not even hosted a single national or international ice skating tournament after 2015-16 due to uncertainty.
Some skaters complained that the rink never evolved with the changing face of time, thus landing into such position now. They said that since the management of the rink is members controlled funding for expensive projects always is a hard task. Adding that, a club management might not also have the expertise to push their case in the stringent government circles. “But since the rink is a heritage of the state also, it is the duty of the government to extend all possible support,” they demanded. Since it is visible that temperatures and ecology are fast changing, modern means should be applied soon to keep the skating heritage alive for days to come, they summoned.
Sources inform that around Rs. 8 crore is to be spent for developing Ice skating Rink at Shimla as well as other infrastructure like cafeteria, public toilets, changing room, waiting hall, and parking. Though, not the entire skating rink but only a part would have the underground chilling pipes, enabling prolonged skating as part of this project. The Union Tourism and Civil Aviation Ministry has agreed to fund this project, they informed. They said that the funding for the ice skating is part of the Rs 100-crore approved by Union Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation under its Savdesh Darshan project for Himachal.
When contacted officials from department of tourism and civil aviation Himachal Pradesh informed that a 8 crore grant has been budgeted for the development of Ice skating rink, but the funds haven’t been allocated yet by the union government. They said that in the first phase of the ‘Savdesh Darshan’ project only 6 out of the 14 projects approved have been allocated budget. “And Ice skating rink is not a part of them. Once they are complete and a utilization certificate is sent to the union ministry, the other 8 shall be taken up,” they informed.
However, that this will change the status of this rink from a completely natural to a semi-artificial rink even yet it will be operational for a longer duration of time in a year, hoped skaters. But only to ponder that what if like many other projects this one also goes behind in the priority list of the decision makers, then skating might perish from Shimla forever.