Fondly remembered as the Western Command, a series of green-roofed buildings run parallel to the Mall, beginning from the DC office up to the Kali Bari Temple complex, built by the Britishers around 1860s, this huge multifarious institute is reminisce of the glory and regality of what the Indian Army was and what it is today. Constructed with passionate eye to detail, this expansive colonial architectural magnum opus has four main buildings. Unique in its design due to its ironwork frame construction it is considered to be earthquake proof.
This humongous property originally belonged to F Dalton, the Post Master of Shimla, who was killed in 1857 in Delhi after which the government acquired the property and commenced construction in August 1881 and the main building was constructed between September 1882 and March 1885 and now the HQ ARTRAC complex serves as a major landmark of Shimla.
The ARTRAC or the Army Training Command came into being on October 1, 1991 at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh and finally it was shifted to be headquartered at Shimla on March 31, 1993. Prior to this, this place was the summer headquarters of the British Indian Army, and after ‘93 the Western Command was moved to Chandimandir near Chandigarh.
Apart from the headquarters, other prominent heritage properties being housed and pristinely maintained by the army officers are the Officers Mess or the ‘Will Hall’ built in 1862 by General Butler, which was later modified, enlarged and rechristened as ‘Knockdrin’ in 1868 by Captain Levinge. In 1906, Knockdrin became the residence of the Foreign Secretary of Government of India. After housing some prominent personalities both British and Indian, it was finally converted into the Officers Mess on June 25, 1985.
The ‘Retreat’ at Chaura Maidan, built in 1905, is another awe inspiring architectural marvel left by the Britishers. Retreat played the perfect host to the Viceroy’s executive council and during the Indian freedom movement some well know personalities that lived here included the likes of Nehru, Azad, Vallabh Pant and so on. The colonial influence of the Britisher’s and the architectural style can be seen easily in the design and creativity of the buildings that now serves as the Command House of the GOC-in-C, ARTRAC.
Presently the official residence of the chief of staff, HQ ARTRAC, Alderton was once occupied by J Elston, the director of Alliance Bank of Shimla. Municipal records date the property to 1894 and the official building was sanctioned in 1894. It was in 1920 that the government acquired the residence for its officers. Alderton was a part of Annandale View Estate and still stands tall in its immaculate glory and colonial beauty.
Enjoying a similar status as that of South Block in New Delhi, Chislehurst originally known as ‘Oakleigh’ served as the foreign office during the governor generalship of Lord Auckland. In 1895, with the shifting of the foreign office, the building became a residential unit owned by FG Kenner. In 1897, Felix Von Goldstein, a German settled in England, purchased the building. Though without any professional degree, he was an ace architect and designed quite a few buildings in Shimla. He, along with his wife, brought in considerable improvement to the building, and through several modifications, into a charming cottage as it stands today, with timber-framed farmhouse styling which displayed the very best of unique English architecture. The first reference of ‘Oakliegh’ being named as “Chislehurst” appears in the drawings submitted by Goldstein in 1911. This magnificent building got transferred to Shimla Imperial Circle in 1923 and the Accountant General of Punjab was its tenant then. Today, it serves as the official residence of the Station Commander, Shimla Military Station.
Priory, a sprawling villa was constructed by Captain Sunderland, RA, near “Snowdon”. In 1858, this villa was furnished and rented to Dr WH Russell of the Times. Dr Russel gave it the much needed facelift, who is also remembered for his fondness for natural history and he made various allusions in his diary on Shimla. After housing prestigious names such as Prince Alexis Soltokoff and Sir Henry Smith, the villa is the official residence of senior officials of the Indian Army.
The architectural beauty and the strategic location of ARTRAC are equally awesome as are its diverse, variegated and rigorous operational responsibilities. Conceptualized as the ‘think tank’ for the Indian Army, the Centre has evolved such training strategies which are suitable to the changing environment and became responsive to their every need bringing all incumbents under one roof. With an encompassing vision of providing direction and operational doctrine, ARTRAC set foot on Shimla soils to prepare the Indian Army to win and with that cover all the spectrums of training and the Indian military.
ARTRAC has been instrumental in not only providing innovative training programmes but also challenging the intelligence and imagination of those very soldiers. Similarly they need to be credited for the upkeep and maintenance of the immaculately kept heritage properties that have made Shimla so famous.