At 90, Shimla’s skating rink set for nationals

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Shimla – Ninety years old and still going strong – Asia’s only natural ice skating rink is all set to host skaters from across the country for the national skating championship next week.

‘The Ice Skating Association of India has decided to host a three-day national championship in Shimla from Jan 3,’ Simla (as the name spelled by the British) Ice Skating Club secretary Bhuvnesh Banga.

More than 75 skaters from across the country are expected to participate in speed skating and figure skating events. ‘The events will be held in three categories – sub-junior, junior and senior,’ Banga said.

He said the meet was held last year in Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.

The skating rink was set up by Irish military official Blessington, who inadvertently kept a bucket of water outside his residence one day and found that it had frozen in the morning. This gave him the idea of a skating rink and he created a small one of his own.

Blessington also trained his Indian servants in the art of sprinkling water on clay ground that freezes under natural conditions. The rink was set up by Blessington in 1920.

‘The clear weather with extremely low temperatures this winter has provided ideal conditions for water to freeze naturally in the rink. As a result, 37 skating sessions have been held so far and two more months are still to go,’ Banga said.

An official at the Ice Skating Club said crystal-clear skies are ideal for natural formation of ice. ‘If the sky is cloudy, the night temperature rises and if it’s clear, the temperature dips. The high humidity level enables the water to freeze quickly,’ he said.

The club has created a record of hosting 165 sessions in 1960-61. However, in the early 1980s the sessions ranged from 110 to 120.

In 2008-09, only 27 sessions were held – the lowest in the club’s history.

Forty-six sessions were held in 2007-08 and 77 in 2009-2010.

Meenakshi Bhanot, a young skater based here, said: ‘We are praying to the weather god that the sky remains clear during the championship and a thick layer of ice surface is formed every morning.’

The skating club routinely holds two sessions a day – 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. to 8 p.m. – depending on the ice formation.

Even tourists can enjoy skating by paying Rs.100 for a session. The fee includes provision of skates by the club.

The Ice Skating Club is affiliated to the Ice Skating Association of India and the Winter Games Federation of India. The first national ice-skating championship was organised here by the Indian Olympic Association in 2000.

Old-timers recall how the skating rink was a centre of attraction for tourists and skaters alike.

M.R. Kaundal, an octogenarian who has lived in Shimla since 1950, said the skating rink was one of the landmarks of the town.

‘Earlier people used to come from across the globe to enjoy winter skating. Of late, the town has been witnessing erratic snow and abnormally high temperature. These are slowly taking a toll on the skating rink,’ he said.

Octogenarian ice-skating champion Madan Lal Sharma, residing in the town for more than 75 years, said: ‘This year’s winter is quite harsh. We hope to enjoy good skating sessions after a long gap.’
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This post was submitted by Mudit Agrawal.

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