Shimla: It`s that time of the year again in Shimla when a red balloon is tethered to the roof of the British-era municipal corporation building. It signals the opening of Shimla`s ice-skating rink, Asia`s oldest.
The temperature dipped Wednesday night to 4.6 degrees Celsius, following which a thick sheet of naturally-formed ice surfaced in the rink in the morning.
Over 200 skaters, mainly youngsters, enjoyed their run at the rink Thursday morning. Skaters Rubina Sethi and Nidhi Kashyap said: "We are quite excited about the onset of the skating season, though much delayed. We will definitely enjoy our winter school break."
The rink held 86 sessions during 2010-11 when winter was quite chilly compared to the previous five or six years. In 2009-2010, it hosted 77 skating sessions. But a year earlier, only 27 sessions could be held, the lowest in the rink`s history.
The idea of a natural skating rink was developed by an Irish military official named Blessington who lived in Shimla. He had inadvertently kept a bucket of water outside his residence and in the morning found it had frozen. That gave him the idea of a skating rink and he created a small one of his own in 1920.
So that everybody living across the undulating landscape of the town could be told -- in an era without telephones and public address systems -- that the rink was ready and open to skaters, the practice of tethering a red balloon to the roof of the municipality was adopted. It survives till date.
"The skating club holds two sessions a day - in the morning and the evening. The morning session is from 8 am to 11 am while the one in the evening is from 5.30 pm to 8 pm," Bhuvnesh Banga, secretary of the Simla Ice Skating Club, told a news agnecy.