Shimla, Dec 26: Asia's oldest skating clay surface rink in this Himachal Pradesh hill town had a natural coating of thick ice for the first time on Friday in this season, thanks to the freezing winter.
The locals, mainly youngsters, lost no time in gliding on skates.
"This morning (Friday) we had first session of the season and it was successful too. The ice surfaced widely on the rink," Bhuvnesh Banga, secretary of the skating club set up in 1920, said.
The onset of skating session this time was much delayed, owing to lack of natural ice formation, he said.
"As the local Met office has predicted mainly clear skies in Shimla till Dec 31, we expect further fall in the night temperature," Banga added.
The club authorities sprinkle water on the clay ground of the open-air rink which freezes under natural conditions in the night. If the sky is cloudy, the minimum temperature normally rises, resulting in thawing of ice.
The congenial average minimum and maximum temperature for ice formation ranges from 4 to 5 degrees Celsius and 8 to 10 degrees Celsius, respectively.
The skating club 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. Last winter, the first session was held on Dec 4 and in total there were 33 sessions.
On the first of the session, there were 40-45 skaters, said club organisers.
"It's really a Christmas gift for all of us. For the past many days we were coming regularly to the rink. But this morning we were really delighted to see appearance of a thick sheet of ice. We enjoyed skating and hoping to get more skating sessions," skater Priyanka Sood said.
Her friend Riya Kaul said they would definitely enjoy their winter school break.
Banga, who is also president of the Ice Skating Association of India, said the skating rink has been expanded for the first time since its commissioning in 1920 at an expenditure of Rs.50 lakh.
"The size of the rink has been enlarged to 58X32 metres from the original length of 54X26 metres. It meets the international ice hockey standards now. The funds for its expansion were provided by the state government," he said.
Tourists can enjoy skating for a fee of Rs.200 for a session. The fee includes provision of skates by the club.
The idea of a natural skating rink was developed by an Irish military official named Blessington who lived in Shimla during the British Raj. He had inadvertently kept a bucket of water outside his residence and in the morning found it frozen. That gave him the idea of a skating rink and he created a small one of his own.
According to old-timers in this town, which was the summer capital of the British, in the early days of the club more than 150 sessions could be held in a season.
Now on an average the rink holds 50 to 60 sessions, depending upon less cloudy days, from December to February.
The club created a record of hosting 165 sessions in 1960-61. In the early 1980s, the sessions ranged between 110 and 120.
Environmentalists blame the declining number of skating sessions to rising air pollution, high intensity of human activity and deforestation in the vicinity of the rink, which is located close to the old bus stand.