Monday, July 05, 2010

Birth of a hill station - Chail


Almost every hill station in India - be it Shimla  or Darjeeling tell the same story. Lush and plentiful in summer with snow kissed conifers carpeted on their slopes in winters, these towns have been plucked   out of nature by the British. The quaint names, a sleepy railway station, an ancient church , a club and the palatial bungalows are all reminiscent of the old world charm. 

 If you take a leisurely walk down the malls and markets of these towns, they still smack of the colonial legacy. These hill stations were dubbed the summer capitals of the Britishers who lorded over them for several  years. And yet, one little hill station stands apart from the rest, defying the colonial hangover . It owes its existence on the political and tourist maps to an Indian ruler who made it his summer capital. This is the story of Chail , a town barely 45 kms from Shimla in Himachal Pradesh .

Located at a higher altitude than Shimla, the story goes that the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala made Chail his summer capital when the British barred him from entering  Shimla. Although the conflict was not on military grounds, the story goes that the Maharaja was romancing a daughter of Lord Kitchener, who was then the Commander in Chief of the British army. 

The Maharaja decided to give the British a fitting reply and went on to create his own summer capital in Chail.  He first built a palace near Khandaghat  called Chail View Palace and then  built a road to Chail and finally his own summer retreat in this little town surrounded by deodar forests. Ironically Chail itself had been gifted to the Maharaja by the Britishers earlier .

The Maharaja was an avid cricketer and had captained many an Indian team besides playing several first class matches himself .  He left Chail a trophy – a cricket ground which has the highest ever pitch located at 2140 metres and it doubled up as a polo ground as well.

Like many Indian towns , Chail has its own share of myths and legends. We visited a temple dedicated to a saint, Sidh Baba built on a hillock by the king. The locals believe that the king had planned to build his palace here earlier , but the seer had visited him in his dream and asked him to choose another location.

Nevertheless, the Maharaja couldn’t have found a better place to create his summer capital. With the Himalayas in the background and the valley beneath,  the river flowing down and three dense hillocks covered with deodar forests, Chail looked every bit a royal capital. The lights of Shimla and Kasauli came up  as I stood there for awhile watching the sun went down. Chail had indeed come a long way from an idyllic hamlet to a royal seat and now a tourist resort .
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This was another of my Inside Stories, published in The Hindu - Metro Plus 




15 comments:

shooting star said...

have heard a lot about this destination, one of my colleagues in last office i was working in went there and highly recommended it!!!
lets see when im able to visit this place, nice images of the place

Nashville Hotels said...

How much should a taxi cost from Kasuli to Shimla , to Kufri & Chail , I am planning a 3-4 Days trip.?

Ant said...

Excellent post. I really liked the second photo with the blue hues. My favourite hill station was Coonor, and another one whose name escapes me. It was at the Keralan side of the Western Ghats. The most beautiful region of India that I've visited so far.

vishesh said...

read this in your column :)

Sanand said...

Great post, it was interesting to read about the Maharaja too.

मुनीश ( munish ) said...

The king was not only romancing but tried to abduct general's daughter from a point still famous or notorious as 'scandal point ' in Simla .
Political compulsions compelled The British not to take any harsher step than banning king's entry to Simla . It is then ,he decided to give a befitting reply to the empire--by building a higher summer retreat !!!
Didn't u c king's bedroom with mirror covered ceiling ? A place called Blossom in Chail has a big ;very big resort !Chail is also famous for its Military School . Visit school's web-site and share my nostalgia !

munish said...

See Himachal Beyond Simla With Me--

http://maykhaana.blogspot.com/2009/06/blog-post_14.html

Munish said...

The king was not only romancing but tried to abduct general's daughter from a point still famous or notorious as 'scandal point ' in Simla .
Political compulsions compelled The British not to take any harsher step than banning king's entry to Simla . It is then ,he decided to give a befitting reply to the empire--by building a higher summer retreat !!!
Didn't u c king's bedroom with mirror covered ceiling ? A place called Blossom in Chail has a big ;very big resort !Chail is also famous for its Military School . Visit school's web-site and share my nostalgia !

Aaarti said...

oh and the 2nd pic is WOW..so many shades of blue...almost like a crayon sketch...

Aaarti said...

:) was in Chail way back in 1995, on a college trip.. what fun we had!! :D

enjoyed reading this...

Anonymous said...

Now I am dying to know if the Maharajah proposed marriage to Kitchener's daughter.
The Himalayas are magic!

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Wendy said...

Mu husband went to boarding school here and has such fond memories. I hope to visit it when we take our next trip to India.

Nishi Jain said...

Lakshmi, that was indeed an interesting post. I must say you write really well. As the popular belief goes: part of the beauty of a place is in the writer's words describing it.

Although the love story behind the setting up of Chail has been established, there has been some doubt regarding the identity of the ruler. Some claim that it was actually Rajindra Singh, Bhupinder Singh's father, who was in love with an English lady. I am not sure which claim is more correct.

There's a book titled 'Scandal Point' by Manju Jaidka (published by Rupa Publications; I myself was working with them as a copy editor when the book was published) that I'd like to recommend to you, not for an alternate opinion but for a nice fictional treatment of the tale of events.

Girish Vaithilingan said...

travelwithgirish and my experience to visit Manali was the best