While in college, I had done a 7~8 hour group trek from Kasauli to Chail, as part of a youth leadership camp. Th e route was through the Dagshai hills. A few places I remember having passed were Lawrence School Sanawar, Kumarhatti and Solan. Th ough the trek was tiring, Chail’s quiet, verdant, mysterious aura had refreshed me. We had taken our break at Hotel Palace, that was previously a royal palace. Tall Deodar and Chir pines surrounded its hilltop lawns. I also vividly recall the huge Belgian mirrors with ornate, gilded frames adorning the palace corridors. Th e vision stayed deeply etched in my mind. And I was determined to revisit this idyllic place. Last October, a photo-tour took me there again. We hit the Himalayan Expressway at sunrise. Th e view of the hills and small boards announcing the names of the towns along the route made me nostalgic. And memories came fl ooding back.

From Kandaghat, the road is still primitive, but nature’s breathtaking beauty along the way makes even this journey worthwhile. Once we entered Chail, we made our way to Hotel Palace where we were to stay. As we entered the hotel and looked around, a thick veil of despondency descended on me. Th e place was in an advanced state of disrepair. Th at’s when I remembered that the property was handed over to Himachal Pradesh government way back in 1972, and surely they didn’t have the kind of funds a Maharaja could proff er for the upkeep of a palace. Th at bit of sadness aside, the palace still feels majestic and has an antique grand piano gracing its lobby. To get a feel of its grandeur, just try and recollect the scenes of the interiors of ‘Chanchad Bhawan’ from Bollywood’s ‘3 Idiots’ where Javed Jaff rey sits and mourns the death of Chanchad Sr. Yes, that’s right – that entire sequence was shot at this property. The Maharaja of Patiala, who was exiled from Shimla for having eloped with the then-Viceroy’s daughter, established Chail in 1892 as his summer retreat and capital. Even though common belief is that Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had established it, the records state that he was only 2 years old at that time. So, perhaps his father – Maharaja Rajindra Singh – was the one responsible for both, being exiled and establishing this town. The central attraction of this scenic town is its cricket ground. This is the highest cricket ground in the world and is at an altitude of 2444 metres, a good 200 metres higher than Chail. So, it is not surprising to see panting yet happy tourists around when you visit this venue since the walk up to the ground is quite steep.

The ground has now been given to Rastriya Military School and is used by them for the training of their student-cadets. Today, it is used for football, cricket, polo and other assorted sports. While there, we had thick layers of clouds swirling around us, making the sun play hide-and-seek, speedily crisscrossing past us many times over from various directions. Though we felt lost amongst the clouds at times, there were moments when we felt we were walking on them. Chail still feels like a one-horse town that offers more accommodation for tourists than its own residents, even though most of this accommodation is modest. Its market is a 500-metre stretch that caters to both the locals and tourists. The nature walks here are pleasing since the forest is thick and untouched. In fact, large parts of Chail have been notified as a sanctuary that is home to many minor fauna and exotic birds. Unlike the other better-frequented hill stations like a Shimla or a Nainital, this place offers limited activity. But this place is perfect for a quiet, long holiday away from the city buzz. It is a peaceful spot where you would enjoy reading a book, or better still, writing one…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *