Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Destinations :: Himachal Pradesh (2) :: Chail

by Proloy Bagchi (writer), Idgah Hills, Bhopal, December 07, 2016

It is a travel write-up on a hill station, Chail, in the Lower Himalayas

After a few very pleasant days at Kasauli we moved out for Chail. The idea was to catch a bus from Dharampur, a small town at the foot of the Kasauli Hills. A look at the bus that arrived made me think of other alternatives. Luckily, a taxi was passing by. I hailed it and the man agreed to go and drop us at Chail. He, however, asked for a sum that I found astronomical for a distance of about 50-odd kilometers. I had not budgeted for such an amount. Yet I thought might as well take the plunge, as it were, and we piled into it with our baggage. In those days there were no backpacks and strolleys. We had to travel not light but heavy with regular suit cases.

From Solan (or was it Kanda Ghat?) the climb, though short, was very steep. Kasauli and Chail were almost at similar elevation but Chail was higher. The climb was difficult and the Ambassador taxi started groaning as it struggled to go up. I was sure the vehicle was not in the best of conditions. Taxi owners seldom spend money for proper upkeep. Thankfully we were dropped at the Forest Rest House where we had reservation. It was a lovely place and we were among the pines on top of what was perhaps a fairly big forest training institute. The room had lots of windows and would let in sun and breeze through the conifers. It was summer but not hot at all, and one did not need woolens either.

Chail came into prominence after the Maharaja of Patiala was banned from Simla because of an incident that took place at what is known as Scandal Point of Simla, the British era summer capital. As the story goes, Maharaja Bhupender Singh of Patiala eloped with the daughter of the Viceroy in 1892 because of which he was banished from Simla by the British. Peeved by British action he built up Chail, close to Simla but falling within his kingdom, as an alternative and also had the highest cricket ground in the world laid there. We had managed to walk up to it – all of the 6 kms. of the climb. One gets a fascinating view of the surrounding mountains from there. I am not sure whether cricket is played there these days.

The Maharaja built up a Palace of immense proportions set in approximately 75 acres. Its ambiance is royal in every respect and presents spectacular views. We would have quiet walks in it extensive and beautifully laid out grounds. Today the palace has been converted into a hotel for common folk to explore and experience the way of life of the maharajas of the bygone days.

One must mention the Himachali “aalu ka paratha” that used to be available near the bus stand. It is the famous pancake of Himachal with stuffing of potatoes. We used to go a kilometer or so every day to experience it with the Himachali pickles and curd. That’s where we could update ourselves on all that was happening in the world as that’s where fresh newspapers would be available. Sitting on the parapet on the roadside that was mostly devoid of traffic we used to get the news while chewing on the delicious parathas.

Spending almost a very pleasant week we moved on to Simla where we had reservations in a hotel. It was the peak of tourist season and crowds were maddening on the Upper and Lower Malls. It appeared to us that it was no place for a holiday. Apart from tourists, the place was so closely built up that, it seemed, many houses would not get enough of fresh air. We thought we would be better off in our Chandigarh house, and, disappointed as we were, the very next day we took a taxi and came back. We have never been to Simla after that horrid experience.

About the Writer

Pushing 80 I was born in Gwalior in Central India to parents who were educated in Calcutta, now Kolkata. My father did his master's in English in 1916. He was a professor of English in the then only college in Gwalior. After qualifying in the exams for entry in to central civil services I served the government of India for 34 years reaching the very top of the professional cadres of the Indian Postal Service. I also acted as consultant ion behalf of the Universal Postal Union in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Swaziland.
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