Chail (pronounced as Chaa-il) was the last destination of my Himachal trip. Our group stayed at the Chail Palace, the former residence of Bhupinder Singh, the former Maharaja of Patiala, and now part of the HPTDC group of hotels. The Chail Palace has an interesting history. It was built in 1891 after Maharaja Bhupinder Singh got expelled from Shimla. The brief story goes something like this:
Apparently the Maharaja was having a good thing going with a top ranking British official’s daughter/wife. (the accounts differ whether it was the daughter or the wife). As a result of this indiscretion, the Maharaja was expelled from Shimla. Furious, the Maharaja decided to ‘cock a snook’ at the British and build a grand palace at a location that would be visible from and higher in altitude than Shimla.
That location was Chail, a tiny village in the Shivalik Hills and across the valley from Shimla. How this particular location was picked is another interesting story and that was narrated to us by Jagat, a waiter at the hotel.
Chail was once part of the Keonthal state and then under the rule of the Gorkhas before it became a royal resort and summer seat for the Maharaja of Patiala. Chail Palace is spread over 72 acres and built on Rajgarh Hill, one of the 3 hills, which are adjacent to one another, of Chail town. The other two hills are Pandava Hill and Siddh Tibba.
The Palace’s location was not the original choice, Siddh Tibba was. Palace construction began at Siddh Tibba, but did not go as planned and was marred with accidents and delays. One night, Siddh Baba, a holy man and after whom the hill is named, appeared in the Maharaja’s dream and told him that (a) Siddh Tibba belonged to him (the Baba, that is) and the Maharaja had no right to build a palace there, (b) the Maharaja could never build a palace until he first built a temple for Siddh Baba, and (c) the Palace should be built on Rajgarh Hill, but only after the temple was built. The Maharaja complied and that’s how both the Siddh Baba ka Mandir and the Chail Palace were built.
There is a tiny shrine dedicated to Siddh Baba on the grounds of the Chail Palace today and the staff of the hotel revere him and never begin or end a work day without seeking his blessings.
I loved my stay at the Chail Palace. Our group didn’t stay in the main Palace, but at another Block, which used to be the servant quarters of the erstwhile Maharaja.
I’m glad we stayed there as our rooms opened out into a common verandah and had a large open space outside. All rooms had little sitting rooms with writing desks, a fireplace and overlooked the lawns. It really was a room with a view.
Though we did quite a bit of sight-seeing with Chail as our base, I was happiest when I was in the hotel. With 72 acres of grounds to explore and a library to delve into (more about that later), I was quite content to walk around the grounds or just sit somewhere and read. The weather was quite erratic as well, raining one minute, sunny the next — sometimes with a rainbow or two thrown in.
I particularly loved my early morning and late evening walks in the Chail Palace, where the mist and the golden sunlight filtering through the green woods revealed a magical world. Birdsong, sleepy monkeys and insects were my only company at those times.
My favourite part of the stay at the Chail Palace was its tiny library. Located off the main reception in a wooden cabinet, the higgledy-piggledy collection of books was an absolute treasure trove of discoveries. After my morning or evening walk, I would head to the Chail Palace and request for the Library to be opened and delve straight it in.
The book collection was an eclectic mix of the usual best sellers and books that I’d never heard off. The small collection threw up surprises like Hindi translations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a collection of three Greek tragedies, biographies on Picasso and Ingrid Bergman. Then there was an entire series of books on basic science by Issac Asimov, the great science fiction writer. There were books on music, social movements, folk art, architecture, Reader’s Digest collections… I was in heaven.
In other words, I was a very happy at Chail. Very happy to just walk around and sit and read the many interesting books in the Library. I didn’t realise till I reached Chail how much I needed that break. It was at Chail that I truly relaxed and got into vacation mode at the fag-end of my vacation. Of course, this meant that by the time I returned to Mumbai and joined work, I was still in vacation mode. 😛
I would like to go back to Chail Palace for another holiday — a walking and reading kind of holiday. Walking in the grounds of the Palace and reading books from the Library. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? 🙂