State: Himachal Pradesh
Location: A wooded royal retreat at 7,054 ft, 84 km from Kalka
Distance: 337 km N of Delhi Travel Time By road 8 hrs By rail 71/4 hrs + 3 hrs by road By air 50 mins + 3 hrs by road
When to go: all year round
Tourist Office: HPTDC 36, Chandralok Building, Janpath, New Delhi
Tel: 011-23325320/ 4764 STD code: 01792
Air: Nearest airport: Chandigarh (110 km/ 3 hrs). Taxi `2,800-3,000
Rail: Nearest railhead: Kalka
Road: Route from Delhi NH1 to Ambala, then NH22 via Zirakpur to Solan. Take the Solan Bypass and turn right at Kandaghat to Chail, 27 km away
Tiny Chail does not rival the Colonial grandeur of Shimla, but it does give you a feel of how the summer capital of the Raj must have looked before its salubrious environs were chopped down to make way for smug imperial edifices. Chail, of course, boasts of another arrogance, born out of a snub. The town was built after Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of the princely state of Patiala, a handsome ladies’ man, was banned from Shimla for life by the British, following charges of his making immoral overtures to an Englishwoman. According to historians, the lady in question was Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener’s daughter, hence the collective moral affront.
Chail became accessible to tourists after the Patiala royals handed over the 75-acre palatial estate to the government in 1972. Its chief attraction was the stunning palace, now the state-run Palace Hotel. At the height of summer, it is almost impossible to get a foothold here, with tourists, cars, buses and innumerable troops of monkeys roving aggressively around the property. The rest of the year, one can enjoy the place as the royals left it and revel in the surviving cedar tree cover, endogamous forest and wildlife in the countryside.
Things to see and do
There is no Mall in this small town, just a huddle of shops. Come here for leisurely walks in summer and autumn, fun in the powder snow in winters. Spread over three hills – Pandhawa, Rajgarh and Siddh Tibba, Chail is ideal for picnics and short treks.
Pilgrim’s Progress: Gurudwara Sahib, Siddh-Baba-ka-Mandir & Kali-ka-Tibba
Faith has three faces in Chail. The most important is the Gurudwara Sahib, built in 1907. Located one kilometer above the bazaar, on Pandhawa hill, the yellow gurudwara is a small building with a tiny courtyard. The two tower-like structures fitted into the facade flanking the main entrance enhance the air of austerity reminiscent of some churches in Goa.
Siddh-Baba-ka-Mandir is situated on the hill sandwiched by Rajgarh and Pandhawa. Set in the army cantonment area, this temple to an ascetic sits next to the cricket grounds that are now used by the Army. This simple, traditional structure is equidistant from Chail Palace and the bazaar (approx 4 km).
The third temple is the Kali-ka-Tibba, located on top of the hill named after the Rajmata’s cottage, Blossom. One can see the Choor Chandni peak and the Shivalik Range from here. It’s an easy 6-km trek from the bazaar via Gaura Road.
The famed cricket grounds laid down by the Maharaja of Patiala – some say the highest in the world at 7,218 ft – are situated in the cantonment and, as such, is unfortunately out of bounds to civilians without army connections.
Born to be wild: Chail Wildlife Sanctuary
Stretching from the Krishna River to Giriganga is a small wildlife sanctuary, which houses roughly 200 small villages besides the wild langur, leopards, bear, hogs, deer (ghoral, sambar), goats and wild pheasant (including the endangered kaleej). It is one of the few notified regions in the state where humans and beasts live side by side.
According to forest officials here, it is possible to spot wildlife on the way to Kali-ka-Tibba and Gaura, besides the stretch between Chail Palace and Janerghat. To do so, however, they advise you get up early and take your position latest by 5.00am.
For angling, head for the Giriganga River (29 km from Chail on the Gaura Road), but be prepared for small catch only. Keen anglers should remember that the trout is only an occasional visitor here.
Where to stay and eat
The most regal place to stay in Chail is HPTDC’s The Palace (Tel: 01792-248141-43; Tariff: INR 2,400-17,000). There is a range of rooming options, including a Maharaja and two Maharani suites. The hotel has one dining room, a bar called Silver Bangle and a cafe on the lawns. Himneel Hotel (Telefax: 248141-43; Tariff: INR 2,400), in The Palace Annexe, is also run by HPTDC.
Jungle Livinn (Cell: 09816048798; Tariff: INR 5,500, with meals; www.junglelivinn.com) and Tarika’s Jungal Retreat (Tel: 248684; Tariff: INR 8,600-45,000, with meals; www.tarikasjungleretreat.com) are good resorts on Chail’s outskirts. Hotel Deventure (Cell: 09816222555; 09416392122; Tariff: INR 1,500-3,000; deventurehotelchail.com), earlier Hotel Lions, is located one kilometre away from Chail and has great views of the Shivalik Range.
Most of the hotels offer Indianised versions of Continental and Chinese dishes, besides the regular Mughlai and Himachali fare.