Lore has it that Bhupinder Singh, king of Patiala, was enamoured of the daughter of Lord Kitchener, British Commander-in-Chief. The Maharajah, a handsome ladies’ man, made some overture to the young girl. The place where the incident occurred is known as Scandal Point (on the majestic Mall Road in Shimla) even today. Bhupinder Singh was duly banished from Shimla. He went to Chail, another hill at a distance of about 50
km from Shimla, and built up his new capital,
having conquered the Gurkhas there. But
when he decided to construct his palace on the highest hill with the royal
penchant for looking down on Shimla, his former Summer capital, he was faced
with another problem. An ascetic who was
living on the prime location of the hill refused to budge and asked the king to
build his palace elsewhere. The king
felt rage mounting in him by being pushed to the second place twice in
succession: first by the British, now by a native baba. Babas were powerful, however, even in those
days. Bhupinder Singh built his palace
on the second highest hill. Moreover, he
constructed a temple in honour of the Baba which came to be known as Siddh Baba
|A view of the Chail Palace|
|In the foyer of the Palace Hotel|
Bhupinder Singh’s palace is a star hotel today. Tourists are allowed to visit it for a gate fee of Rs 100 per head. Visitors can saunter along the corridors as well as the foyer and a couple of the halls on the ground floor. They may even have a drink and some food at the “Royal Bar”. They can walk around the gardens outside but without carrying any food items lest the abundant monkeys be provoked to pounce on the food.
The palace is said to have reverberated with sensuous music and merry-making in the days of the Maharajah. The grand piano is still on display. The king also made a grand cricket pitch in Chail, believed to be the highest cricket ground in the world (altitude: 7218 feet). But the area has now been taken over by the Indian Army and the tourists can have a peep through the grilled gate.
basketball grounds exist on the ground today.
There is also a building which is part of a primary school meant for the
children of the armed forces.
|The Royal Cricket Ground|
Our driver was not interested in taking us to the Siddh Baba ka Mandir saying, “It’s a small construction which won’t be of any interest to you. Let’s go to Kali ka Tibba instead.”
Kali ka Tibba stands atop a very prominent hill, silhouetted against the sun that can hit it from any side. One can command breathtaking views from any side of the temple. The Choor Chandni Peak and the Shivalik ranges are visible from there. The summer sun was like a blazing
furnace when we visited the place. We didn’t spend much time there due to the
heat. What has happened to the climate at
an altitude of over 7000 feet? We were
left wondering. Has the climate too been
pushed to the second place by the harsh destiny that had overtaken the patron
king of the hills?
|Outside the Cricket Ground|
We were consoled, however, looking at the lush green vegetation on most of the hills. Majestic deodar trees (Himalayan cedar) stood on either side of the road from Shimla to Chail. There is a remarkable variety of vegetation on the other hills too. There is hope for the planet, it seemed.
|A view from Kali ka Tibba|