With the zeal of a jilted lover seeking recognition Maharaja of Patiala, generic Bhupinder Singh set out to develop Chail into a hill station that would rival if not outdo Simla, the summer capital during colonial India. Built in the late nineteenth century Chail became the summer capital of the princely state of Patiala and is perhaps the only hill station to have been built by a princely state.
There may have been a streak of patriotism in the venture but more so for the maharaja it was a way of getting even with the colonial rulers for having expelled him from Shimla on a charge for flirting with the commander –in – chief’s daughter. The spot where the Maharaja is said to have outraged the modesty of the maiden on The Mall at Shimla is still called Scandal Point.
Not being able to accept the insult of having been expelled from imperial Shimla, the flamboyant Maharaja began scouting neighboring hills for setting up a township of his own. Such was the backdrop of Chail under which from a tiny village set amidst majestic himalayan deodars it rose to become a hill station and the summer resort for the royal house of Patiala.
Large tracts of land around Chail belonged to Patiala state and had been given to ancestors of Bhupinder Singh for the services they had rendered during the Anglo- Gurkha Wars of 1815-16. Legend has it that after selecting the site, work on the summer palace began which soon ran into trouble. Snakes that would emerge out of nowhere tormented workers. Bhupinder Singh shifted the location after in a dream he was asked to select another site, as the original site was a place where a Sidh sage had been laid to rest. The maharaja had a shrine ‘Sidh Baba Ka Mandir’ built at the original site, which is revered by many who claim that the sage has power to grant boons.
The splendid mansion became the summer palace of the Patiala royalty. In the midst of Himalayan woods this property passed into the hands of Himachal Tourism in 1972 and it continues to retain the grandeur of its princely past. Enclosed by a large elegant lawn with pavilions and fountains the property has been converted into a Palace Hotel and has become a full-fledged tourist destination.
Being an avid cricketer the Maharaja had a hilltop flattened to convert it into a cricket field, which was completed by 1893. Today it is boasted to be the highest cricket ground in the world. ‘Patiala peg’ was coined by a visiting Melbourne Cricket Club team after it failed to beat the hosts. Players of MCC offered the excuse that they could not recover from the overnight hangover from a party thrown by the Maharaja in which they were intentionally offered ‘Patiala double pegs’. The ground was also used to play polo, which was a favorite among the royalty during those days.
Fishing is possible on the Gaura River and there are several trek routes that lead out of the resort – including the one to Choor Chandni the highest mountain in the Shivalik range. The drive between Kufri and Chail is over one of the most charming stretches of highway in the area. En route lies the resort of Shilon Bagh.
Chail remains a full-fledged destination in its own right. It is enjoyable stopover where one can savour the flavour of a bygone era on the way to or from Shimla. Chail can only be reached by road and is 45 kilometers from Shimla via Kufri and one can also be reached it via Kandaghat on the Shimla- Kalka highway. The nearest railhead is at Shimla and the airport at Jubbar Hatti near Shimla. Besides the luxurious Palace Hotel run by Himachal tourism there are other types of accommodations available in the hill station.