It was about twenty years back when we visited Chail for the first time. It had always been Shimla before that. We were kids then and I remember the attempted trek to the Chail cricket field, the highest one in the world.
“It’s about 4 kms uphill saab!”, came a quick reply from a passerby, to my father’s little query.
The prospect of walking another 4 kms seemed very alluring to us kids and we awaited the impending adventure but the ladies of course had something else to say.
“4 kms!”, exclaimed the ladies who accompanied our little party to Chail. Their hands immediately rushed to cover their mouths whilst their necks turned left and right, in quick motions.
“Bhabiji, I am wearing heels! How will I walk?”, said Pammi aunty to my mother.
“I can’t walk either”, said my mother much to the relief of Pammi aunty.
The plan was immediately dropped, much to the disappointment of us kids. Of course we were treated with sweetmeats purchased from the nearby bazaar. The disappointment persisted nevertheless.
Not having been able to see the cricket field live, we kids bombarded the elderly folk with a million questions on our way back to Chail Palace.
As we sat for our evening tea in the lush green lawns of The Chail Palace, Sharma uncle decided to put an end to our interrogation. And he began…
“In 1891, Lord Kitchener, barred the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh from visiting the Shimla, the summer capital of India. Raged and angered, the Maharaja vowed never to set his foot again on the soil of Shimla and promised himself his own summer capital. It was another thing that The Maharaja had eloped , with the daughter the British Viceroy and was thus refused entrance to Shimla…or so say the rumours…
Well! thus spawned Chail, amongst the mighty Pines and Deodars , a summer retreat about 45 kms away from the hustle bustle of Shimla. It was in 1893, Chail’s cricket field, the highest one in the world, was constructed by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, to enjoy cricket with his British friends. The ground doubles up as a Polo field too! This very Palace where we are staying right now, was built by the Maharaja himself.”
“What about the ghosts of The Chail Palace?’, asked Pammi aunty, opening her small eyes to the fullest.
“Ghosts!”, we kids exclaimed, losing all interest in the cricket ground and Maharaja’s escapades.
“This hotel? Where we are staying?”, we muttered.
“Shut Up! Pammi! , don’t scare the kids”, snapped Sharma uncle at his wife.
Pammi aunty turned her face away with a little jolt and the half dead Rose adorning her head, popped out from her bun and fell on the ground.
“And so I was saying….”, continued Sharma Uncle.
“All the buildings constructed by the Maharaja were later given to The Government of India”, he said as my father called him from a distance.
A certain situation required him and Pammi Aunty to meet mother immediately.
The evening was becoming darker and the Pines and Deodars casted long spooky shadows. As we children sat huddled up by the table all we could remember was….Ghosts of The Chail Palace….. and Pammi Aunty’s Rose was nowhere to be seen…