While I backpack on most of my journeys, I enjoy experiential luxury once in a while, and when it is the home of the grandson of the erstwhile ‘Raja of Kapurthala’; you say yes!
Chapslee has an evocative air to it and is one of the oldest houses in Shimla.
The Kalka – Shimla Toy Train
It was deemed fitting that we arrive in Shimla by the charming UNESCO World Heritage Kalka Shimla ‘toy train’. We reach Kalka at 3 in the night. The petite toy train to Shimla is supposed to depart at 6 am. The full moon was beckoning to me to take the train from Kalka to Shimla instead of the bus.
Although the train journey from Delhi to Shimla (Delhi-Kalka and Kalka-Shimla) took much longer (12-13 hours) as compared to taking a direct bus (9-10 hours), the grand views, bridges, tunnels and quaint colonial style stations made this train journey interesting. The samosa and refreshments at Barog station in the cool air was a welcome break!
Hallmarks of Staying at Chapslee
A Family of Friendly Labradors
It is fun to walk in the garden with the snoozing dogs for company. Tara (a golden retriever) and Thunder (a black labrador) and their two kids (both labradors) lie in the sun all day long. They lend a very happy vibe and homely feel to the place. Plus, these gentle dogs are pure love!
Chapslee – A Palace steeped in History
Chapslee was originally constructed in 1830 by an East India Company official. It was built in the local architecture style called ‘dhajji‘; which enables the interiors to remain warm during winters and cool during summers. Chapslee was used for many official purposes, and among them it served as Lord Auckland’s secretariat during his tenure as Governor General of the East India Company.
Raja Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala purchased Chapslee in 1938. His grandson, Kanwar Ratanjit Singh opened the doors to Chapslee Palace in 1976 to make it the 8th heritage hotel in India.
Check : An expert guide to Shimla
Artistry with Food – Cooked to Perfection and Served in Regal Style
Raja Charanjit Singh was an eminent food connoisseur and Chapslee quickly became well known for the esteemed gatherings.
The finesse with which food is presented at Chapslee is quite incredible and charming. I gobble up insane portions of the apple crumble (made with fresh apples from Kinnaur). The spinach and baked egg is quite easily the best I’ve ever had. There is no menu here at Chapslee; who cares about that when the food is this good!
Dinner is served in silver cutlery that transports one to India’s glorious times. Personal butlers are close at hand, without being intrusive. Bed tea comes in fine bone china, while the evening tipple means a cupboard filled with elegant glasses is opened.
Seemingly away from it all… and yet Conveniently Close
I feel as if I’m living in a parallel world, away from the hustle and bustle of the mall road of Shimla (Or Simla). Chapslee lies in the heart of the old town in Shimla and most of the heritage sights are within a dimension of 3-4 kms from this haven of calm. The well known Chapslee School is close-by too.
I wasn’t particularly fond of Shimla and called it the ‘concrete jungle’; until the charms of slow travel took over. Shimla is best explored on foot; and Chapslee is the perfect place to begin the heritage walks showcasing British architecture.
Luxury like a King & Queen at Chapslee
Luxury has different meanings for different people; and after having stayed at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore I had more or less realised that closed indoor air conditioned rooms didn’t really give me a ‘wow’ feel. Instead, solace was found in homestays which were more connected to the soul of a place and were owned by locals. It also gave me a happy feeling of contributing to the local community and also soaking in the culture.
A Living Legend – Kanwar Ratanjit Singh
Kanwar Ratanjit Singh (‘Reggie’ as he is called by those known to him) is a man who has clear opinions. Reggie says “To maintain the spirit of heritage, it is very important to use the place for the purpose for which it was actually built“; and that is why he has opened the doors of his home to visitors.
Sharing drinks in the evening in the dazzling grandeur of the living room and listening to stories from his childhood was one of my most memorable experiences of the evenings spent at Chapslee. The description of his school going days during the British times take one back to the days of yore. His fascination to retain his grandfather’s lifestyle, has resulted in Chapslee being included in the book ‘1000 Places to See Before you Die‘ by Patricia Schultz.
Nature and Flower Love while watching Shimla’s mist
The lush green courtyard also doubles up as an open air sitting space, best enjoyed for high tea. There is also a garden room full of petite flower pots; and a sizeable amount of my time at Chapslee was spent here – dreaming.
The gardens with a lovely variety of flowers make it a beautiful alfresco sitting area. Even for an explorer like me, the thought of sitting and watching the clouds engulf Shimla is enticing – I choose to sit in the garden sipping a fine variety of Darjeeling Tea. It feels great to be able to think clearly and pen down my thoughts; which is a rare commodity in the chaotic world as a digital media nomad these days.
Kanwar Ratanjit Singh’s hospitality and genuineness is visible in the efforts he takes to make your stay as memorable as possible. Right from recommending the sights, to exploring the hidden corners and long walks to nearby hillocks; to cooking your favourite delicacy, he makes sure everything is taken care of. He decided on special dishes in the menu everyday and prepared them himself to our delight; we could only lick our fingers in glee.
Our conversations continue in the very elegant Chota room, Reggie describes Chapslee as a very English / Scottish house, that has 6 rooms and each one different than the other. There is an untold joy in exploring this humongous castle type home – From the room furnishings to the joy of an open fire on chilly Shimla evenings. We can’t believe our luck when Reggie decides that we should be upgraded to The Luxury Suite (Raja Charanjit Singh’s room) which is also the best room in the house.
The staff appear smartly dressed with a Himachali cap. There are strategically placed bells around the interiors of Chapslee to summon the staff whenever required. Although this is the kind of place where wi-fi doesn’t matter, there is high speed internet at Chapslee.
Antiques from around the World
The suite has 3 huge fire places (yes, 3!) that add to the opulent feel of staying in Chapslee. Momentarily I feel I am dreaming; it is indeed fortuitous for me to experience life in the museum like interiors of this heritage house.
Exquisite old paintings dating back to the British Era adorn the walls. Among the many riches here, there are intricately carved metal holders and cabinets from Venice, blue pottery vases from Multan (present day Pakistan). Persian & Afghan carpets and rugs cover the floor, chandeliers from Belgium and Italy hang about in the halls and lobby, and blue tiled fireplaces complete the fantasy.
Silence is Golden
The weathered wood at Chapslee tells many stories of grace and elegance, unmatched hospitality and flawless service. The decades of history associated means sophistication hangs delicately in the air. A soft glow and warmth flows out of its large beautiful windows offering me a view of the skies. In this fast paced world, sometimes calmness is associated with an eerie feel. Yet, at Chapslee the calmness is soothing.
The faded grandeur takes me back to the 19th Century, yet with all the modern comforts. In a place as fabled as Chapslee, you can bet that every visitor has an interesting story to tell. We meet IIM professors here and also a famous architect who was behind the restoration of the Gaiety Theatre in Shimla and also advisor to the restoration of Bhimakali Temple, Sarahan.
A Book Room (Yes, you read that right!)
The book lover in me swoons and a ‘love at first sight’ experience ensues with the well-stocked library. I spot first editions of a few books and an enviable coin collection. The reading room is a perfect set-up for perusing good old classics in a classy ambience. We enjoyed our time playing scrabble and had a trip down memory lane. There are also a few rare books to lay my hands upon!
Where you become a part of History
During the course of my stay at Chapslee Palace I feel like a time traveller at numerous points of time. Maybe the notion of time doesn’t exist here. Although the price of staying at Chapslee is steep, if you have an affinity for the good life; I’d suggest ‘go for it.’
Uttering the name ‘Chapslee’ seems sacrosanct, Kanwar Ratanjit Singh should be thanked for turning this home into a unique place to stay for lucky visitors for an experience like no other. Glittering with golden lights, antique furniture and a fine collection dating back to British times, Chapslee is an experience to remind one of the glorious royalty in the Imperial times of the Raj and put your name in the history books too! It is definitely one of the top places to stay in Shimla and also one of the best heritage hotels in India.
Ah, and now Reggie has asked me to come back when it snows.
Also check : Heaven in Himachal Pradesh
Note : My stay at Chapslee was in collaboration with PlushEscapes. Words, photographs, memories and opinions – as always, are my own. My reader’s and follower’s trust is of foremost importance – in short… You are my greatest priority.
Have other recommendations for great places to stay? Let me know.