"I don’t sell rooms neither do I sell food. What I sell is a lifestyle!" Says Kanwar Ratanjit Singh of Chapslee in an interview to BBC.
At Chapslee, one steps into a time machine which takes you back into a bygone era that has stopped to exist. The ambience is not contrived, but exists simply as a product of the lifestyle of Kanwar Ratanjit Singh, as it was in the days of his late grandfather Raja Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala. Lady Penelope Betjeman said, “If Shimla is the Queen of the Hills then Chapslee is her Crown”. Originally built in 1835 by Dr. Blake, Lord Auckland, the Governor General of the East India Company hired the house as his Secretariat and named it Secretary’s Lodge. Chapslee was purchased by Raja Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala in 1938, as his Summer Residence. Kanwar Ratanjit Singh, grandson of Raja Charanjit Singh, the present owner, opened its doors to guests in 1976 and it became the 8th heritage hotel in India to do so.
From the very moment you enter the lawn and see the age old convertible neatly parked in the car shed you feel the utter care and love with which the house is kept.
The ever attentive uniformed staff await your arrival and open the doors to the past. As you enter the house you see the huge wooden staircase adorned with trophies of all sizes and a gleaming red chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Quite a dramatic scene from the quaint beauty of the outer facade.
Kanwar Ratanjit Singh awaits your arrival and word is sent to him as you enter his house. He greets you with the grace of a legacy stretching more than a hundred years. He is now an old man with falling health but with an extremely determined mind and an unending love for his home and his birthplace, Shimla.
With a high tea invitation I was ready for questions and sure he did ask me. His very first question was “ Why are you interested in my house” and my answer was “Sir, its a house, not a hotel”. He seemed satisfied. An ever obedient staff took me around the magnificent house. Each room was adorned with Victorian antiques and beautifully designed age old wallpapers. One suite featured a flower draped washbasin and quite a unique dressing table with beautiful murals from England. One of the limited number of suites in the house belonged to the Maharani, a.k.a mother of Kanwar Ratanjit Singh. This had to be the prettiest room with an epic bathroom with a standing mirror and a huge bathtub. Apart from that the room was decorated with the lady’s dressing table and beautiful portraits.
What is stunning about Chapslee is the way the place still resembles a home, quite naturally one of the most beautiful homes in our country.
High tea was served in the beautifully lit glass outhouse and with a melange of North Indian and traditional European delicacies served in antique silver cutlery which as his highness said was atleast a hundred years old!
In the end all I can say is that Chapslee is a rare phenomenon, a house more than a hotel, where there are rules and one needs to abide by them. The place is magical to say the least, something right out from a Victorian set of a film of a sturdy and quaint director, Maharajah Kanwar Ratanjit Singh
Long live the king! Long live Chapslee!
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