Set beautifully on Elysium hill, near Lakkar bazaar Chapslee is one of the oldest houses of Shimla built in 1838. It was purchased by the late Raja Charanjit Singh in October 1938 as his summer home. His grandson Kanwar Ratanjit Singh, son of the late Lt. Col. Rajkumar Ripjit Singh is the present owner of the beautiful mansion. It was in 1971 when the state of Himachal Pradesh formed, the government issued a notice to acquire Chapslee, that is when Kanwar Ratanjit Singh and his wife shifted to Chapslee. Making it their permanent residence they opened the doors of Chapslee to guests and so began what is now famously known as the ‘Chapslee Experience’.
As soon as you reach Chapslee, you will be greeted by Kanwar Ratanjit Singh (fondly known as Reggie), a charming host and a perfect gentleman. A modest figure who regularly greets the tourists who flock to Chapslee, happy to answer all manner of questions from his visitors with time and courtesy. You will soon be wanting to know more about the past as he fascinatingly engages you in a conversation about the yesteryears in Chapslee. The lavishness of the Raj live on within the walls of this two storey mansion even after so many years, the presence of this can be keenly felt as Mr. Singh shares small anecdotes from the past. Every article in the house is a piece of history which leaks out memories! It is not money and business that made him turn this property into a hotel, it is the lifestyle and the tradition which he grew up with that he wants to keep alive. By capitalising on the historic value of his home is the only way he can share the lifestyle with other people, as it was in the days of his late grandfather Raja Charanjit Singh of Kapurthala.
Shimla is one of my favourite hill stations and it is definitely different from other hill stations in Himachal, take a step back in time and stay in Chapslee the next time you visit Shimla. The spectacularly beautiful mansion which was the childhood home of Kanwar Ratanjit Singh, now serves as a true evidence of rich cultural heritage of his family. For the guests, there are 5 suites well furnished with modern facilities. Some rooms are colour coded – red, pink and yellow. The Luxury Suite, the Delux suite and the Red room is on the first floor. The Pink room and the Yellow room is on the ground floor. We stayed in the Pink room and from the moment I entered the room I could feel my childhood dream of living like a queen coming true. I was enthralled by the idea of spending a night in a place which was an actual house of a royal family. The rooms look exactly how they used to look years ago. It feels like you stepped into a time machine. You have access to the entire mansion during your stay, its like a miniature museum with artefacts, some from the Raj era, others hundreds of years old.
Raja Charanjeet Sigh’s room which is now the Luxury suite still has the original 200 year old bed that he used to sleep on, the bathtub and the fireplace in his bathroom also dates back to a time when most people in India weren’t even aware of such things. Now imagine yourself sleeping on the same bed and using the same room used by the royals, that is the actual Chapslee experience.
There is no set food menu in Chapslee but you are in for a royal treat. Your preference is asked earlier and food is prepared accordingly. The culinary tradition is also kept alive, guests are served Anglo Indian and royal Indian cuisine in silverware. The dinner was scrumptious, everything was so delicious that it felt like they have a secret recipe and yes they do. Kanwar Ratanjit Singh himself is a great gourmand like his father and grandfather was. He proudly told us about the many royal Indian dishes that he can make. I have never heard of Pulau with raw Mango but Mr. Singh is a reputed and an acclaimed chef, I’m surely going back to Chapslee for many such experiences. For desserts you can choose from a variety : bread-and-butter pudding, steamed ginger pudding, baked apples, apple crumble. We opted for baked apples and it was the best I have had in years. The warm hospitality that is shown by the staff is remarkable.
Chapslee has a magnificent interior with priceless relics and everything inside it has been preserved exquisitely. To name a few : Gobelin tapestries from Paris, rose-edged Murano glass chandelier, Bruges tapestry from the 1700s, antique Sikh weapons and the horns from former hunting trophies, exquisite rugs, ornate brass beds, antiques from all over the world. The interior remains unchanged.
HOW TO REACH CHAPSLEE
Jubarhati, which is around 23 kilometers from Shimla is the nearest domestic airport from Shimla but there are hardly any flights operating at the moment. If you are going from Delhi, there are many Volvo buses which have flexible timings and I would say this is the most convenient option. You can also drive down to Shimla like we did. It is approximately 350 kilometers from Delhi and it took us around 7 hours, a rather long drive if you get stuck in the traffic. Once you reach Shimla, locating Chapslee is very easy.It is located on Elysium hill near Lakkar Bazaar, if you have any difficulty you can refer to the directions given here. It is amazing how lucidly they have explained every detail on this page on how to get to Chapslee.
As we take our leave, Kanwar Ratanjit Singh mentions “I’m strictly against tipping, it is not allowed in Chapslee. I request all my guests not to tip my staff.” I would love to go back to Chapslee if I am ever in Shimla. Its an experience one should add on their bucket list. Chapslee has been mentioned in a book titled “A Thousand Places to See Before You Die”. It is impossible not to admire Kanwar Ratanjit Singh for being so brave to open his home up to strangers. This is my first encounter with a royal figure who is thoroughly involved and enjoys doing this, after all the pleasure you give to other people is the most rewarding thing in the world. The famous Ridge is merely a ten minute walk from Chapslee, making it’s location perfect. So if you feel the need for extreme peace and want a royal holiday, look no further.
To read further on Chapslee, click here.