118 years of Trust Regional vignettes THE TRIBUNE
saturday plus
Saturday, December 26, 1998



A tourist resort with unrealised potential

By Ankur Bansal

KASAULI, a small hill town, is located between 30/54’ north latitude and 76/78’ east longitude. Overlooking the plains, it is about 6000 feet above sea level in the south of Shimla hills. It is 12 km from Dharampur, a haunting place on the Kalka-Shimla highway (NH-22). This small tehsil headquarters is known for its cleanliness and beautiful panorama. Kasauli, enjoying proximity to the plains, draws a large number of tourists, especially on the weekends, and quietly reminds the visitors of the British Raj. Besides the natural beauty, coolness and cleanliness, this small town does not have much to offer.

An aerial view of KasauliThe history of Kasauli goes back to the 17th century when some Rajput families came to take refuge in gram ‘Kasul’ and later settled here. Because of the emergence of a ‘north spring’, the place came to be known as Kasauli.Sir Henry Lawrence, a British official, used to visit Subathu along with his wife. On the demise of his daughter, he decided to bury her body on the Kasauli ridge. Later, he constructed a cottage on this ridge. This cottage, known as Sunny side cottage, still exists and was the first house constructed in Kasauli. The process of making Kasauli a cantonment began in the year 1842.

The British took about three-fourths of the Baghat territory, which at that time (1815) extended up to Kasauli, Parwanoo, Kandaghat and Chail. Later on the British sold this area to the Patiala state for a sum of Rs 2.80 lakh only. Kasauli was then bought back from the Patiala ruler for a meagre amount of Rs 5,000. The Chatiyan and Nahri areas were bought from the Beja state in 1844. While Kasauli was being made a cantonment a small bazaar known as Lal Kurti came up. This bazaar was completely destroyed due to a fire in the 19th century and was rebuilt under the name Arhat bazaar.

The Commissioner of Ambala, Mr Clark, got permission from the Rana of Beja to construct an estate which still exists by the name Drumbar estate, and is now a part of the famous Central Research Institute. Lawrence School of Sanawar, known worldwide was established in 1847 as an orphanage for the children of the British Indian Army personnel killed in wars. This school has the distinction of being one of the world’s oldest co-educational institutions. It is amongst the top public schools in the country, and it recently celebrated its 150th founder’s day. Lt-Col Arun Khetarpal, a Sanawarian, was awarded the highest gallantry award of the land, the Param Vir Chakra, in the 1971 war.

Many other students of the school have also earned fame in various fields, including Maneka Gandhi. Many people are unaware that Kasauli is the birthplace of well-known writer, Ruskin Bond, who now resides at Mussoorie, another beautiful hill station in the UP hills. Lots of rich and famous people have shown interest in Kasauli and have bought huge properties here.

The residents of the present Station Commander was built for Maj-Gen. Gilbert in 1845, and is still being properly maintained. A hill overlooking this cottage has been named after General Gilbert, and is known as Gilbert Hill. A micro-wave station has now been built on this hill.The famous military hospital was constructed in 1856 and it serves military personnel and their families.Kasauli played a very important role in the sepoy mutiny of 1857. During the uprising of 1857, on April 17 soldiers at Ambala cantonment were forced to use greased cartridges. On May 15 the forces stationed at Jatog revolted and refused to obey the orders of their officers. At Kasauli the government wanted to shift the treasury to the European barracks. The Gorkhas got annoyed and looted the treasury and moved to Jatog and set fire to some of the tents of the Commander-in-Chief.

Three churches were constructed in Kasauli during the British times. The Christ Church on The Mall is linked to a very interesting story. When the Gorkhas revolted, some of them looted Rs 20,000 from the treasury. This amount was somehow taken away by two British soldiers, and due to fear, they buried it under a tree in the church compound. When Mr Griffiths was the priest, one of the soldiers wrote a letter about the treasure. One priest also tried to find the treasure but could not succeed, and the treasure still remains a mystery.

A brewery was also established in Kasauli in 1860 by Mr Dyer and was rated as one of the best in the country. At present Kasauli’s other claims to fame is liquor intake, highest per capita consumption in Asia.

The sharabi tag is just one of the things that is wrong with Kasauli.Where the Kasauli Club exists today was a famous library which was converted into a club in 1888. In the beginning only males were allowed to stay here but during the winter months women, too, were allowed to reside here. The club was only meant for the English gentry and a few highly placed Indians. The same tradition is being followed, and becoming the member of this club is not an easy task. During the British times there were six tennis courts here, and tea parties were held occasionally which were famous throughout northern India. In 1947 the Britishers wanted to sell off this club but could not succeed. The oldest member of this club was Sir Richard Christopher, who was also the Director of FRS, RMS and CRI.

There is a heavy tourist rush during the summer seasonThe CRI, known worldwide, was established in 1905 under the directorship of Lt-Col David Semple. It was the only one of its kind in Asia, and presently produces vaccines for yellow fever and rabies. The premises of the CRI, known as Ranbir Villa, were donated by the late Maharaja of Patiala. In the year 1941 lady Linlithgo sanatorium was opened at Kasauli and was amongst the best sanatoriums in Asia. In 1976 it was closed down and was converted into a research and training wing.

Many hotels in Kasauli are famous for their antiquity. Among them are Alasia Hotel and Grand Hotel. Alasia Hotel was earlier a bank started by Mr Insha Ram. This was converted into a hotel by Mr Tiddwell. What is now known as Hotel Maurice, was famous as Hotel Maidens. Afterwards it was named Grand Hotel and it became famous far and wide for its silver collection, dances and sweets. Hotel Kalyan on The Mall was known as Rock Villa, and was a beauty parlour run by its owner Miss Barbetton. In the 1930s it was purchased by the Sahus and was transformed into a departmental store, Kalicharan and Sons, wine and general merchants, chemists and druggists. This store became famous for its French wines and Scottish whiskeys, dry fruits from Switzerland, perfumes and jewellery from Paris, watches from Geneva and English cokes and cookies.Many boarding houses also came up in Kasauli, namely Loomlaze, Salewood, Dennisford etc. The Salewood boarding house was converted into a women’s club and got destroyed in 1930 due to a fire. At this very spot exists the building of the Military Holiday Home. Belmount, now known as Circuit House, was constructed for the late Maharaja of Faridkot.

At present there is not really much to see or do in Kasauli, besides trekking up to the Hanuman temple on the Manki Point. The Manki Point is believed to be in the shape of the left foot of Lord Hanuman, who is said to have kept his left foot on this very hill, while carrying the mountain bearing the ‘Sanjivini’ herb for curing Laxman, Lord Ram’s younger brother. The Manki Point was also famous as Tapp nose after Colonel Tapp. Wild animals were found in large numbers in Kasauli and its suburbs when the forests were dense.

Till 1889, Kasauli was a subdivision of Shimla district and the headquarters of the Assistant Commissioner, who was also the treasury officer and cantonment magistrate for Subathu, Dagshai and Solan.

Other offices such as the office of the Deputy Commissioner, the DIG of Police of Ambala district and the residence of the General Commanding Officer of Sirhind division were also present at Kasauli. In 1889 Kasauli was transferred to Ambala district and was attached to its Kharar tehsil. It also functioned as the summer headquarters of the Ambala district.

Before the introduction of the Kalka-Shimla highway, Kasauli functioned as a wholesale trading centre for the region. "Kasauli was an important business town in those days and people used to come here for earning their livelihood" quipped an elderly person. The trade was promoted by Cart Road to Shimla which passed through Kasauli, Kakkarhatti, Subathu and Sairi. After the introduction of the Kalka-Shimla highway and railway track to Shimla, which bypassed Kasauli, the town lost some of its importance, due to the emergence of some new markets on the new road. After the partition of the country the gap caused by the departure of Muslim traders was filled by the non-trading castes. However, certain commodities sold by the Muslims, like meat, have almost disappeared today.

The Christ Church on the Mall During the British times one could see hand-driven rickshaws on The Mall, but now these could only be dreamt of. The ringing of rickshaw bells, telling the pedestrians to make way for the rickshaw could well be imagined. No longer in use, these rickshaws were one of the most interesting relics of the British times. These rickshaws were pushed and pulled by coolies, who always ran barefoot.According to some elderly citizens, The Mall was only meant for the British gentry or a few highly placed Indians. The cantonment has not changed much, and its population has been stagnant since the last few decades. Initially, the people in this town were generally engaged in trade, but later some affluent Indian families also settled here. This town became famous for its cleanliness and attracted an annual influx of military personnel, besides a large number of tourists. It is surprising to know that a majority of the locals are unaware of Kasauli’s glorious past. What the people know today is the church and the Manki Point, Sanawar School, and the Kasauli Club, and the gulab jamuns and the bun samosas.

Kasauli has an average occupancy rate of about 80 per cent to 100 per cent during the peak season. It is a fashion to walk in hills rather drive a car. This is as much true for Kasauli as for its beauty and cleanliness.At present only the market bazaar and a shopping cluster on The Mall have a fair concentration of marketing activity in Kasauli. While Sadar Bazaar and Arhat Bazaar are in bad condition with only a few shops functioning, most of the shopkeepers have either shifted to Chandigarh, Kalka or Solan, or have closed down their shops.

The town is under the legal purview of a distinct set of rules and regulations contained in the Cantonment Act, the restrictive nature of which has acted as a brake on the growth of commercial activity and the overall development of the town. The only logical influence of the cantonment rules has been the better maintenance of the sanitary and hygienic conditions of the town, but the same is now deteriorating. It’s a pity that none of the influential persons have bothered to use their dominant position to improve the basic amenities and the lowly conditions prevailing in this town.

Lack of recreational facilities and inadequate tourist infrastructure have dampened the growth of the tourism industry. Tourism can incur substantial revenue for the town’s exchequer.

For that an effort would have to be made to make Kasauli more attractive for tourists. Well-planned, eco-friendly development is very essential for this little town to prosper. What is left of Kasauli are the sweet memories of the past — with no expectations of improving conditions in the near future.back

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