The over 160-year-old Dalhousie hill station in Himachal Pradesh may have been named after the famous Governor General of India, but strangely Lord Dalhousie himself never visited the idyllic town, claims a new book. The nearly 200-page illustrated volume, authored by a retired civil servant, is by turns, a guidebook, an album of picturesque places and quaint Raj-era buildings, and a memoir filled with interesting anecdotes.
“Dalhousie was established by the British as a sanitarium and a convalescent depot for the troops returning from wars. Established in 1854, the town situated on the five hills, was named after the then Governor-General of India, Lord Dalhousie. “Unlike other tourist destinations like Shimla, Mussoorie and Dehradun, Dalhousie is much more quaint and still retains its charm, as it has remained sort of unspoilt by the onslaught of modernity,” says Kiran Chadha, the author, whose paternal family — the Plahas — were one of the first
settlers in Dalhousie.
Born in 1950 in Ambala, she grew up in Dalhousie amid its salubrious surroundings and breathtaking views of nature. The author said she trawled through “Raj-era cantonment and municipal records” in the hill town for a year while researching for the book — “Dalhousie… Through My Eyes”, which was released last week in Delhi by Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy.
“(First Prime Minister Jawaharalal) Nehru came to the town for the centenary of Dalhousie in 1954 and praised it. And before him Rabindranath Tagore and author Rudyard Kipling had paid a visit. One of the purposes of writing the book was also to bring these facets of history closer to the next generation,” she said. Born in Scotland in 1812, James Broun-Ramsay, later the first Marquess of Dalhousie, became the Governor-General at the age of 36, the youngest to helm the position. After the end of his tenure in 1856, he returned to his homeland and died there in 1860.
In the chapter ‘Founding of Dalhousie’, Chadha mentions that “Interestingly, Lord Dalhousie never visited Dalhousie during his tenure in British India (1848-1856).”
“During the course of my research, I consulted government documents and gazettes, and found that Lord Dalhousie never visited the place. The reason could have been that the hill town was for convalescing British troops and it had come up, just two years before the end of his tenure,” she said. When asked about Chadha’s claim, noted historian Irfan Habib said, “It is possible that Lord Dalhousie may not have been able to visit the place. He was the Governor-General and the Government House was in Calcutta, so distance could have
been another factor.”
Author and historian Romila Thapar said, “One can ascertain only if there are historical documents to corroborate it.”
Incidentally, in October 2004, the then Earl of Dalhousie had sent a letter from Brechin Castle (in Scotland) to the “Citizens of Dalhousie” on the sesquicentennial of the hill town. Talking about the history of the place, Chadha, who studied at the 116-year-old Sacred Heart Convent, said the area we know as Dalhousie today, was earlier a territory of the Raja of Chamba.
“The large stretch of five hills was acquired by the Court of Directors of the East India Company from the Raja and in return Rs 2,000 was lessened from the taxes the princely state was paying to the British,” she said.
Chamba was part of the Punjab province during the colonial period. After formation of Himachal Pradesh post- Independence, it became part of the hill state. Chadha said she also consulted ‘Guide to Dalhousie, the Chamba State, and the Neighbouring Hills’ by J B Hutchison,
published in late 19th century, among other books. The book also celebrates the architectural heritage of the hill town, the iconic churches, famous clubs, military cantonments and institutions.
Some of the heritage buildings which find a mention in the book are St Francis Church, St John’s Church, St Andrew’s Church, St Patrick’s Church, Sacred Heart Church; besides the 19th century cemetery; Khyber House, built around 1890; Circuit House; Dhoop Ghadi (originally called Petersborough) and Kynance cottage.
“Nehru had described it as ‘One of the finest and greenest hill stations… ‘ and he encouraged opening of various Establishments in the town. “So, guest houses of various universities and banks were opened there. But, tourism never really picked up there, the way it did in Shimla or Mussoorie, though it could be blessing in disguise, as the place has retained its originality in the face of concrete invasion,” she said.
The place has a population of about 10,000 as per the census, but tourists add to a big floating population. Besides, hotels and lodges, the idyllic town is also known for its homestays. Incidentally, Kolkata’s iconic Dalhousie Square was renamed to Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh or BBD Bagh after Independence, while in February this year, Dalhousie Road in the national capital’s Lutyens’ Delhi was rechristened to Dara Shikhoh Road.