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A HOTEL CALLED CHARLI WILLY

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By GANESH SAILI

‘Take her to the hills!’ The doctors in Calcutta advised the anxious parents. ‘She’s must recuperate there!’ Twelve-year old Indrani’s bout of typhoid had left her weak. That is precisely ‘how’ she came to Mussoorie twice, first in 1952 and for a holiday in 1956. A much-harried Saroj Kumar Mazumdar and his wife Ira took the train to Dehradun to bring their child to the hill station.

Writer’s luck struck when after years of a seemingly futile search I actually met someone who had been a guest at the Charli Willy Hotel. Conscientiously I must exclude my father who would go there to read the electricity meters, having left behind the pine-scented wood fires of his mountain home in Sail village. Sometimes one wonders what must it have been like to find oneself surrounded by trophies on the walls; bearers in white uniforms, maroon cummerbunds, gold sashes with tassels flashing flitting between the spit and polish.

Speaking of her first visit in 1952, Indrani Mazumdar née Roy tells me: ‘I was twelve when my father checked us in. Then he took a walk to Landour bazaar and picked up some walking sticks. How we treasure those sticks in our home today!

‘What a grand place the hotel used to be! Spacious grounds, immaculate gardens and manicured lawns. They had a fixed menu. No a la carte! Though if you were going out, they would make an exception by packing sandwiches in your picnic hamper.

‘I was still wobbly and the hotel organised a kandi or basket to carry me down to Kempty Falls. She remembers: ‘Children were not allowed into the dining room. They had their own place,’ she recalls, adding: ‘Most children were Parsis from Bombay and were into Fancy Dress parties.’

Old books on Mussoorie tell us that the first buildings came up in 1842 on land purchased by General Wilkinson from the Mahant of Dehradun. In 1857, one of the buildings served as a temporary extension of the Waverly Convent School. Four years later it was purchased by Mr Hobson who had left his employ with the Mussoorie Bank.

Patiently, a bit at a time, he restored the place and named it after the names of his two sons: Charli and Willy. Please don’t ask me why it is called Sharlyville! I don’t have the faintest idea, but it is here that royalty like Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales, later Queen Mary, stayed during her imperial visit in 1906.

Afterwards, the German-born Henry Wultzer bought over the hotel including the two-storied Criterion restaurant in the Library area. Though by now he was already a name to reckon with as the Refreshment Contractor to Calcutta’s Grand Exhibition.

‘The Charleville is situated in the healthiest part of Mussoorie,’ Northam’s Guide of 1884 tells us. ‘It’s rooms are large, light and wellventilated, and it is the only Hotel that can boast of having very extensive grounds well-wooded with pleasant walks around, while the view of the snows and surrounding hills cannot be equalled in any part of Mussoorie.’

By 1907, Frederick Bodycot tells us the hotel had expanded from 40 rooms in 1884 to a 112 rooms, along with public rooms, a large dining room, a children’s dining-room, a ball-room, a public drawing-room, a smoking room and a card room, a fine billiards room with two tables, and a ladies cloak-room for ball nights.

‘The linen-room has a European housekeeper, and, in addition to the finely appointed kitchen, there was a bakery and a confectionery. There were two tennis courts and a badminton court. There was an out-of-office accommodation for 400 servants, stabling for 50 horses, a piggery, a poultry yard, and extensive fruit and vegetable gardens.’

It was on August 28th 1959 that the National Academy of Administration moved lock, stock and barrel from Delhi’s Metcalfe House to the Charleville Hotel’s twenty-five acres. By the time Mr Fonseca, the last owner, passed on the baton to the government, the hotel had by then made a name for itself the world over as ‘the Queen of resorts and the resort of Kings.’ History had turned over a page.

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustratedby their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.