Woodville Palace, formerly the palace of the Jubbal royal family in the Shimla hills, is a great place to take your own little princes and princesses for a summer break. Located just below Raj Bhavan, the Himachal Pradesh governor’s residence, it is more a large, vibrant manor than a stuffy, daunting palace. A walk through the hallways lined with rare photographs of various royals leads one through an intriguing journey of genealogies – the alliances forged by the Jubbal daughters and daughters-in-law from the Gondal, Khairigarh, Patiala, Kapurthala and other royal families titillates the time immemorial love of fairy tale romances. We trace the bison head marked “Mysore 1941” in the Dining hall to the photo of Raja Birendra Singh standing over a just killed bison, also marked “Mysore 1941”. And when, two days later we stumble upon another portrait of the same king, now become as familiar as a distant ancestor, we mourn the second date next to that of his birth. 1961.
The dashing young huntsman, the young groom with his bride, the holiday-maker with his family, heir in princely attire….is no more. We search for royals in the Bishop Cotton class photographs of 1961 and 1963 on the second floor hall leading to a locked room marked “Private” and wonder who amongst these children stood as the cortege passed in 1961. We imagine the younger royals behind those doors taking their place in the corporate world of Heritage Hotels, wealth management, and capitalizing on a heritage people like me voyeuristically flock to experience. Woodville is not a hotel…or at least not just a hotel. It is a flight into a sense of national pride that along with the tsars of Russia and the kings and queens of England, whose portraits also pepper Woodville’s walls, we too had our pageantry.
We are of course a privileged few who will actually live in the halls history has roamed. Even fewer will rub shoulders with those of name and fame. Most of our past is fossilized in museums and mausoleums children reluctantly visit and if they do, it is amongst hoards of chattering classmates led by often jaded, reluctant teachers torn between their own shopping and restoration of order. Two rusting daggers hanging under portraits of Jubbal royals elicit a gasp from my son as all the cache of armaments in the Nationa