The Kasauli Club (Ltd.) was established here in 1880 and has a reputation that extends beyond this little town. Located on the Upper Mall (at a height of6142 feet), this Club in Kasauli has a tradition that has been kept intact over the years. Stepping in, under the welcoming arch of pink roses, one virtually steps hack many decades in time. The boundary of the Kasauli Club could he seen marked with wine-racks, which once used to hold the finest wines.
Later in January 1898, the Club was registered at Office of the Registrar, Lahore. Residential quarters were soon added to the Club. During the season, only men were allowed accommodation, while the ladies too were allowed to reside in winters, if vacancies occurred. However, the presence of ladies in other than selected rooms of the Club, was then frowned upon.
The Club had three lively cozy bars, a comfortable lounge, a well-stocked library (housing many priceless and rare books), a ballroom, a busy card room, a billiards room and an exclusive dining room. This Club in Kasauli, was meant only for the English besides a few highly placed Indians. Even the servants with the members were not allowed inside. Parties were held at the Kasauli Club occasionally and dances usually took place twice a week. The British officials used to visit the place with their wives to dance and dine especially on Saturday nights.
The Club boasted of six tennis courts, which were watered and mowed daily for their upkeep, a squash court and a badminton court. The tennis courts were rolled and neatly marked before the commencement of play. A leveled shelf served as a grand stand above the courts to allow spectators a view of the match while sipping tea. These tennis teas on the terrace above the courts became famous throughout the Northern region.
Lawn tennis was strictly to be played in proper tennis shoes and those found transgressing the rule were fined heavily. The Club’s annual tennis tournaments drew players from as far as Lahore, Delhi, Ambala, Ferozepur and at times even from Bombay and Calcutta. The first ‘Kasauli Week’ at the Club (8th-15th June, 1922) had programs including a tennis tournament for the handicapped: ladies and men’s singles, doubles and mixed double matches; evening theatricals and concerts, dinner dances with bands in attendance and lantern picnics. Today, only a few old deodar trees, standing as sentinels, shade these tennis courts, which now bear a deserted look.
The Saturday dinner-dances and Wednesday cocktail dances were splendid affairs, with two bands in attendance and gentlemen officers and their ladies coming from neighboring cantonments and hill stations. Mr. Dc Costa’s Goan band used to play enchanting tunes for the Club’s Saturday dances. Sunday lunches and beer sessions were also quiet popular.
The Kasauli Club was founded as the ‘Kasauli Reading and Assembly Rooms’ by a group of Englishmen — both, from the military as well as the civilians, in dire need of company and good cheer. On May 7, 1897, the name was altered and the ‘Kasauli Club’ came into being. Meakin, the largest shareholder of the Club agreed to let out premises to the committee of management having officers and civil servants in the cantonment, as its members.
Soon Kasauli Club became a focal point for social meetings, sports and gracious living. It established a reputation for good food, good drink and a smart social circle; a tradition, which still continues. Even a casual visitor can spot the members wending their way uphill as soon as the sun begins its descent. In fact, a thin stream of people heading to the place is a sure sign of a party being held there. Especially during the summer months the Club is a huh of activity, where ladies catch up with the gossip and gather for tea, rummy and bridge.
Old timers would see the Sun make its way across the skies simply looking out of the glazed windows of the reading room. Some of them could be seen basking in the shade of the garden umbrellas, sipping tea or stronger brews. The bar room was well stocked with the finest wines, provided by G.F Kellner & Co. Ltd, Shimla, who used to import it from Europe.
The Kasauli Club is still famous and its membership is most sought after. It is as difficult a task as getting an invitation to the Queen’s Ball. One can only become a temporary member and avail its sports facilities besides taking part in other social activities. The Club was distinguished not only by the eminence of its membership but by the social graces and high standard of activities over a century.
It has the distinction of having had eminent scholars and scientists, diplomats, educationists, administrators, businessmen, men-of-letters and men of the legal profession as its members. Colonel Sir Richard Christopher (FRS, IMS, and a former director of the CRI, Kasauli), Major General M.S.Chopra (Commandant of the ASPT and later ambassador to the Philippines), Brigadier General Dyer and Mr. Meakin (of the Kasauli Distillery and Solan Brewery fame), Colonel J.A Sinton (Victoria Cross), Sir Maurice Gwyer (IMS, a former Chief Justice of India and V,C, of Delhi University), Bishop G.I).Barnes (the fifth Bishop at Lahore), Sir David Semple (the first director of the Pasteur Institute and the CRI), Sir Fredric Gauntlet (Foreign and Political Department) and many other celebrities belonging to the Indian Civil Services and defense services were its members.
Some of the British members of the Club, wanted to sell it off before their departure to England. Sir Maurice Gwyer brought along with him, a prospective buyer from Delhi. The Club would not have been at its place, had the then Indian chairman, Col. M.L. Ahuja, not prevented its sale by avoiding the quorum from being complete in the executive committee meeting. Had it been put to the auctioneer’s hammer, it would have become a private retreat and the proceeds of the sale would have been divided amongst the members (mainly Europeans).
At present, about 400 men from the bureaucracy and the armed forces are its members. The Station Commander, Kasauli is the chairman of the Club and this custom has been there since the past few decades. This age old Club evokes memories of the forgotten days of grandeur. The Club hosts the ‘Kasauli Night’, an event which is a splendid affair, held in the last week of June every year. The ‘Kasauli Queen’ contest, a part of the Night draws the maximum crowd. It brings a whiff of fresh air into the Club’s otherwise routine happenings. It is a feast of music, dance and gaiety. It is one of the most popular events in Kasauli, most important event for the Club, with members coming from far and wide.
Its committee has recently provided the Club a major facelift. Old paintings and pictures have been restored, just to bring back the feel of days gone by. The antique furniture has also been brought back by the army, through hook-or-crook as witnessed by ever residing civilians of Kasauli. One such example of army interference is the uprooting of the Old Letter Box (which is actually the property of the postal services of India – not army) from the mall and installing the same inside the club’s premiss just at the entrance providing its use to the club’s selectively privileged only, ignoring the sentimental values of the locals, civilians, tourists and disturbing original Kasauli’s look and feel.