If only the old walls could speak. I would dearly love to hear from them the hotel's journey through history which began in 1844 and goes on, proudly, until today. The Cecil, christened Tendril Cottage, started off as a tiny, single-storey maisonette. Interestingly, it changed hands over and over again. The Colyears were its first owners, but as is the wont of covetous property owners, fell out with each other. After much legal wrangling David Colyear was able to secure owndership, until he sold it H. R. Cooke, a minor bureaucrat in the Viceroy's establishment.
As has been the fate of several buildings in Shimla, in 1877, the original structure was pulled down and made way for a new one for a bigger one that could house several tenants.
This edifice was to see yet another owner in 1902 when Hotz, a local celebrity photographer bought it from Cooke. It is to Hotz that the credit goes for enlarging and re-christening the building as Cecil.
This hotel was to truly come into its own as a society hot spot when acquired by J. Faletti, who was until then known to the snobbish Shimla only as a rather clever chef of the Viceroy. Legend has it that Faletti spent lakhs of rupees on doing the place up.
More urban legend: Cecil has housed several great personages from India's nationalist struggle. Some people state that Kipling stayed here for a while, but Charles Allen (author of the excellent tome Kipling Sahib: Indian and the Making of Rudyard Kipling, Little Brown, 2007) says that Kipling actually stayed at Kelvin Grove, which is actually located across town, down the Mall.
Be that as it may, the present owners, the Oberois, seem to have spent considerable money and effort on redecorating the hotel.
It has an understated elegance. It seems to shrug with a genteel air when, sometimes, loud, hirsute, groin-scratching guests from lower regions crowd in. It seems to shrug philosophically, as if saying "These are the people whose money allows the dilettantes like you to be snobbish"!
In its current avtaar, the Cecil has several rooms and suites, three restaurants, a spa and a heated pool. The best part of the hotel, for me, is the gorgeous atrium and the splendid furnishings in it. Being part of the hol polloi, one may not be able to stay there, or even dine there, but one has walked in, admired the fine linen and the exquisite pictures and strolled out without much ado.
Hurray for posh neighbours!