Town of Tranquility and History - DAGSHAI

 Dagshai  Hills - Pic Credit Mr Sethi 
The Dagshai Jail Museum  
The outer Courtyard of the Jail 

Dagshai – a charming little military town of Himachal –has probably more historical significance than many big towns of our state. Its relevance increases as the two intertwined Gs of our history – Gandhiji and Godse stayed in the town’s jail – the first as a visitor and other as an undertrial after shooting the first.

For me there could not have been a better way to remember Gandhiji on his birth anniversary than to visit one of the places he visited in Himachal. It showcases Gandhiji’s love and support for Irish mutineers and also their influence on his thoughts.

The Dagshai hills were under Raja of Patiala and from him the Britishers took away (free of cost) five villages to house one of their Army units near Ambala Cantt. One of the village was called Dagshai and hence the name. Popular legends say that the name is derived from the term – “Daag - i - Shahi” – the ‘Daag’ or the  ‘mark’ the  Mughals used to put on the foreheads of their hardened prisoners before sending them to this area as outcasts.

Signboard outside the Museum
Old Pictures of Dagshai - Pic Credit Mr Sethi

Initially developed as a sanitarium  for TB patients, the town gained prominence after the setting up of the Army cantonment in 1847 and building of a Military jail in 1849 at a cost of Rupees 72 thousand under the supervision of General Napier. This was a ‘jail’ for fauji prisoners (no civilians were housed in this jail during British times).

Dagshai is not termed as a big tourist destination in today’s times as there are hardly any hotels or big Malls or eating joints – but it attracts people who are keen on re-discovering history and taking tranquil long walks amidst the green chir forests. It is also a showcase of how the passion of one man helped in restoring the history of this town and bringing it back into Tourist circuit - Mr Anand Kumar Sethi

The Sunset from Dagshai - Pic credit Mr Sethi 

An IIT Bombay Alumnus and a retired Banker, Mr Sethi decided to come and live in Dagshai in 2010 because of his family nostalgia. But when he visited the Jail premises he was sad to see it being used as a storage area by the Army and it’s unique history getting lost. Military jails in India during the British were few and Dagshai had housed many prominent personalities. He than took it upon himself to try to restore this place and convert it into a museum with the support of Army Cantonement. His efforts – both in cash and kind – resulted in Jail premises becoming the second Jail Museum in our country after Central Jail of Andaman in 2011.

Visiting a Jail never evokes good emotions as one starts imagining the hard life of the prisoners and more so if one is shown a big ‘Bell’ hung on the main entrance which used to ring only when a prisoner was ‘hanged or shot’ or at English festivals - but with Mr Sethi, who also is the curator of this jail, the experience was different.

The Main entrance with the 'Bell'
The Outer Courtyard and the Fire Hydrant of 1865
Outside the Museum

Dagshai Jail is a small T shaped structure with only 54 cells – 27 normal, 27 for solitary confinement, one VIP and one T&P cell (torture and punishment). As was the system in those days – the cells hardly had much space, no proper light or ventilation and no sanitation. Solitary cells were pitch dark with no facilities of any kind.

                                                                              The main Cells and Solitary Confinement cells

                                                                                             The T & P - Torture and Punishment Cell  

                                                                                                     Bread and Butter Punishment 

The jail also had a unique punishment system known as “bread and water’ punishment where a miscreant was made to stand for hours in a narrow space between two doors with just water and bread and no room for any movement.  This jail was a ‘No escape Jail’ – as no prisoner ever escaped from here.

Surprisingly the jail was way ahead of its time with rain water harvesting system, water pumps, ventilation ducts, a black smithy corner to make the prisoner’s chains and a fire hydrant installed in 1865. 

Dagshai came into news when Gandhiji came to visit the Irish Mutineers in support of their cause in 1920. Though arrangements of his stay were made outside but he insisted on staying in the Jail and was housed in the only VIP cell of the building. The leader of this mutiny – James Daly, a private from the 1st battalion Connaught Rangers, was shot dead in November 1920 (the last English man to be shot on political grounds). His remains were eventually carried back to Ireland in 1970’s to be buried there with full military honors.                 

 The VIP Cell where Gandhiji stayed for 2 days

Some prominent inmates were the Gorkha soldiers after 1857 revolt, leaders of Komagata Maru incident, Boer war POW’s and  the last to be housed - Nathuram Godse in transit to Shimla for his trial in 1949 in cell no 6 just next to the main entrance. What a coincidence. He also was the last prisoner of this Jail.

The jail now has many exhibits and details of the inmates housed here. It  has a small museum of many pictures and descriptions all painstakingly created by Mr Sethi with the help of his wife Deepa, the Military Command, relatives of the previous inmates and British and Irish Governments.

The Map of Dagshai Hills - brought from England
The History Recrated
Pictures brought from England

A Priceless picture where Gandhiji can be seen as part of RedCross team in South Africa - sitting in the middle 

Do you know that Dagshai is also known as a haunting town of Himachal and many ghost stories float around here? It’s mainly because of the ancient graveyards from early 1800 and also because of many prisoners who were shot here or died naturally. It also has the myth of - ‘Mem ki Kabra’ - which was thought to have healing powers for childless couples. 

One of the Graveyards - Pic Credit Mr Sethi 
The Grave of Mary Rebecca Weston - built by her husband Major George Weston - when she died with her unborn child in 1909. Her grave gained prominence when people started taking away a piece of the marble tombstone as a blessing for childless couples. The grave now has been restored by Mr Sethi and put under a cage for protection

Another unique feature of the town are 'memorial stones' found in some places. They were probably carved by the army - maybe for extolling their battle honour and some in the memory of their loved ones as shown in the pics below. 

The Stone says that one Mr Charles Wilson died on this spot by falling from the road above

Dagshai has an old Army School which has produced many war heros and whose grounds housed the first Durand Cup match in 1888 and the Victory parade after World War I. The town has 2 small Churches – now restored - again an initiavtive of Mr Sethi and also a Polo ground.

                                                The Army School ground where first Durrand Cup took place in 1888

The Churches of Dagshai

The Polo Ground and the walking area in Dagshai - Pics by Mr Sethi 

Dagshai is also a get-away heaven for people from plains during summers and for some permanently after retirement. It is excellent for tracing history and finding interesting snippets including the musings of Rudyard Kipling in his book ‘Plain Tales from the Hills’. And if you are lucky the Sethi couple might take you around and introduce you to its innumerable treasures along with their warmth, wisdom and yum cake. 

There are always some places which one had heard about and always wanted to visit but do not anticipate the surprises it might bestow upon. Dagshai proved one such place for me - so green, so quiet and so full of history. I loved this quiet little town with all its treasures and shall visit again to explore more. 

In the Beautiful Home of Anand and Deepa Sethi 



  1. Once again, a well crafted piece of Himachal is presented here! Every land has umpteen tales to tell, it is up to the traveler to unravel them and marvel at the surprises they unearth. Thanks so much @anurita for bringing these stories to us 🥰

  2. An excellent explication of a place not only known for its imperturbation and natural beauty but also for many historical actions and happenings that took place at Dagshai during the British era .You have really come out with an amalgam of historical and uncanny details through your eximiously written and pictorial blog .

  3. Wonderful exploration and unfolding the untold story of such a unique and historically enriched town, really loved it 💕💕

  4. Very informative blog , and pictures are awesome. Looking like some old Hollywood movie. 👌👌

  5. Great exploration, Anurita! Takes one down the historic lanes of this lesser known place. Beautiful pictures too !!

    Prabha 🌷

  6. Dagshai is a place hardly much people know about they just zoom past on highway leading to shimla whereas this tiny historical wonder is a destination in itself! I will advise traveller's to take a small detour to your right after dharmpur and take a drive up the hill all the way to Gandhi gram and join back highway at kumarhatti it may be the best drive ever in shivaliks. Thanks me later!!!

  7. I wish I were there in Dagh-e-Shahi.
    A great write-up.

  8. Every word written in description of Dagshai is accurate & true. Excellent pictures too, of one of my favourite places.


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