Dagshai near Shimla- a spooky prison awaits you
Dagshai- what an interesting name! Many travelers to Shimla spend a day or two here before their onward journey to the Queen of Hills but very few know Dagshai’s haunted and sordid past.
Well, time stands to have stood still in this Himachal Pradesh town. The wheels of change have still not reached Dagshai. The doors of the shops here still sport an old-fashioned look. Unlike the shuttered doors of Shimla, those of Dagshai are foldable much like the doors of Old Delhi, and Jaipur.
People still wear their toothy smiles here, quick to make friends with you and offer you a free cup of steaming tea. I am lucky that the folks of this Himachal town have not fallen for the charms of the fast life.
It is really difficult to fish out your mobile phone here and check your WhatsApp messages because the charm of this town is so overpowering. If you are planning your honeymoon destination, then do consider Dagshai. Technology won’t make your marriage crowded here.
But delve a bit deeper and you will discover some terrible tales about this hill town. But let us first understand why Dagshai is named so.
Local residents say that many centuries ago, convicted criminals were branded on their foreheads and then sent over to this place. In Urdu and Farsee, this branding was called Daag-e-Shahi, meaning those branded on the orders of the king. Probably, there would have been a prison here that housed those unfortunate souls.
I am not sure whether that ancient prison still exists here in Dagshai, but the Britishers indeed put up a jail here in the 19th-century. This jail was the equivalent of the Cellular prison of Andamans and many a prisoner spent his last days here. Some of the prisoners were also executed in the Dagshai jail. Come to think of it, what a fantastic location to be jailed in.
But make no mistake. The chaps who were given the strictest punishments were put up in rooms that had no windows, and no openings of air. Such prisoners had to live alone within the four walls of their cell. Waiting to die, these prisoners had no chance for escape. They were also not allowed to meet their family members.
But there was one room that was reserved for people selected for the harshest punishment.
This room had two doors, both facing each other. These doors were separated by just three feet and the prisoner was made to stand between them before the doors were closed. Imagine yourself getting sandwiched between two walls, and you have just three feet to stand or sit! It could not have been more horrible for the prisoner.
In November 1920, an Irish prisoner was brought to this jail for his crime. James Daly was a soldier in the British Army and was stationed in India. The Irishman was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Connaught Rangers, a unit that was raised in the 1700s. On the 2nd of November, Daly was executed in the courtyard of the Dagshai prison.
His crime?Rebellion against the British kingdom.
Daly was a Catholic and though he served the British Army, he deeply believed in Irish Independence. In July 1920, he along with his some other colleagues tried to loot the magazine of the British Army. This attempt was unsuccessful and Daly with his colleagues was captured by the Britishers. The entire group was sentenced to death but it was only Daly who was executed.
The Irishman’s body lay buried in the Dagshai prison for 50 years and it was only in 1970 when his remains were later on taken to Ireland.
Daly’s execution did not go unnoticed in India. When Mahatma Gandhi learned of this incident, he decided to spend a night in this jail. Gandhi, like many other Indians, supported the Irish independence movement.
If you want to know more about the Irish independence movement, click this link.
James Daly was the last white officer to have been punished by the Britishers for his offense in India.
Then there were the soldiers of a Sikh army unit who too were executed by the British in this jail for helping an Indian freedom fighter.
Several years before Daly was executed, members of the Komagata Maru expedition were also put to death by the Britishers for their ‘sedition’.
Presently, the Dagshai jail is used asana office by the Indian Army authorities but you can still visit this jail turned museum. Take the permission of the local authorities.
How to reach Dagshai
The best way to reach this quaint place is to take the Kalka-Shimla train. Get off at Dagshai station and then you are good to go. Book this train by visiting this Government of India website.
Alternately, you can book a cab from Chandigarh.
Hotels in Dagshai
Stay comfortably in Dagshai by choosing your favorite hotel after clicking this link. Room rents go up during summers, so at this time you will have to pay extra.