70 Kms of circuitous road and 3 wildlife sanctuaries on the way.. Driving past 2 of the most famous hill stations of Lower Himachal…Enjoying in an open river restaurant & seeing world’s highest cricket ground.
Meet the wild side of you: The Cedars, Pines, Oaks, maples, chestnuts, Himalayan eagle, pheasants, Himalayan Monal, Himalayan panther, barking deer, wild cats, Himachali Ghoral… and many more……
Kandaghat to Chail:
As you leave the Kalka-Shimla highway behind at Kandaghat and take a right turn towards Chail, there is another world which is in waiting. You are no more be driving on a broad highway rather this road is narrow and allows only single vehicle to pass through at some places. There are sharper twists and turns along this circuitous Himalayan road.
Do not forget to go slow at the curves; blow horn; use deeper at night and wait for side. Sometimes, the road gets so narrow that you might have to follow a slow moving lorry for a km or two in a stretch. But these annoyance are paid with interest. The returns come on the form of tranquillity, accordance with nature, harmony of peaceful thoughts.
The return comes in form of the tranquillity
Try: Have tea at local road-side at some village and take a glance around the valleys.
As you enter this route, you are welcomed by the slopes wearing the bridal of Deodar trees, pine, oak trees etc. These dense trees cover the slopes to the left of the road to Chail except at a few villages or settlements. Sometimes, the forest and trees look so dense with dark woods that the road seems to have an end at the next corner. These thick forests cover the left slopes, covering till the top. While to the right flows a hilly river called “Ashwini”.
Along the river, would be small huts or cottages situated along the slopes. Those huts are mostly the homes of the farm owner who do terrace farming or step-farming along the slopes of river Ashwini which makes the cultivation and irrigation easier.
Try: Parking your vehicle and taking a stroll in the nearest terrace-farms.
You would be driving along this river until Sadhupul, midway of Kandaghat & Chail. At Sadhupul, the road to Chail takes a U-turn and you leave behind the river going straight into denser forest.
After taking the U-turn, as you slide more into the forests and inch closer towards Chail, forests get denser, lesser number of people are seen on the road, thickness of the woods would be increased and dense forests look darker.
Open river restaurant, Sadhupul (Source: Wikipedia)
Try: Open river restaurant at Sadhupul sitting in middle of the river.
Phone Number: +91-177-2653888
The story does not end here, as evening falls down, there would an avalanche of fog hovering from the cloud. In winters, they keep hovering all day long, as long as its not sunny. The road looks wet, hazy and black. You would feel like driving through some deserted village. But the beauty around never gives you a spoilt feeling.
You would feel engulfed into aura of natural beauty and more rejuvenating. Sometimes, it gets so much darker and foggy even during the day, you might have to turn the vehicles’s fog lights and wipers on and drive slowly on the slippery road.
Try: at least spending a night in Chail (Better) or at Kufri, the next stop; stay in cottages; see the Chail palace & the highest cricket ground.
World’s highest cricket ground at Military school, Chail
Next day, as you leave Chail and head towards Kufri, Chail wildlife sanctuary would be waiting for to welcome you. After leaving the small beautiful town of Chail behind, most of the road drives through scenic Chail sanctuary. If you are lucky, you might encounter Himalayan panther, Himalayan black bear, wild cats, jackal, barking deer and sometimes Himachali Ghoral too.
If it would be a sunny day then you can see Himalayan ranges of hills at the Horizon along the high driving road. But, seeing a series of very-very dense Deodar forest is common. The forest seems to be never-ending until you reach Koti.
Koti is famous for its step-farming again and this time the road drives through the farm and on both sides of the road there would a series of farming piling above one-another to the left and also to the right. When green, they look like plants have been arranged into such beautiful configuration along the road.
Try: Stop along the farms beside the road and shoot photographs; walk along the farms and take a look around at the far Deodar’s dense forests covering every inch of the slopes.
Dense Cedar forests
Once you reach Kufri, you have reached one of the most celebrated towns of the Himachal. The reason being: Kufri is one of those places in Himachal which receives early snowfalls. Lying closer to Shimla, Kalka and city in the plains of north India like Delhi and Chandigarh, makes it easily accessible to the tourists running away from scorching heat of the plain.
Other snow-receiving places, while on the other hand, are around hundreds of kms away from this place. That’s why this place is always crowded in winter. Try: Taking a look at the clearer Himalayan peaks from here. First time they unfold there beauty here more clearly.
Lower Himalayan ranges from Kufri (Source: Wikipedia)
Try: Horse ride to Mahasu peak, the highest peak of Kufri; take a Yak ride in winter, eat hot noodles with tea along road-side shops; buy cheap gloves for winters (Though they are not pure woollen but enough to save your hands from cold winds) but be aware of the smell of dung from donkey & horses.
Kufri to Shimla:
This road takes you to the capital city of Himachal pradesh. This road later joins Ambala-Shimla highway after leaving Kufri behind and passes through Shimla reserve forest sanctuary. This part of journey is said to be the most spectacular because of the views of the hills ranges of Himalayas. This catchment area does not only house big trees like oak, pine and cedars but also you can find small maple and horse chestnut trees.
A maple tree
This area is also famous for monkeys which are found on road-side trees waiting for tourists to feed them nuts or bananas. In late winter or with starting of spring, this reserve forest is also home to many of the Himalayan birds like Himalayan eagle, famous for their high fly and attacking skills, pheasant, partridge and of course the state bird of Himachal, the Himalayan Monal.
As you inch closer to Shimla, a bundle network of roads start merging ahead and from the far you can see Shimla shining under the sun sitting at the top spreading over hills.
Some lonely street while exploring Shimla at night
My Solo Kandaghat-Sadhupul-Chail-Kufri-Shimla road trip Experience
Some journeys are purely accidental and unplanned however sometimes they just turn out be one of the most memorable and enjoyable journeys in life. Though I love travelling a lot however, most of times, they would be organized and planned. But the journey I am going to write the experience of, always kept me on the brink.
I would still say that it was certainly my peripheral luck which always salvaged my life before the menacing moments could strike me bad and how I gradually decided to appreciate the beauty instead of bothering about the hard times.
So, it began like this……..
I had semester exams next week and all of a sudden my father calls me and asks me to leave for Chail, a town in Himachal asap. He was missing some deadlines and I was in Delhi then. Delhi was closer to Chail than my father’s place. I found that very undesirable. After taking the prints of the documents, I packed my bag and left for ISBT, the main bus stand of Delhi.
As usual ISBT was very crowded and platforms for Himachal were overly crowded. There were only a few direct buses to Himachal. Getting a seat in the bus was equal to fighting against the Jaat army. I could not succeed at the first trial and then decided to go to Chandigarh and then to Shimla.
On the way to ISBT
Narrowly escaping my kidnap:
The Bus started at around 10 o’clock from ISBT. Around 3 Am, we were somewhere around Ambala and the bus broke. I still remember that there was a railway crossing and also a new flyover under construction. But there were no puncture shops around and we were waiting for the bus conductor to arrange a working tyre.
While the driver was away with the flattened tyre to some distant puncture shop, a gang of 2 to 3 people arrived in a van. Their claim was they were also going to Chandigarh and could adjust one or two more persons with them. Since I was in hurry, I decided to use their facility. I quickly went inside the bus and grabbed my bag.
Meanwhile the conductor had also come behind me. He almost blocked my way while I was coming out of the bus. And he told me in the local Haryanvi language to not to follow them. I was little surprised, curious and became little afraid too. But eventually staying behind with the group of passengers sounded to me a better option. Later I came to know that there was not any surety that they could have dropped me at Chandigarh. They sometimes loot people or kidnap them. I felt luckier.
I was at Chandigarh bus stand and I did not have to wait much longer for the bus. Sooner I got a bus to Shimla. I was happy that I would be on time when I reach Chail.
From Chandigarh to Kandaghat, the place where you change vehicle to Chail, it takes almost 3 hours due to circuitous road and further from Kandaghat to Chail it takes around 75 mins. So, my calculation was that in 5 hours I would reach Chail by 10 o’clock. Everything was running super-smooth and on time.
However, It got late because from Kandaghat to Chail, the road is one-way and condition of the road was also not good so it took more time to reach Chail.
Landslide further delayed my timing:
On the way to Chail, the road was really narrow and it runs along valley. There was a land slide and a whole tree was lying across the road. But, I was lucky that on other side of the landslide, mini-bus guys were already waiting for the passengers coming from Kandaghat to Chail and this is how things works in Hilly areas.
Forgetting all the Documents back in Delhi:
I was already running late and around 11 o’clock, I reached Chail. When I reached Chail, I had to submit documents and when I searched my bag, there were no documents at all. I could not believe that and I searched my bag again and again until the office-guy made me believe that I had forgotten the documents.
Looking at my poor face and having pity on me, He asked me to come early morning next day because the deadline was already over two days ago. Thankfully, I had the copies of the documents on-line. I still could not believe him and after coming out of his office, I called my room mate and he confirmed me that there were some documents lying in a poly-bag on my bed. I was like ‘Oh my God what I did?’. It was then confirmed that I, even, had not carried the documents at all with me.
World’s highest cricket ground is in Chail
From Chail, Solan and Shimla, two major cities on Himachal are situated at almost equal distance, one to the North and one to the South of Chail. Thinking that I need internet cafe next day, I decided to go to Shimla because there was higher probability of finding an internet cafe and a printer shop in Shimla.
There were latent reasons as well for going to Shimla. Because the route from Chail to Shimla passes through Kufri and also along Himalayan Nature park and I had a reasoning to make to go to Shimla then and I left for Shimla by bus.
Landslide awaiting ahead and that was worse:
That year winter was little rainy and there were frequent land slides. It was very pleasant weather when the mini-bus left from Chail. I enjoyed the natural scenery and views sitting at the window. It was raining and the sky was almost dark. Around two in the afternoon, we were somewhere around Kufri. It was almost freezing but I was loving rain and winter. After Kufri, the single road to Shimla joins a national highway which comes from Ambala and from the view of lower Himalayan ranges are superb.
As the minibus whirled over the highway and when I thought Shimla was no more far away. We encountered a land slide on the highway. the whole road was covered and there was no way a bus or even a bike could cross. I asked an old man and he told that Shimla was almost 8 Kms from there.
Luckily the rain had stopped by then. He told he was also going to Shimla so I decided to hand on with him. He was a nice person. We were walking together. After walking for almost half an hour, we were nearer to some village. Walking up the hill seemed not to be a good option for me when I had to make myself early next day.
The cheating Taxi Guy:
The old man was in conversation with a local guy and he was trying to rent a van on sharing basis to Shimla. We had to wait for almost twenty more minutes before we could find more passengers for Shimla. For next six kilometers the taxi guy would charge hundred rupee each. Finally, the deal was done and we were into the taxi then.
Soon in ten minutes we were on the outskirts of Shimla near Auckland bus stand. And, as soon as we entered the tunnel of Circular road, the taxi guy stopped there and refused to go to the town. He came up with thousand of reasons and finally again I was on my foot.
Shimla at night
It was almost four in the evening but it Looked like 7 or 8 in the evening due to weather and dark clouds. Knowing nothing about the place, I decided to walk to the bus stand and then start the hunt for a hotel room. But luckily, I got a town bus and reached to the bus stand.
No hotel rooms at night:
I was hungry like hell and having no food for last long hours and running lesser on money, I was looking out for some cheap hotel rooms and dinner as well. Finally near the victory tunnel at the main bus stand, I found a guy with local Band-Tikki and I could not resist my hunger and had two Bun-tikkies.
They almost burnt my mouth because I had asked for the spicy and they are already sold spicy. If you from North, then you might it relevant with Spicy bun-Samosa of Kasauli aur Bun-tikki of Dehradun or Mussoorie. Just in front of the tunnel was a fruit seller shop and looking at the shining Golden apples, I could not resist again and had three apples in a row. They were tastier, sweeter and more juicy.
Now the hunt for the hotel rooms began and I was every move in the battle. I knew that if I did not get any room soon, I would be charged more as the night falls. Having meagre amount of money in my pocket, I almost searched for dozens of hotels but none were fitting to the budget of a college-student and finally I found a Gurudwara.
The Gurudwara Where I stayed
It was cheaper. The view of the valley from the Gurudwara was superbly awesome and in the night, I loved looking down standing at the window.
The high toilet at second floor:
Having heavy dinner again at the night and two very spicy bun-tikkies had churned my digestive system and next day, when I got up I came to know that there was water scarcity in the town and only the central toilet system was operational in the Gurudwara. I was not left with any other option and in the urgent bathroom case while going to the central toilet which I was actually two floor up, one aunty asked me to carry a bucket of warm water which she was bringing from the top.
Shimla, Next morning
I could not deny looking at her condition but my condition got worsened and after helping her I almost ran and there was no surprise when I found all the bathroom locked. But there were like more than a dozen rest-rooms and I had not to wait more than a minute or two. After the job, I felt relaxed like never before.
Internet Shut-down in Shimla:
I got prepared and packed my bag again and left the Gurudwara. My next job was to find an internet cafe. There were not much internet-cafe in Shimla those days because there was some network tower signalling problem or cabling problem due to landslide or some natural reasons.
It was little early too. Shops at hill station open little late around eleven. I got to know about an internet cafe on the mall road. By asking local people and passing through lower Bazaar, I reached the mall road.
Lower Bazaar, Shimla
Yeah, there was a internet cafe called Satyam enterprises. They were running Sify system, if you remember them. When I reached there I came to know that their internet was down and the guy at the counter assured me that internet of the whole Shimla was down. There would not be any single cafe where there was even the least possibility for internet to work.
Next internet Shop 50 Kms down the road:
I thought I was surely going to miss the deadline and I was also afraid of anger of my father. So I decided to go to next city which was Solan, 50 Kms down of Shimla. I was still skeptical of the internet condition over there. What if internet did not work at all there? I could not imagine that. I was hopeful that within one and half hour I would in Solan. And I was there of course.
Getting dropped on the highway and Finding a cafe again:
So, that was a bus to Chandigarh and I was dropped on the highway and the city of Solan is situated a little off to the highway. So, I had to take a walk to reach to the Solan. Finding a cafe again did not put much trouble to my journey and I found a cafe. But, this was not the end of the story and something more was waiting for me.
The cafe guy was not there:
Though I found the shop and even some customers were sitting inside but the cafe guy was no there and it took another almost an hour for the cafe to return. Finally he turned up and I was able to download the documents and filled up them.
Back to Kandaghat, waiting for vehicle to Chail under rain:
Around one in the afternoon, I was again standing at the Kandaghat. The weather looked more ferocious and it was raining like I can’t explain in the words. Last day, I had seen hilly river flowing silently and that day, the river was roaring and there was like gallons of water in the river.
I again waited for the bus around half an hour but looking at the weather condition, everyone predicted that there must be land slides on the way and since the road was single-way the vehicle must have got stuck. I asked a few of the Van.taxi guy but their charges were sky-high. Finally around two o’clock I met a van guy who was actually a delivery guy in Chail and I booked his van.
On the way to Chail
Left for Chail under heavy rain:
I had taken proper meal except last night’s dinner and that too seemed a year ago thing. On the way to Chail, Sometimes it would rain so hard and wind would be so high that the driver would just drive and make the van crawl. Locked tight inside the glasses, we were still able to hear the high winds’ sound and hard pattering of the rain on the hood of the van.
The flow of the water on the road pouring down from the road side falls were so hard that sometimes, we had to think twice before crossing the vehicle. So, we decided to take a break. I could not force him because I was also scared of being swept away by the hard currents of the water. But thanks to the hills that they do not last for long and along with the rain they also slack away.
On the way to Chail from Kandaghat
We waited for almost half an hour at a shop. It was not a shop, it was more like the driver’s relative home and we had cups and cups of tea. Within half an hour, the rain slacked off and we moved again. Around three o’clock, I reached office and submitted the document and felt like I had won a battle against time.
How to return from Chail now? No one ventures out in rain
Now I had two options. Either to wait for the same guy to return to Kandaghat or find a way to either Kandaghat or Shimla or Solan. After the rain, the day had turned darker and it was foggy all around. I still remember that while returning from the office I was following the same route to the bus stand in Chail. That route passed through woods and it was such foggy that I was unable to see beyond five feet. At times, I was getting confused If I was following the same route.
Lying to my father:
While retuning, I got a call from my father. He was expecting me to be in Delhi by then but I was still there in Himachal. He was surprised to know that I was still there in Himachal. I had to lie that due to heavy rain and land slides Shimla was cut-off for 24 hours. But, I was happier to know that he had transferred some money in my account.
Waiting for the same van-guy:
I, finally, reached at the bus stand and it was deserted.
Even most of the shops were closed which I could not believe. It was like a black day or was it some conspiracy against me? You can’t believe it but I was alone standing at under the shed at bus stand for half an hour. Just opposite of me, a shop was open.
Sometimes, that guy would look at me suspiciously or surprisingly and we would again act as if we were not bothered. That was really an unusual feeling. Finally, I found that van guy returning to Chail. he knew I had be waiting for him at the bus stand.
Face to face with a mountain leopard:
Chail is known for wild animals like leopards, Panther, Himalayan black bear, Jackel, wild cats, barking deer etc. So our journey kicked off from Chail back to Kandaghat again.
Himalayan Reserve forest known for wildlife, Source: Wikipedia
The fog and the cold weather was leaving no mercy on us and I was almost shivering under the cold. Because my jacket was only water-resistant not water-proof and that’s when I first knew the difference between these words. And, my jacket was little wet or better call it soaked. But I was lucky that It was not fully drenched and was still wearable.
The thick fogs were not letting us drive properly and we were driving not too fast. And, suddenly, at the turn, the driver stopped and before I could speak, he pointed his finger at the front hill. It was a leopard. Staring at us. It was exciting and we rechecked our window glasses. it was more like a ten seconds eye-to-eye confrontation and it climbed up the hill. We crossed that point and we were both looking behind.
A Himachali Ghoral
Unfortunate: finding nothing for dinner:
I reached Kandaghat and begun my hunt again for dinner. It was almost around 6 in the evening and not many shops were open. I tried to find some food but there were not much hotels or dhaba. Finally, I decided to have only sweets from a shop because that was the only shop I found open.
I could not eat much sweets, not more than four I guess. You would be surprised to know that they had nothing salty except the sweets to change the taste. So, I had no other options and moreover the quality of sweets were not good, they were stale. I was lucky to find a vegetable shop and again some golden apples over there.
I bought three apples for twenty rupees and came to the bus stand.
Finding the bus on the lonely highway at night:
I was standing on the Kalka-Shimla Highway then and finding the bus turned out be a hard challenge for me. First of all, not all the buses stop at Kandaghat because its just a small town or better call it a urban village. Second, it is more cumbersome to stop a bus in the night than in a day and so I was at more disadvantageous side.
Third, it also depends on the mood of the driver. Fourth, most of the driver only prefer to stop when they see considerable amount of passengers boarding the bus and since I was alone I was constantly being ignored by the bus drivers. Last but not the least, there was some festival and many passengers were returning from Shimla and almost all the buses were full.
Shimla under rain
Finding a bus to Delhi and Meeting the annoying aunty for whole journey:
Finally, I was lucky enough to get a bus in the night around in an hour. It was around 7.30 when I had got the bus and I estimated that I would reach by morning next day. Finding no bus had almost left me with no thoughts in my head. Standing alone at the bus stand in Kandaghat was not a nice experience.
Nonetheless, some other passengers were also there but they were just locals and they managed to get in the trucks or buses but direct Buses to Delhi had lesser frequencies and I was the victim of that. What would I do here? Am I supposed to stand all night long here? And there were thousands of thoughts haunting my mind until I got the bus.
When I got the bus, it was overly crowded. There was not even space to hold the feet. Somehow I managed to find a seat just behind the driver’s seat and that fat aunty was sitting opposite to me on the engine’s bonut seat. I was already tired and when I slept off I did not know. When I opened my eyes that aunty was shouting at me tapping on my leg. That was so because there was no leg space in front of my seat.
There was a heap of bags piled over there and there was only leg space which was towards aunty. I again folded my legs. I tell you if you were tight jeans then folding the legs is really a tough job. Somehow I managed to fold my legs for half an hour. Ok. May be little more but the pain and numbness in the legs was crossing the limit. Then I would look at her and the look she will throw at me would make me forget my pain for a while. I wonder she kept staring at me all the time.
The condition got worsened when I came to know from her conversation that she was going to Chandigarh. That meant I had a long-long journey before I would get a leg-space. I would doze off and she would again appear shouting at me. We played this game whole night until around 11 o’clock she de-boarded the bus.
Finally, then I could sleep peacefully in the night and reached my hostel next day.
I lost most of the photographs under the rain of Himachal on this unusual and unplanned Journey. Though I was able to preserve a few but most of them were lost to cold and rain. So, except a few, much photographs have been borrowed from Internet just for the reference purpose.