Travelling in Himachal in June – 2007
Shimla >> Manali >> Rohtang >> Chandratal >> Ki/Kibber/Tabo >> Kalpa >> Shimla
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Four of us left Giri River Camp and drove towards Shimla, taking a detour via the deodar forests of Chail and Kufri.
Winding mountain roads took us through pine forests interspersed with villages and small towns. We drove through them slowly and gently at speeds varying from 20kph to a high of forty plus. It was often narrow, and dangerous at blind curves and a moment unaware could immediately take us a few hundred feet down into the valley. But it is not as bad it appears and the road is more scenic than fearsome. I did not get behind the wheels, but for me, love is driving in the mountains and I have done many thousand kilometers of it down south. Nothing to beat the might of the Himalayas though; where in the world can you find mountains so tall and steep and yet so well connected and inhabited?
The other folks in the car were veterans of Himachal who gave me plenty of dope on the local way of life, culture, people and places as we drove on. There were hilarious stories to know about rich folks of Kinnaur with excessive obsession to alcohol, about the kindness of people in the high mountains, richly beautiful landscapes of Spiti, of landslides blocking the roads every now and then and so on. Apparently public transport can sometimes be faster than your own vehicle in Himachal’s roads frequently affected by landslides; in case of a landslide you can just walk across the slide and hop into a bus waiting on the other side.
We drove via Solan town on the Shimla highway and turned towards Chail at Kandaghat. Initially a vegetation of stout trees and shrubs with a generally dry atmosphere, things started changing as we climbed up towards Chail village. A small village it may be, but not undiscovered by Delhi’s footloose population trying to escape from the summer heat. Resorts and hotels litter the way and giant ad-hoardings welcome you to their properties in Chail. But thankfully, Chail village itself is unspoilt as the region around it has been declared a reserve forest and no construction permitted. The village is tiny and is marked by an old palace of the Maharaja of Patiala(now a hotel, Rs.10 for visitors to see) and the world’s highest full size cricket ground(no entry for visitors, but you can manage a sneak peek) owned by a school managed by the army. It was a moment of nostalgia for one of my friends in the car who did his schooling here and went on saying ‘this was our dormitory.. this was our classroom..’.
Deodar Forests of Chail
Chail is a different world and demarcates itself from the rest with sudden surge of deodar trees. They grow densely with little space left between trees, climbing higher and higher in search of more sunlight. But for a few rays of the mid-day sun escaping the branches and falling on the tarmac, sunlight never makes it to the ground. The temperature dips considerably on approach to the village and you have to look hard to find a place to bask in the shine. The thick vegetation occasionally gives out in steep slopes, revealing the gigantic Himalayan valleys and waves of mountain peaks beyond them. The same tall trees also hide the concrete resorts and hotels on the road approaching the village.
The one main road on the village is littered with restaurants and shops, giving an unlikely feeling of a busy town. But it is hardly a hundred meter long and in a sudden twist, makes way for the prolific deodars. Chail is the quintessential Himalayan village perfect for travel brochures; an ideal retreat that has hardly changed much within its borders.
Chail’s main road, stretching no more than a 100 meters
We drove on from here towards Kufri and eventually to Shimla. The road to Kufri continues to be narrow and without much traffic. Soon after we descended from Chail, deodars disappeared and gave way to shorter trees. The valleys here were deeper and the peaks taller, time and again reminding me that we are amidst the Himlayan ranges. An hour of drive took us to the famous Hindustan-Tibet highway and eventually to Kufri where deodar trees made a comeback.
On the road from Chail to Shimla..
‘Kufri’s arrival is marked by horse shit,’ remarked one of my friends as he drove towards it. Sure enough, Kufri is crowded with horses meant to give joyride to tourists and we started seeing them miles before we reached Kufri. In the center of the village stood the horses and many drivers in a manner very similar to auto-rickshaws waiting for passengers in bus stands. Kufri also has a small zoo and an amusement park but none of them are worth the effort. But a walk along Kufri’s road, among the deodars at a height with vistas of the green valleys below makes being there worthwhile.
Before we hit Shimla, we stopped briefly at the tiny village of Mashobra, which hosted the famous Wildflower hall and offered views of Shali Tibba, the highest peak around Shimla. Sun had just set when we finally arrived at Shimla where I parted from my friends and walked in search of a hotel.
Chail is a little more than an hour away from Shimla and is well connected by buses. Roads are decent, and if you are used to mountain roads it is worthwhile driving. Chail village itself has no more than 2-3 hotels, but the road from Chail to Kandaghat is littered with resorts. There isn’t much to do in Chail except to walk around the deodar forest, but this is sufficient attraction to get there.
Kufri is 30 minutes away from Shimla on the same road that leads to Chail. It has some nice views and Deodar forests. You can go on horse rides and visit some tourist attractions like the zoo. Kufri is littered with resorts all around it.
Mashorba, which falls on the same road too is little more than 10km from Shimla. Although I haven’t seen any, the place is said to have a few guesthouses. There are a few restaurants along the main road. The attraction of Mashorba is similar – vistas of the mountains and deodar forest.
If you are driving and not planning to stay in any of these places, it should be possible to cover all these place in single day.
Continued at A Day in Shimla