Author – Shilpa Sharma
Urban life means constantly running around. A continual rat race. But the mind and the body need a break at times. Since I love travelling, I know how to offer calmness to mine. This time, when I got a break for two days, I set out on a journey to Chail – a hill station in Himachal Pradesh. Since I like adventurous holidays, I chose to ride with the Royal Enfield bikers group.
The best part of travelling with trained bikers is that one is safe on the highways and on jagged mountain roads. As a note of caution, one should always remember to wear proper gears and helmets while travelling on bikes. The fun part of being with bikers is that they love to discover local cuisine and culture – so one is always learning new things during such journeys.
For my journey to Chail, I boarded a late night train from the Old Delhi railway station on a Friday and reached Chandigarh around 4a.m. the following morning. I had to wait there for a couple of hours for the other riders to join. My journey continued once again at 6 a.m. I had researched the route beforehand and so the journey from Chandigarh via Panchkula, Pinjore, Kalka, Dharampur, Barog, Solan, Kandaghat, and Sadhupul, to Chail, was a fairly easy one to follow.
It was not an issue for me to cover the distance to Chail on a bike while riding it at a stretch for five hours. However, if you are not up to it, take the car instead. But don’t forget to halt at interesting spots to capture the beauty of the mountains and eat local food.
On the way to Kalka, till Barog you will find many train tunnels with tracks for the Kalka-Shimla toy train. Stop here for a while and get your clicks just the way I did at Kalka. Flora and fauna also abound here so keep a watch out for them. One can stop at Solan to see the oldest brewery of India. And while you do, satiate your taste buds by trying the local momos and corn that the place is known for.
Just before Chail comes a small place called Sadhupul. The group decided to halt here for a while to enjoy a small stream branching from the river Ashwini. One can even experience various adventurous sports like rappelling here. And if you are not the adventurous type, then simply enjoy yourself by soaking your feet in the cold stream as you watch fluffy clouds in the blue sky. But don’t try and venture to the centre of the river as stones there are slippery due to the algae deposits and one can easily slip and fall. Such is the danger that even 12 inches of water can make a person lose his balance completely. As for me, I am fond of collecting rare-looking stones, so I ended up packing a few into my backpack.
The rest of the journey to Chail hill station wasn’t long. We reached soon and I wanted to check into ‘The Chail Palace’. But it was completely booked. So, we chose the ‘Chail Residency’. The cupboards, the sofas, the washroom, the bed, the gates and everything else in the room reminded me of ‘Snowhite and the Seven Dwarfs’ because everything was of low height. But I fell in love with the lacy curtains! When I stepped out into the balcony and saw the gigantic mountains, my heart wanted to sing out loud. The scenery was soothing and the cold air that touched my skin relaxed me completely.
We decided to go to the nearby market, which was around 2km away, to taste the local cuisine. To reach there, a biker has to pay INR20 at a local toll, as decided by the Gram Panchayat. When we reached, there was no stopping us– we had spicy momos, Maggie and vegetarian noodles. It was probably the best noodles that I have ever had in my life. The prices of the dishes are not too high either.
We wanted to roam around a little more. But it started to rain. If you are going during the monsoons don’t forget to carry dust and water protectors for your rucksack and umbrella. Since we didn’t have them, we decided to head back to the hotel.
Next day, we went to see ‘The Chail Palace’ which had an entry fee of INR100. That seemed a little expensive for our wallets. But, since I am fond of history and royal architecture, we all decided to go in. It was built in 1891 and covers an area of approximately 75 acres. It has kingly settings with spectacular views. Tall oak and deodar trees cover the way to the place.
The royal family has converted 40% of the palace into a museum although there was nothing much to see there. A few rooms are set apart for the family. The rest have been turned into a wide variety of cottages, suites and rooms but, to experience royal life, one needs to book ahead.
Since we did not have much time in hand, we had to skip the Chail Wildlife Sanctuary. However, as a tourist, this is amongst the ‘must-see’ places. Chail is also known as ‘Hiker’s Paradise’. A few of the treks were in my to-do list but unfortunately I could not go. Some of the popular ones are Kandaghat-Chail, Chail-Rajgarh, Chur-Chandini and Chail-Shimla via Junga. If you want a more laid-back holiday then go fishing in the Gaura River that is full of Mahseer fish.
Chail also boasts of world’s highest cricket ground, which is at a height of 7500 ft. As a photo enthusiast, one place that I could not miss was ‘Kali ka Tibba’. It is popular for capturing sunsets. However, if the skies are cloudy you can give it a miss.
I had also read about Sidh Baba ka Mandir. Since I did not find anything particularly unique about it, I had un-ticked it from my itinerary. But those in Chail swear that it should be visited once. Shopaholics however will get disappointed in Chail as there is not much shopping to do here. I didn’t mind though. When we left Chail hill station, I had only one thing on my mind – I was carrying back wonderful memories and even more wonderful pictures with me. I felt rejuvenated. And I was ready to throw myself back into the grind of a busy life.