Shimla and its neighboring areas have always been my favorite getaway. No matter how many times I visit, I always end up discovering something new every time or end with a different experience. I remember, a couple of years ago, during my college summer holidays, we were planning a trek through Himachal. But being the peak travel season, it was hard to find travel and stay options within our meager student budget. After a lot of online searches, we found a cheap cab from Delhi to Shimla. The capital city was swarmed with tourists fleeing the heat of the plains and there was no way we could stay there. We decided to head towards the quieter and smaller retreat of Chail.
Chail at a glance
At about 45 KM from Shimla, Chail was like a breath of fresh air for us. The tiny hill town was mostly occupied by backpackers and trekkers, who just wanted to experience the serenity of nature. Furthermore, the Delhi to Shimla cab fare is cheap, making our trip inexpensive and convenient. There were endless nature trails to explore and enjoy the verdant vistas of the Himalayas in summer and the cool mountain air to rejuvenate us inside out. Fortunately, we found a cozy homestay on the outer perimeters of the town, surrounded by alpine trees and wildflowers on the outside and the warmth of a Himachalese family inside. What more can a weary traveler ask for! And did I mention the nighttime views of the Sutlej Valley, Shimla, and Kasauli? In one word- breathtaking! Like clusters of light huddled into the folds of the mountains.
We were going to stay in Chail for a couple of days before heading to our next destination. We befriended a trekking group and learned about a few famous trails to explore. One of them went through the Chail Wildlife Sanctuary and touched Junga. It was a good 4-5 hour trek from the edge of the sanctuary all the way through the forests.
A trek through the wild
The Chail Wildlife Sanctuary is a huge forested area with alpine trees and wildflowers, and not to mention, a wide variety of birds. Being summer, there was a lot of greenery around and the weather was perfect to explore the wild.
The trail passed through some tiny hamlets and forested slopes. We started walking through clusters of pine and deodar, with some fruit trees growing randomly amidst them. As we closed into the interiors of the forest, trees like Rhododendrons, Cedar, and Blue Pine, became more prominent, distinguished by their sharp, spicy fragrance. At certain places, the sun shone directly upon us and we took to the shaded ridges when it felt too hot. From the ridges, we could see the entire hillside of Shimla and Shogi skirting the mountain edges.
The path we were walking on was unmarked and hidden within the sanctuary and was truly a hike’s paradise. The wooded charm was enhanced by the chirping of birds, some with unique calls that I had never heard. During our walk, I came across at least 20 different species of birds like the Grey-winged Blackbird, Himalayan Bulbul, Black Headed Jay, Golden Eagle, Grey Headed Flycatcher, Slate-Headed Parakeet, and the Blue Capped Redstart. We also photographed a couple of Chir Pheasants, which are endemic to this sanctuary and the most famous bird of this region.
They say that a sanctuary is also a popular place for sighting various wild animals like the common langur, leopard, Goral, European Red Deer, Asian Black Bear, and the Wild Boar. A lot of wildlife enthusiasts often come here for a safari.
After a few hours of walking, we took a break at an open grassland area within the forest. The views from here were spellbinding. Far away, in a distance, we could spot the Junga Fort, where we would be reaching soon. Post a quick lunch, we continued on our journey. As we gained height, the air started to get cooler and the afternoon sun also felt mellower. It took us nearly six hours (including break) to reach Junga.
I had visited Chail long ago on a winter break and it was an entirely different experience. The trees were dusted with frost and the tiny icicles on the pine needles made it looked like a white Christmas. And now, in summer, there was a greenish-golden glow all around, which the sunny, blue sky smiling on the mountains. Like I said before, I always end up having a new experience in the hills, every time I visit.
Before you go:
- Chail Wildlife Sanctuary remains open around the year, but if want to explore the wildlife, visit between March and October, since this is the best time to see animals, birds and a huge variety of flora. For winter treks, you can visit in December through February, but do watch out for heavy snowfall.
- You can also plan a Shimla-Chail-Shogi tour since Shimla local sightseeing car fare is inexpensive.
- If traveling in peak tourist season, avoid staying within Shimla city and opt for options outside the main town.